Will Companies Stop Caring If We Complain "Too Much?"

A reader asks,

“Do you think big corporations will stop paying attention to disgruntled customers who “out” them on the internet for their bad practices? At what point will the sheer number of unhappy customers who take it to the tubes overwhelm them? Instead of getting executive service for publicly complaining, will they simply stop responding?

Do you think if too many people have access to the exclusive numbers we get from fellow Consumerists they will just close the pipe?

Almost without exception, the companies I have worked for are terrified of losing a single penny and view customer service as a huge money pit that is nothing but a problematic expense.”

We think the smart ones will pay MORE attention. The smart ones will hire, and in some cases, already have, a squad whose jobs it is is to monitor and respond to complaints. While customer service is a cost center, the smart ones know that if they let the problems fester and spread and keep hitting the front page, they could stand to lose a lot more money. On the other hand, Equifax changed the phone number of an executive customer service rep after we posted it. But they’re a B2B, their clients are not the people whose data they harvest into credit reports that they sell to other companies. So hire these squads and listen to us. Don’t put it down on the balance sheet as a cost center. Think of it more as a profit loss prevention center.

(Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/wetbaloney/602355442/)

Comments

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  1. SpecialEd says:

    I think that Best Buy is a company that doesn’t care what consumers think. I got tired of being insulted and disrespected by BB employees pushing unnecessary add ons and extended warranties on everything they sell. They will not take NO for an answer, so I refuse to shop there again.

  2. Transuranic says:

    It’d be great if the smart companies hire great CS people, but I’m more afraid of the flip side:

    What if all the cellphone companies decided to drop their CS depts? Customers wouldn’t be able to turn to another company, because there would be NO cellphone company that would accept customer complaint calls. Companies would save a fortune. And there may be laws against price-fixing, but is there any law or precedent against service-fixing? I doubt it.


    OK, maybe the FCC (or enough small-claims-court suits) would drive them back to coughing up some semblance of service, but that might just be a pipe dream.

  3. stanfrombrooklyn says:

    Companies will care when customers start paying for service. If you don’t like Best Buy then buy your computers at a small shop that makes and services their own, buy your CDs at a small local record shop, buy your appliances at a small appliance shop that maintains and delivers their own, and on and on and on. I have spent tens of thousands of dollars at Best Buy in the last 20 years (I’m from Minneapolis where it started) but haven’t set foot in one in the last 3 years. I’ve found excellent customer service by shopping at places that are slightly more expensive but provide excellent customer service. It’s a wonderful stress-free way to live, trust me.

  4. Coder4Life says:

    Well it really depends because if you think about it. Few years ago companies really cared when you said “I am going to drop yoru service” and they tried so much to keep you on.

    But now they know that most peopel are using this as a threat, and its not worth their time to deal with these people.. example: SPRINT

    But Yes, the thing with the Internet is that it is not a threat, but going to a wide spread users. So it might last for sometime, and hopefully companies will see the mistakes they are making and try to correct them so in future they are not happening.

    It’s almost like a way to find out why our customers are not happy, or what can we do to improve our Customer Service. It’s free support. Just go surf consumerist.

  5. Virginia Consumer says:

    The average person listed here complaining to Customer Service is not the one being dropped. I did not see a single post back or post saying that they had experienced a difficult time with billing/service/etc. and were then dropped trying to get it resolved.

    I used to work for a company that made great effort to provide customer service. You know what happened to them. They went Bankrupt. Twice. Nobody wanted to sign up for good customer service, they wanted a low price. We had tons of customers that were literally costing us money because the company thought revenue was more important than profit and sold service below market rate. While the company didn’t outright drop people, they did refuse to re-sign them up at ridiculously low rates. Know what happened they left. Customer service is all talk. Would you pay an extra $10 or $15 per month for cell phone service if the customer service was good. I doubt it. How often does the average customer call customer service. Maybe once or twice during a contract. The rest are special cases and they fall into two categories. The needy who are always changing services etc. and the unlucky who have a service interruption or billing problem. If you look at the massive numbers of customers these places have and the number of billing problems etc. that go on the percentages are still really low. AT&T has like 30 or 40 Million customers. They probably have maybe 10,000 or so billing/service problems a year. That is a big number but not compared to the total numbers of customers who are happy as a clam and will switch as soon as someone offers a rate or phone for $5.00 less.

