PRESS ONE FOR INSANITY

Garry got his “Microsoft is ready for your download to Windows 10” notification. It came in yesterday — less than 24 hours after we got the upgrade flag. This must be a record for speedy responses from Microsoft.

I haven’t gotten mine. I haven’t checked the two desk tops. I’m not sure I want to “upgrade.” I fervently wish I could call Microsoft and talk to a person. Ask a few questions.

Microsoft has no customer service, at least not for folks like me. Maybe for big corporate customers who own thousands of licenses. Perhaps then you get the magic phone number that routes you to a live person who answers questions.

Not me, though. I still don’t know if upgrading to Windows 10 will work on this computer. Or will make Garry’s laptop work better — or not at all. I’ve heard from people who had great experiences and those who had serious problems. I’ve heard of disasters with the new OS.

I’d just like to talk to someone, know someone has my back. Our computers are critical. Central. Our connection to the world. Upgrading an operating system is not a small thing.

This got me thinking about the whole “customer-provider” relationship. Here are some thoughts. (They don’t apply to Microsoft because they are far too lofty to bother with customer service. They don’t deal with humans.)

VOICE MAIL: LET ME CHOOSE WHAT I NEED

Every voice mail system starts out saying “Our options have recently changed.” Your options have not recently changed. “Recently” is no more than three months. After that, it’s not recent. Change your message already!

If I know the number I need, let me press it. Don’t make me sit there while you explain in stultifying detail every permutation of your voice mail system.

Accept this as axiomatic. Everyone is familiar with voice mail. It’s not new technology. We know to listen until we hear the option we need. I am not stupid. My time is valuable. Don’t waste it.

NUMBER 1 – BURY NOT THE LEAD

Whatever your organization does, make sure the first choice in your list is the thing most customers want. Probably not your address, business hours, website address, or the opportunity to hear about your new services — or take a survey.

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If you are a personal service provider — doctor, dentist, veterinarian, massage therapist, hired assassin — scheduling should be on top. At least half your calls will be people who need to make, change, or cancel (or some combination) an appointment. Don’t send us to a sub menu with more options. Answer the damned phone.

If you are a utility — cell service, telephone company, ISP, power company, water — why do think most people call? Because your service isn’t working. No power, no water, no cell service, no dial tone. No WiFi. No cable. Do not tell us to use the website. If we could get to the website, we would not be calling you.

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Whoever picks up the call must be able to reply to this: “Is this a general outage or is it me?”

  1. If the former: When do you expect service to be restored?
  2. If the latter, transfer the caller to tech support. Don’t ask us to make another call.

NUMBER 2 – IT DOESN’T WORK

Option 2 must be Technical Support. Something isn’t working or not working as it ought. Have a human being answer the phone. Even if it involves waiting, don’t make your already upset, angry customer wade through another set of prompts. Take responsibility. Be a person.

NUMBER 3: ABOUT THAT BILL

Option 3? The bill. Which we already paid, can’t pay, shouldn’t have to pay, is actually someone else’s. If you put us into another voice mail system, it will might us angry enough to dump you for another provider.

We do not want to leave a message for someone to ignore and never call back. We want to straighten out what we hope is a simple misunderstanding. If you send us to more voice mail or an answering machine — and you don’t return the call immediately — expect to never get your money, or lose our business. I have dropped providers many times and will do it again.

If you annoy me, I will hold a grudge. I am a paying customer. Act like you want my business.

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A CAUTIONARY TALE

I hear so many companies complaining how bad business is. Never do I hear them wonder if their own action (or inaction) might have something to do with it. Maybe the problem is how badly you treat your customers.

Consider this. Blowing off customers does not endear you to us. If we can, we will go elsewhere. At the first opportunity, we will drop you so fast you won’t have a chance to say “Hey wait, I’ve got a deal for you.”

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine (finally) got FIOS as an alternative to ComCast. FIOS was (a bit) more expensive and had a smaller offering. She changed services anyway. She said: “I hate ComCast so much, I’d happily pay more to anyone just to be rid of them.”

