First, a Happy Story
I had a good experience with customer service at AT&T recently.I had traveled to Canada and paid $50 up front for a 50MB data package that was explained on the phone as a one-time purchase, but had been billed a recurring monthly fee for a service I wasn't using. I didn't it notice for eight months (auto-debit, doh). The rep was helpful and even able to credit me during the call. The good experience shocked me a bit, and shocked some of my friends who heard the news.
Now Back to Your Regular Programming
Why A Good Man (or Woman) is Hard to Find
In the end, my happy AT&T experience boiled down to finally finding one smart, dedicated person who seemed interested in my problem and devoted to fixing it. He referred to the billing issue as "our screw up" and I got the feeling he was really on my side and working for me. At Bank of America, I found literally no one willing to help, only people that cited "rules" and "regulations."
It got me thinking a bit about why it's so hard to find that person that really seems to care, so I started a little market research, surveying a few hundred front-line sales, support and service folks in big banks, phone companies, cable companies, etc. What I found was a bit shocking, but confirmed what I've always suspected.
They Don't Have Time to Help
In a lot of situations, the sales, support and service folks really wanted to help, but didn't feel the company gave them enough time. If they were meeting customers live in a store, they often felt their manager was hovering over them, and pushing them on to the next customer in line.
They're Not Always Paid to Help
In a lot of situations, the folks on the front lines admitted that their entire compensation pushed them away from spending time with a customer to solve their problem. Either their compensation was weighed heavily to commissions, or they had a certain metrics - like six calls per hour - that they absolutely had to hit and interfered with helping the customer.
They're Often Not Allowed to Help
Finally, there were a lot of times that the front-line folks admitted that there was a straightforward fix that would make a customer happy, but company policy prohibited the fix. Sometimes this meant not accepting a return a few days over the limit, other times it meant enforcing a long user agreement the customer obviously hadn't had time to read.
All in all, I walked away with a little more sympathy for the front-line sales and support folks. In more cases than not, these were folks that wanted to help that just felt their hands were tied.
Bottom line :: There are broad forces in play that prevent a service or support person from helping, no matter, no matter how interested and well-intentioned they are.