  6. AtomikB says:

    I’ve been a CSR for several consumer hardware and software companies, and I definitely agree that companies view customer service and support as nothing but an unwanted expense. As cusomter survey results get worse and worse as they cut funding for support, they simply “adjust” the surveys to make the results look better.

    Charging for support allows companies to hire more CSR’s, but it provides an incentive to release worse products. The more problems there are with a product, the more customers call in, and the more money is made.

    In general, support is so poor across the board that no company is really afraid of having “worse” support than any other company. Pretty much all companies have such bad support that the only way to make it worse really would be to stop offering it at all.

    Then again, when your hold times are 90 minutes and 90% of customers hang up before they reach a CSR, does that even count as offering support? Maybe the call centers of the future will be nothing but endless hold music interspersed with “your call is important” messages, with a few middle managers standing around the coffee machine and watching the queue lights blink.

  7. bostonguy says:

    For stores like Walmart or Best Buy, I don’t shop there, except to buy loss-leader products. I will gladly drag myself into Best Buy and buy a DVD, if I know they’re probably losing money by selling it to me.

    The important thing is to MAKE SURE that you don’t buy anything else “while you’re there”.

  8. Athena79 says:

    I work for a large clothing retailer I’m sure you all know. We have terrific customer service. I agree with what you are saying for the most part, and I’m so glad I work for the exception.

    It’s also frustrating because with outsourcing and people who have never experienced what a CS rep does day to day viewing CS in this way devalues an important job. This causes the value of the position to go down. People have come to expect outsourcing, or if not, uneducated people who are paid minimum wage. It’s so sad this is often true anymore.

  9. Landru says:

    I might be starting a war here, but I quit cable because of the customer service and I have Dish Network. The customer service as a rule has been very good. (Techs are only okay.) I did have to escalate once because of a recurring problem, but I was able to resolve it. I think the satellite companies know that have to be better than cable, but that’s setting a pretty low bar. (I don’t know if it’s true for DirectTV.)

  10. FLConsumer says:

    I think the big companies already stopped caring. If they cared, most of the issues which come up on this website would have been addressed in their normal operating procedures rather than having to resort to public shaming by individuals.

    Case in point: Who ever went to the automated phone systems to improve customer service? No one. It’s purely about cutting costs. Offshore call centers? Script-reading CSRs with little to know training in the products? All cost-cutting measures done with no regard to the impact on the customer. I still would love to see the CEOs of these various companies actually USE their own products. Sit on hold for 45 minutes only to talk to some untrained offshore tech whose Engrish is worse than what the youth of America speak today.

    Unfortunately, Americans have no real “values” and aren’t willing to take a stand against being mistreated. People continue to shop at big box stores & eat at fast food restaurants for the price. If people in America only realized how much their time is actually worth, then they’d be outraged like many of us here have become. If I spend 45 minutes on the phone with India over an issue, that’s 45 minutes of MY time which I’ve wasted… which could have been spent how I wished, even making money.

  11. Jesse in Japan says:

    The way I see it, many huge companies already don’t give a damn about customer satisfaction even when it’s made very clear to them that low customer satisfaction and bad press hurt them financially.

    This is exactly why they lock customers into early termination fees. Look at the cellular industry. They don’t have to care what their customers think. If you don’t like it, you can pay 175 dollars and enter into an identical contract with the same crappy terms with one of the two or three other cellular providers.

  12. nequam says:

    @Coder4Life: I agree that empty threats to quit service with a company do more harm than good. A good consumer only threatens cancellation when she means it, and follows through if the company fails to do what’s requested.

  13. GetGoGo says:

    @wleeper: “…because the company thought revenue was more important than profit and sold service below market rate.”

    Good point!

  14. ninjapoodles says:

    I made one passing comment on my blog about the problems I was having with the power source on my Dell laptop (the quote was “Dell is full of crap”), and someone from the Dell Customer Advocate team picked it up and emailed me almost instantly. Long story short, I now have a spankin’ new laptop, when they didn’t *have* to do anything–the old machine wasn’t even under warranty any more. Dell got MUCH more positive publicity out of me after that than my previous griping. I’m really hoping it catches on with other companies.

  15. matdevdug says:

    The only problem I had with the customer service that the Consumerist seems to encourage is that it has a very “go big or go home” sort of feel. I want a business to care about my happiness without having to call, email and research their exclusive numbers. While I understand the power of the Internet as a tool, I just don’t feel like it is fair for people who understand how to use it to receive so much more power and advantage than those who don’t.