I feel that way about our cable provider, Charter Communications. They think they are invulnerable because we have no choice, but WiFi based services are coming of age. There are more choices today … and more coming soon. It’s a matter of time. The ill-will you are amassing today will ultimately bury you as it has buried providers before you. The good-will of your customer is your primary asset. 

It’s a cautionary tale for corporations who think they “own” the market and the customers.

BE NICE TO US. DON’T BE A STRANGER

Talk to us. Be nice . Make us feel valued. Calm us down rather than throwing gasoline on the fire. If you are in a service industry, provide service. That is why we pay you.

THE PRICE OF TRUST

Nothing is the way it used to be.

A couple of weeks ago, I needed some new nightwear. Nothing fancy. Not interested in lingerie. That’s for display, not sleeping. I’m talking about the ubiquitous sleep tee.

For years, I bought them from L.L. Bean. They were comfortable, loose, soft. Lightweight in summer, heavier, long-sleeved for winter. Then, L.L.Bean stopped making them. They decided we all want heavy flannel or pajama mix and match. In ugly colors.

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I don’t want elastic while I sleep. I want soft, loose, breathable, comfortable. Priced so I can buy more than one. Colors other than flaccid pink and dainty floral on white.

When L.L. Bean stopped making what I want, I switched to Land’s End. I’ve been wearing their sleep tees for more than a decade. But with each passing year, the fabric has gotten less refined, rougher, and the cut skimpier. The neckline has gotten tighter to the point where it’s hard to get your head through it. The price keeps going up.

I gave up. While the price has risen, the quality has dropped to completely unacceptable. I found quality sleep tees on Amazon.

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Did “new Coke” bring new customers to Coca Cola? Or did they give Pepsi a huge boost? Did Windows 8 improve business at Microsoft … or Apple?

Do corporations think we are stupid? Do they think we won’t notice when they sell us junk, reduce quality, raise prices?

I keep hearing that consumers are shopping online instead of at brick and mortar shops and it will drive them out of business. Has anyone in corporate America considered whether or not their products and stores serve the needs of the people they want as customers?

Did you know that Barnes & Noble booksellers — their brick and mortar stores — charge 30% more than Barnes & Noble online? For identical merchandise. If you want a discount card, that will cost you even more. Even with the “discount,” their stuff still costs more than it would online.

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When asked why I should buy at the store, I was told the online and “real” stores aren’t run by the same organization and have different price structures. Which isn’t an answer.

Original Coke came back. Windows 8 will pass into history in a couple of weeks. DiGiorno’s is selling pizza with “original” sauce. Eventually, if we “vote” with our shopping carts, “they” get the message. How long will it take? Will it matter?

The thing is, you can never get back the faith of customers you screw. The relationship is broken. Trust is ruined.

Is there a price tag on trust? How much are we — your customers — worth?

URBAN MYTH?

Once upon a time, there was a company who had a great idea. Create a platform on which all kinds of people could come and do whatever they wanted. They could write, show off their photography or paintings, even show videos and play music.

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They created easy-to-use software and a congenial atmosphere. People flocked to them. They started sites. Talked about their lives, their memories, their hopes, dreams, art, ambitions. They connected with one another. Participated in collective events and formed friendships that circled the globe.

And everything was good.

One day, someone in a high tower in a far distant place said “We need to get with the real world.”

Many people were surprised because they thought they already were part of the real world, but he was the Big Boss, so they listened. He must be wise, because he was in power and we know that powerful people are wise, right?

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He told his employees that small devices were the way of the future, that no one would use real computers — desktops or laptops. Indeed, several years before, many people believed — briefly — something along these lines. Everyone had long since backed off this belief — because it was obviously untrue.

Too many things — in business, art, even entertainment — needed a bigger, more powerful machine. Working people weren’t going to do spreadsheets on telephones or tablets. These things were convenient for checking email, but without room to work and a keyboard, no one was going to write their next novel on it, try to manage finances, or edit photographs.

