Life is too short for bad customer service

I don’t normally respond to telemarketers, but it was a moment of weakness coming right before Christmas and just after I had shelled out nearly $300 to have one of our household appliances repaired.  The telemarketing call was from of those household names in energy supply offering me a free three month trial of their new Total Home Protection Plan.  The enthusiastic salesman highlighted the relative details – repairs and parts coverage on major appliances, plumbing and electrical repairs and, of course, heating and cooling systems.

As I said I was in a susceptible state and found myself agreeing, after all it was just a free trial right?

Several weeks ago an enrollment kit arrived with a personal message from the Senior Vice President explaining all the benefits of the program and urging me to read the enclosed Terms and Conditions brochure.  This is always a good idea, I spent many years working in the financial services industry and know my way around a contract.  This one, as contracts go, was fairly straight forward and spelled out the exclusions which didn’t appear to restricting.

I especially liked their Priority Service commitment, if I needed repair service all I needed to do was call their 800 number.  I filed everything carefully away with the intention of canceling it prior to the three month trial’s end.

Then last weekend, disaster struck, our clothes dryer decided it was out of the clothes drying business.  A ha, the perfect opportunity to test out the plan and see if it was really worth its cost, which up to this point had been nothing.

They say first impressions are the most important and the first thing I was impressed with after I dialed the 800 number was their “Your call is important to us”  greeting (see Your call is important to us and other bullshit).  The automated menu clearly laid out my options and after navigating one level down I reached a human CSR who quickly and efficiently took the details of my problem, verified that I was enrolled in the plan and gave me the details of the sub contractor who would call me within four hours – she even included the subcontractor’s phone number.

So far, so good…

Less than an hour later the subcontractor called me to make an appointment.  And then things started to go off the rails.  The subcontractor noticed that I had a gas dryer something I had made clear to the CSR.  They, unfortunately, did not have a repair person able to service gas dryers – which I though was a little strange – however, she would contact the CSR and ask her to reassign the service call.

She advised me to follow up with the CSR and reading between the lines I got the impression that the Total Home Protection Plan people were not always on top of follow ups.

I waited an hour, a reasonable amount of time, and then called the Plan people back to see what was happening.  Again, my call was important to them and I quickly got another CSR on the phone.  He was very concerned that this had happened and committed to sending one of their own service people out the next day between 9 and 1.  I clarified that it wasn’t going to be a subcontractor and was assured that it would be one of their own people in their friendly white vans with the red lightning bolt on the side.

Day Two

No repair person and no explanation as to why not when I called them at 3 o’clock.  Yet a different CSR this time.  Of course, there was nothing on their system about the commitment to send out a service person that morning.  However, he was very concerned about this after I explained, yet again, my problem.  He would look into it right away and get back to me within four hours.

He called me back within an hour and had the details of the subcontractor who would be doing the service work, it was up to me to make the arrangements with them.  The details he provided were for the first subcontractor, who does not repair gas dryers.  I patiently explained this to him and he assured me he would look into it.

Now, I have learned from hard experience, there is a time to cut your loses and since I began to feel like I was being hit repeatedly by a ball peen hammer I decided this was it.  I had zero confidence in what my experience had shown was an inept customer service experience.

I asked to cancel the plan, that it did not meet my expectations and was immediately transferred to another CSR.  I explained, yet again, what had happened and that I wanted to cancel the plan.  She couldn’t do it because she only handled plumbing and electrical.

I guess this is what happens when you have Franz Kafka as your head of marketing.  She cheerfully transferred me to someone who could help me cancel the plan and I explained the whole situation once again.  She politely agreed that it had not been a very good experience and then put me on hold once again while she connected me with someone in “contracts” who could help me cancel the plan.

Once again I got to tell my sad story in detail to yet another sincere CSR who tried to make me a final offer – to extend the free trial by another few months.  I finally convinced him that I did, truly, want to cancel the plan and he declared it cancelled – which still makes me uneasy, considering the lack of information sharing within this company.  However, I will give them the benefit of the doubt and have carefully stored away the details in case an invoice arrives.

Now, you think that someone at their head office might be interested in hearing about a bad customer experience?  However, a check of their website only lists a single e mail address.  A quick check of their “Who we are” section gives details about their management, who they are and what they have done, but there is no e mail address so that someone could actually reach them.

Customer service is an experience; if it’s a good experience customers sing your praises, if it is a bad one well…  It comes from not understanding what they are selling – which isn’t repair plans, but rather, the promise of service.  The basic idea that you are my customer and I have to make sure that I meet your expectations.

So how could they have met my expectations?  First of all, by offering a single point of contact.  Speak to a single CSR who becomes your torchbearer.  They take all of the details including when you will available for a service call, make the arrangements and call you back within a reasonable time with the details on when a service person is going to come.  Great service is when they call back after the service call to make certain everything was done to your satisfaction.
A company that is dedicated to its customers also makes it easy to get in touch in case they want to lavish praise, or gasp, point out how service might be improved.

Now, for those who are wondering, after I called and cancelled the plan I called my usual appliance repair service, who are fully automated and did not have to ask me to repeat my details.  They do have a gas dryer service specialist and could quickly dispatch him.  The end result – a broken belt and a quick, painless repair.

Sure it cost $150 but it’s still cheaper than my free trial.

Posted to Sparkplug Copyright by Peter McGarvey 2007.

2 Responses to “Life is too short for bad customer service”

  1. What an experience. Services sell the invisible, which makes it very difficult to gauge the quality of the purchase. It’s disappointing when a large and seemingly reputable organization is unable to do basic work. A gas dryer is hardly an esoteric item.

    It’s surprising that you have had so many appliance problems. I can’t recall *any* of our appliances breaking down. Closest to the brink is our fridge, which after 12 years is getting a bit noisy. It still works … so far.

  2. Peter McGarvey says:

    A follow up on this posting… I discovered a second website for this company that was specific to Ontario. In this website they do list the e mail addresses so that you can contact their executives directly.

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