    I am worried that if we keep pushing the envelope that these businesses will develop the mindset that the consumer is the one that needs to make a huge fuss and then and only then will we honor our agreements. The whole point of a website like the Consumerist is to hold these people responsible for shoddy work, not help the power user get theirs.

    I guess I am just worried about the people who don’t have the time to spent six hours on the whole to get a new laptop or don’t have a blog to get relief.

  16. Trai_Dep says:

    While customer service is a cost center…

    Nope, it’s a key marketing tool. It’s the primary touch-point to consumers that a manufacturer totally controls. Own (and excel) in that and customers will forgive much. Fritter or contract it away and they’ll flee.

    This orientation has to be company wide, though. Throwing significant resources into customer support won’t work if the other parts aren’t working to please the customer (shoddy products, for instance, will doom even the best CS team).

    Consumers will generally pay more for something if the value of the product is communicated to them. The market isn’t stupid. Despite what some execs think.

    I generally buy less often but spend more when I do. When I do stupid things (kittens and iPod earbud wires don’t mix well (at least for the earbuds)), I call, explain what happened and Shure (shameless plug, but they deserve it) tell me to mail it off and they’ll give me a new one. No questions asked.

    Same with Apple, same with Adobe, Honda, (some) Sony, same with many of the retailers (especially local ones, as Stan points out) I go to. So I think that if you choose before you buy (and perhaps buy carefully so that you can afford to spend a bit more when you do buy), it pays rich dividends in the long run.

    The thing is, the bottom-feeders in the US will be eaten alive by the bottom-feeders of India or China. So those domestic companies that target highly price-sensitive customers are locked in a downward, terminal spiral. Unless they wake up. Quickly.

  17. ogman says:

    STANFROMBROOKLYN is right, nothing changes until you hit these bad companies in the wallet. There seems to be an attitude that if you are not rich, you don’t deserve good customer service. Personally, I don’t do one bit of business with any company that treats me badly. There are companies that are very resistant to this, but it will cost them in the future.

    An example, BJ’s Wholesale wanted people to start using their auto-checkouts, presumably so that they can get rid of their checkers. I, and many other customers, refused to do this because, being that BJ’s is a bulk buy store, there are often items that are too heavy to lift up on the conveyor. Suddenly, BJ’s decided that even if you went to the regular checker, you had to lift your 50-100 lbs. items up on the conveyor for what they called “security reasons.” I called executive CS and complained, saying that I thought they were doing this to make the regular checkout experience just as inconvenient as the auto-check. I was promised, by a very nice woman, a call back from various managers who would explain the true purpose of this policy change. I never received the calls.

    BJ’s is an example of a company that is trying to control customer behavior and trying to get the customer to accept a lower level of service. Profit is king and billionaires like easy profits. I don’t shop at BJ’s anymore and you shouldn’t shop anywhere that does not appreciate your business.

  18. @stanfrombrooklyn: I’ve found excellent customer service by shopping at places that are slightly more expensive but provide excellent customer service.

    Amen to that. And many of these locally-owned places aren’t more expensive because they’ve adjusted their prices to compete with the big box stores. I have great experiences with some of them recently upon my move to another part of the state.

  19. etinterrapax says:

    I’m with the spend-slightly-more-for-better-service crowd, as one of my first contacts with this site was about a great experience at The Container Store. It’s true that the quantity of what I can afford is down, but if the things I buy are already functioning well and lasting longer, I need less. It’s a very midcentury mindset, I suppose, to expect major purchases to last far longer than their warranties and be repairable, but that’s what I’m willing to pay for. We’ve lowered our expectations in this country for the sake of the appearance of increased wealth, and this is where it’s getting us. The only way to change it is for people en masse to say they won’t have any more of it, and stop buying.

  20. ord2fra says:

    I’m always curious why 800- or any toll-free number is still in use for customer service. Just having an 800- number costs money. Why not make it a regular number with a area code? I’m sure it’ll come to this someday.

  21. justwingingit says:

    I work for a big, multi-national company. They follow Consumer Reports, J.D. Power surveys, paid focus groups, and lawsuits. Caring about the individual customer is seen as impossible because there are millions of them. Your complaint is merely a number, they average the numbers, and come up with programs that keep the average at an acceptable level.

