Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Customer Service Conundrum Call Centers of High-Tech Companies Are Swamped, and Consumers Are Fuming

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Customer Service Conundrum Call Centers of High-Tech Companies Are Swamped, and Consumers Are Fuming

Article excerpt

When a telephone caller reaches a high-tech customer service

center, he or she is conducting what the pros term a "technical

support transaction."

Frustrated callers who can't get through use other terms: Cell

phone hell, call center limbo, voice mail purgatory.

Why is some phone-based customer service so miserable, and

what can we expect in the future?

Some pros in the business think it will get worse, while

optimists think more and better technology will help.

In the meantime here are a few samples of phone-based misery

in the closing years of the 20th century.

Item: Dana Bexley tried to get some billing detail on $4.40

worth of charges from Powertel. She says she was told she could

not be given the information over the phone. Powertel is a phone

company.

But if Powertel, which offers wireless phone service in

Jacksonville, is a high-tech company, it took a decidedly

low-tech approach to Bexley's requests.

She says she was told to come in person to the company's

office on Philips Highway.

Bexley is ticked off, thinks other people have had similar

problems and has filed suit.

"There are 119,000 customers that seem very happy with our

service," said Powertel spokesman Kevin Inda. "We are signing up

customers at a good rate. One situation is not indicative of

everything."

Item: Kristine Kiely makes her living getting yelled at over

the phone by people who can't get through to MediaOne, which has

the Jacksonville cable franchise. She doesn't even work for

MediaOne.

Kiely is one of the clerks in the city of Jacksonville's Cable

Franchise Office. She fields a couple of hundred calls a month

from very, very angry customers who have taken the time and

trouble to track her office down after spending 45 minutes or an

hour on hold trying to reach someone, anyone, at MediaOne.

"They're mad, they are frustrated, I understand that," said

Kiely, but the calls still shake her up.

Item: Brad Jordan is used to being put on hold for 45

minutes at a time, waiting time to talk to tech support at the

little company that made his computer. He's not mad at anybody.

When he gets through, he gets helped.

Then there is run-of-the-mill aggravation.

The interactive voice response phone menus that offer to

connect you to the person you want to talk to, but only if you

already know the name or the extension number. The automatic call

forwarding system at a Washington, D.C., law firm that requires a

password before you can leave a message.

What's going on?

Part of the answer is rooted in economics.

And part of the answer lies in the problems created by

technology.

And, just to muddy the waters, some companies murmur quietly

that consumer expectations have risen, making it much harder to

please anybody.

HOW THEY STACK UP

Businesses commonly use higher expectations of consumers as an

excuse, said Claes Fornell, a professor at the University of

Michigan and developer of the American Customer Satisfaction

Index, funded by the American Society for Quality and the

National Quality Research Center.

The index is compiled from 50,000 telephone interviews of

customers of about 200 corporations and a few government

agencies. Companies pay $25,000 a year to find out how they stack

up in his data against competitors.

"There is no evidence that expectations are increasing, and

why would they if quality keeps decreasing? There is no reason

for it," Fornell said. …

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