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But the Powers-That-Be didn’t want to hear this. They had a vision and were determined to make it true, at any cost. Moreover, they believed they had the power to force their customers march in lock step to their music. They hired a band and played marching music day and night.

Their customers blocked their ears and expressed their dismay, but the corporation couldn’t hear anyone over their own music.

Thus over a period of months and years, they changed everything. They took away the fun, the congeniality, and the software. They sucked the fun out of blogging. And then, people began to drift away.

There were some protests, some angry voices, but most people had been doing it because it was fun and it wasn’t fun any more. So they posted less. With each revision of the platform, more people gave up.

Not with a bang, but a whimper.

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There wasn’t any other platform to take its place. There ought to have been, if this were a happier fairy tale. No alternative universe existed into which they could go, so they just quit. They found other media. Maybe not as good as the old one was, before the corporate bosses ruined everything … but it was okay. People got used to it. At least no one was trying to make them do stuff they didn’t want to do.

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Over a period of time, the big corporation noticed they didn’t have so many people using their platform. “No problem,” declared the Big Boss. “We’ll get businesses to take their place. They will pay us for our services.”

Businesses had their own IT departments and servers. They saw no reason to depend on someone else when they had their own resources. And the platform’s reputation for poor customer service while creating a user-hostile environment was all over the Internet. Everyone knew someone who’d been betrayed. No one wanted to risk their business. What if they were next on the corporate hit list?

“No thanks,” they said and moved elsewhere.

sad momProfits fell. First a trickle, and then a mighty waterfall. Customers abandoned the ship. Eventually, the corporation realized it was out of business. Like Wang. DEC. Grumman. IBM. GTE. They thought they were so big and so powerful, they could do whatever they wanted however they wanted.

They were wrong.


The End.


What a Twist! — Tell us a story — fiction or non-fiction — with a twist we can’t see coming.

TECH SUPPORT – WHERE “BAD” IS THE NEW “GOOD”

Bad customer and technical support is the new good. You only think it’s bad. The problem is your attitude. Or so they’d have you think.

YOU CAN RUN, BUT YOU CAN’T HIDE

Death cust servAll the big technology companies are working hard to save a few bucks. The competition is fierce. Every penny counts. Since executives won’t accept lower pay nor will stockholders accept lower returns, it’s customers who fill the cost-cutting gap.

In the race to be the cheapest, tech companies stopped including chargers with devices. No manuals. No system software. No reinstallation software. Short power cords that don’t go from an outlet to a desktop. No connector for printers, speakers or whatever. Everything you need to finish setting up costs extra.

Customer service was the first thing to go. They hired people who don’t know anything, don’t understand or speak English. For all I know, they don’t understand or speak Spanish either. They aren’t trained, don’t know the products. And since manufacturers no longer include documentation, you don’t have the option of taking care of it yourself.

No company — not cameras, computers or software — includes documentation. I became obsolete years ago when the industry decided no one reads the manuals. So they fired the tech writers, put some generated information in an online PDF. They figured customer service techs would handle the fallout. But they don’t. Many of us would be happy to fix minor glitches but have no alternative to spending our time on the phone, frustrated and angry.

THE PLAN IN ACTION

You can’t say they didn’t have a plan. The big corporations indeed had a plan. A bad one.Customer Service waiting

It was so bad, it was immediately adopted by everyone. Globally.

It’s not a Microsoft problem, a Dell problem, or any company’s individual problem, though some are more awful than others and a few are notorious. It’s a cross-industry problem, affecting virtually every organization in this country.

Bad is the new good. Because good is remarkable.

WOULD IT KILL THEM TO INCLUDE A MANUAL?

CustServCartoon In every industry, business, service — service support stinks. It doesn’t matter where you go. You’ll get the same lousy service. It’s the great leveler.