    Customer service people are merely drones who allow you to vent; they have no actual power. Even regional customer service managers have little real power to be flexible and make someone happy, it would cost too much money to allow them that latitude. I wish it were not so.

    I’ve bent over backwards and pulled strings to help customers when I can but then I’m not in customer service so can get away with a little more; no one’s watching me.

    Until ivory tower management types making six and seven figure incomes and who are far removed from the real world realize that genuine customer service and happy customers can increase profits, not much will change. Customer service as an ethical issue, i.e. because it’s the right thing to do, seems to be pretty much dead in the US.

    A coworker (another mid-level grunt like me) from Europe told me once about our stores over there that “the customer is king!” I told him that at the American stores “the customer is prey.”

  22. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    Folks will flame me for this, but part of the problem is the consumer. When you suffer in silence with piss-poor quality merchandise, incompentent service, and inept mid-level management, it helps the bottom line. Upper level management sees this as ‘working’ and will continue with more of the same.
    So BITCH. Do it LOUD and do it OFTEN.
    In retrospect, I don’t think this comment really has anything to do with this page :)

  23. BraveGiant says:

    I usually don’t bother with this sort of thing, but not only is Consumerist helpful and amusing, it damn well works. I had an issue with Comcast cable. Could not get any response or my phone and internet repaired. I first (after days of cell phone contact with the cheerful call center employees) filed a complaint with the FCC then wrote to Consumerist for help. Then, I remembered seeing Consumerist publish some email addresses of CEO’s. Sure enough there was Brian Roberts CEO, of Comcast. Surely, this address cannot still be valid, can it?
    I forwarded my emails (FCC and Consumerist) to Brian Roberts. (Waste of time, I thought!)
    Within 1 hour I received a call from a VP of Southern NJ saying this was not his territory, but he was forwarded a email from Brian Roberts, outlining my frustrations. He explained that a “lead tech” would be on site within 30 minutes.
    A lead tech showed up 20 mins. later and explained that the “Line crew”, I desperately been waiting for, and who is about a week behind schedule, would be here within an hour. From email to repair was 2 1/2 hours.
    Was it FCC email? Or Consumerist? I bet once the Consumerist name showed up to Mr. Roberts, my week old service issue, became HOT.
    Thanks Consumerist, being helpful and amusing is one thing, actually helping a frustrated consumer like me is another. Thank You

    BraveGiant

  24. RebekahSue says:

    Do you think big corporations will stop paying attention to disgruntled customers who “out” them on the internet for their bad practices? At what point will the sheer number of unhappy customers who take it to the tubes overwhelm them?

    I hope they’ll continue to listen to me.
    I send more complimentary letters than I do complaints but, if service is bad enough, I DO go elsewhere. (Case in point: four hours of bad CS lost Sprint my eight year account that was in good standing, to Cingular a block away.)
    There aren’t that many companies who don’t have comparable competition. I work hard for my money, and there’s far too little of it to waste on companies that don’t care about me and my fellow consumers.

    I don’t shop at Walmart because of how they treat their employees; however, I’ve never worked there. During the period that the Thai government was ignoring the child sex trade, I bought nothing originating from Thailand. I never suffer from my boycotts, and I am sure that the companies don’t miss my measly few dollars. I just wish they noticed how much more money they could make if they paid attention to how many people boycotted, and WHY, and how much MORE they could be making.

    Are the big companies watching The Consumerist? I doubt they bother, and they really lose out on the consumers’ feedback.

  25. Jerim says:

    Every business has only one goal, to make money. Now there are two different philosophies on how to do this. 1) Good customer service will bring in the customers and keep them, or 2) Customer service is an expense that really provides no benefit as customers are always going to go with the cheapest option.

    Although I personally wouldn’t go with the second philosophy, it is a sound business decision, at least for larger companies. Look at Apple; they provide excellent customer service, but their products come at a premium price. Apple by no means has a large market share in the computer industry, and their competitors are able to make a nice profit with cheap products with poor customer service.

    Unfortunately good customer service neither makes or breaks a company. Customers can complain all they want about customer service, but usually they are complaining about cheap products. Until customers are willing to pay high prices in order to fund that better service, we just have to settle. You always get what you pay for.

  26. @RebekahSue: How did you break the template?