What’s happened to good customer service? What’s your story?

We rarely use our home phone, enjoying instead the portability of cell phone lines. We do like having a landline, for faxes and better voice quality, however, so we’ve been looking for a cheap but reliable alternative to AT&T or our local cable provider. We finally decided to try Vonage and port our phone number to that Internet-based service. We’ve also used the At&T phone line as a DSL connection for Internet, so we had to get a new stand-alone DSL line, terminate the phone line, and port the number.

At the moment, we have no home phone service because although AT&T has disconnected our home line, they have not completed the order to remove the DSL association with the number—so Vonage’s request for the number is being denied.

When I called AT&T on Wednesday to ask why this order—placed a month ago—had not been completed, the associate told me (I’m not making this up): “Removing the DSL from a number isn’t like disconnecting a line, which can be done immediately; it has to go through hundreds of systems.”

Hundreds of systems?

I’ll have to admit that I got a bit snarky at that point and suggested that AT&T was in no hurry to make the number available to Vonage (the AT&T minion was indignant at that suggestion). I also said it might be time to break up AT&T again (like we did with Ma Bell).

Well, as of this date the DSL emancipation is still going through hundreds of systems.

This just underscores our hatred of AT&T because of its failure to serve its customers quickly and fairly. The larger question that I think most of us have is: “What’s happened to customer service?” I’d suggest that there are deep societal, even spiritual, causes to the almost abusive treatment we receive each day in our contact with the business world. I’d suggest these causes:

  1. The best service requires an “others” mentality—a sense that other people are at least as important as we are. That is a deeply Christian teaching that seems to be rapidly slipping from our culture.
  2. The drive to increase profits regardless of impacts on customer service means that companies reduce the number of people committed to the customer service function. Corporations know that customer service has to be maintained at a level that will handle most problems eventually, but the calculus they use puts this hurdle very low. Many corporations choose to serve poorly, because in their cost-benefit calculation complaining customers are cheaper than better service.
  3. Technology has hurt customer service rather than helped it. No one wants to talk to a computer. And the complexity of our toys also makes customer service much more difficult. At this point, all of us bear some responsibility. We want complicated devices but don’t want the service to get more complicated. 
  4. Excellence in customer service is a rare corporate value. Although we hear it expressed as a value, we rarely see or experience it. This can only mean that not enough corporations reward excellent service or punish bad service. 

So what do you think? Go ahead and vent. What are your customer service horror stories? And let me know what you think causes the tragic decline in customer service in our culture.


About Jim Jewell

I am a writer and consultant on faith and public life, active for many years in management and communications in the evangelical community. I now work as the director of the nonprofit practice at The Valcort Group (www.valcort.com). Everything on this blog, however, is my personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Valcort.
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