Sometimes, you get lucky. The guy or gal you connect with actually knows the product and you think “Wow, that wasn’t bad! Maybe it’s improving.” The next time, it’s the same old, same old.

AMAZON – THE BRIGHT SPOT

There is a bright spot. Amazon and Audible (a subsidiary of Amazon) still have terrific customer service. That could change any time on the whim of a company exec, but for now, it’s great.

It’s no accident I shop through Amazon. They offer really good service. You have a problem, they go out of their way to make it right. You need to return something? They don’t question you, make you jump through hoops.

I wish I could buy everything from them.

MOM AND POP – CLOSED FOR BUSINESS

Mom and Pop. The backbone of American business. Or used to be.

They are the official symbol of our nation’s best. The hardest workers. The folks who built our towns and cities. How wonderful it is to do business with our neighbors and friends rather than faceless corporate franchises. (Careful. Our friends and neighbors work for those franchises. Mom and pop shops don’t offer a lot of job opportunities.)

Every day, it gets harder to find a mom and pop business. You can blame it all on corporate greed — pushing out small businesses. Nice to have someone to blame. Pity it’s not true. Or not quite as true as we would like. Blaming heartless corporations is a simple, feel-good fix, even if it doesn’t make much sense.

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We love simple answers and if we can’t find one, we make one up. The world keeps changing. So does what people want for themselves and their kids. Labor intensive small retail businesses were — for many years — the bulwark of America’s Main Street. But they aren’t appealing to today’s computer-savvy kids. The kids in this generation are more likely to want a shot at a seat in the boardroom of one of those faceless corporations. They have redefined The American Dream.

Who does want to run those little businesses? Immigrants. The people we seem determined to keep out or get rid of. They don’t see long hours of hard work as punishment. They see it as opportunity. It’s American kids who see mom and pop’s business as a dead-end.

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It’s a matter of how you look at it. Most of our small general stores, if they haven’t already been knocked down to make way for a CVS or Stop & Shop, are being run by recent arrivals from India, Pakistan and Asia. They work long hours, put they hearts into it and do well. They go out of their way to build relationships with their customers. And they succeed. Immigrants have always been the true bulwark of the “American dream” because they came here full of dreams.

The original Mom and Pop? They got old. Their kids never wanted to work at the family deli, restaurant or ice cream shop, so as soon as a better offer came along, they took it. Moreover, Mom and Pop didn’t send the kids to college so they could slave their lives away like they had, so they’re onboard. That was always the plan.

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One by one, family run businesses are closing. Young Americans don’t want to work so many hours for such small returns. The older generation agrees. You and me may want to support them, but they are no longer looking for our support. They want to retire. If they can’t find a buyer for the business, they will sell the land to the highest bidder.

Is it unreasonable to profit from long years of sweat and labor? Everyone knows small retail businesses — unless they find a niche market that doesn’t put them in head-to-head competition with corporate franchises — barely survive, even with community support.

I’d gladly support local small businesses, but who? One by one, our restaurants, delis, gift shops, independent groceries, book stores are going away. There is only one independent bookstore in the Valley now. There never were many, but now, just one.

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Independent drug stores? Gone. Small clothing shops? None. We have a few delis, restaurants, hair dressers and fingernail shops. Services do okay, but not retail shops. Restaurants, especially if they serve alcohol do okay. You can always find a couple of tattoo parlors. A lumber yard with two branches and a hardware store. Everyone else sold, closed and moved away.

We are grateful to haveWalmart. Without it we’d have no place to shop for anything without driving 25 miles to the mall where we would merely be buying from different corporations. We need someplace to buy dish towels, paper goods and bathmats. The place to go if the microwave suddenly dies or I break another coffee carafe. Walmart did not displace local businesses. We never had many and now, even fewer. Maybe a hundred years ago, but not in the last 50.

Good bye, Mom. Good bye, Pop. We miss you, but I understand. You worked hard. You want some time off now and an easier life for your kids. Welcome newcomers. Prejudice and politics be damned. I’m glad to have you in my town.

FOR ONE CENT PLAIN

I got an email from AT&T. It was alarming. I was overdue on my bill! They were going to report me to collection agencies, send it to all those companies that decide whether or not you deserve to have a credit card or a mortgage.

I was surprised because I paid the bill. On time. Online. I know I did.

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So, after resetting my password — it doesn’t matter how many times I set my password … the next time I go to AT&T’s website, I will have to do it again — I looked at my bill. Somehow, I had underpaid the bill by a penny. One cent. $00.01

In retribution for my oversight, AT&T is going to sic the collection agency on me. I deserve to pay big for this lapse in fiscal responsibility.Though I actually think it was their error, not mine, but let’s not quibble.

Paying the bill!

Paying the bill!

There are many battles to fight in life. One must pick amongst them lest one be overwhelmed. This giant corporation is going to destroy my credit for want of a penny. This is what happens when computers run the world and no people monitor what they are doing. I’m sure this was all automatically generated. I am equally certain if I’d called them, they would have cancelled the bill. AT&T has pretty good customer service. But that would take even more time and effort. I fondly believe my time, even retired, is worth more than a penny.

So I paid the bill. I wasn’t actually sure my bank would let me pay a one cent bill, but they did.

One cent. Just one cent. Mind boggling.

Daily Prompt: No Fair — AS SEEN ON TV

The advertisement pointed out a truth. Any company which needs to depend on binding contracts and punitive early withdrawal fees to keep customers from fleeing to other providers isn’t doing a good job. I was nodding agreement when I realized that the source of the advert was Charter Communications, one of the biggest thieves in the corporate world. Cable companies are — for good reason — the most hated service providers in these United States. The rage many of us hold towards our cable companies is intense. Mine alone could probably, if harnessed as raw energy, power a small city.

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Yet there they are. The biggest, baddest bald-faced liars, deploring the business practices of other companies — companies that have marketplace competitors. Unlike Charter and other cable providers who have a monopoly on services for the areas they “service.”

We don’t choose them. We have no choice. If we want digital service — Internet, television and sometimes telephones — we have to use them. It’s un-American, wrong, infuriating. It’s no fair!!

We’re not fleeing to other providers because we can’t. The way these services are structured, there’s only one game in town. For us, it’s Charter. For other’s, it’s Warner or Comcast or whatever.

In this day and age, it’s hard to believe anyone can argue that Internet, television and broadband are luxuries rather than necessities. Yet the last time I talked to someone at Charter’s customer disservice, she told me I don’t need Internet service. Don’t need a telephone. Or television. I think I swallowed my tongue. I don’t remember. I was so angry my mind went hazy and the remainder of the conversation is (probably mercifully) a blur.

I almost chipped a tooth watching that ad on television. The level of misleadingness (is that a word? it ought to be) was profound. How dare they? Aren’t there any laws about this sort of thing? What happened to truth in advertising?

My office by window lightWhat happened to truth?

All of us have a great many things about which to be angry. If I get started, I might never stop. I would never run out of things I’m mad about, that are unjust, unfair, totally not okay but with which I have to put up because I have no choice.

The state of the economy, the state of the world, the state of everything.

The horrible way companies treat us while taking our hard-earned money. The lies we are told by corporations, by our elected representatives. By supposed news purveyors. Even by people we know and believed we could trust. Not to mention (okay, I just mentioned them) the lies we tell ourselves. I hate those most of all because it’s so hard to find someone to blame.

I try not to think about it because it’s just going to make my blood pressure go up and that wouldn’t be good.

But honestly. Talk about nerve! Charter Communications, distributors of the most over-priced, erratic services. With the worst customer service on earth. They are taking the moral high ground? Really? Mind you these are people who manage to so alienate their customers they lose money while holding a monopoly, a company that would never survive actual market competition and which apparently is unlikely to survive even with the deck stacked in their favor.

How come we don’t form an angry mob and storm their offices? I’ll go if you will!