Is Recession Making Customer Service Worse? - InformationWeek

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IoT
IoT
Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
8/12/2009
12:01 PM
Michael Hickins
Michael Hickins
Commentary
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Is Recession Making Customer Service Worse?

You'd think that with the economy being what it is, companies would be trying just a little harder to hold onto their customers. And the little things, like making it up to customers when you inconvenience them, or adopting opt-in policies for marketing gimmicks, is much less expensive than any new marketing programs or feature sets you can think of.

You'd think that with the economy being what it is, companies would be trying just a little harder to hold onto their customers. And the little things, like making it up to customers when you inconvenience them, or adopting opt-in policies for marketing gimmicks, is much less expensive than any new marketing programs or feature sets you can think of.But I haven't seen much evidence that anyone is trying to differentiate themselves with better customer service -- in fact, it just seems to be getting worse. Maybe companies have laid off all their customer service experts. Maybe the recession is acting like a soporific, slowing their customer service reflexes and making companies fall asleep at the switch. Whatever is going on, though, it isn't good.

For instance, data breaches have become a fact of life, and most companies who have lost personal data offer customers a year of credit protection services (at least).

But bicycle gear vendor Nashbar Direct decided that's simply unnecessary. When criminals penetrated Nashbar's e-commerce servers, the company sent customers a letter expressing its "regret" that it lost "the names, addresses, email addresses, Web account password, and credit or debit card information."

Nashbar's remedy?

We recommend that you contact your credit card issuer immediately by calling the toll-free number located on the back of your card or on your monthly statement and request further guidance… To further assist you, we have also included a document that has answers to many of the questions you may have about this incident.

A toll-free number? An FAQ? It's more insulting to a customer's intelligence than most ads on late-night TV.

Not only does Nashbar fail to make any substantive offer to offset the risk to which it exposed its customers, it has the nerve to turn this misfortune into a marketing vehicle, offering customers a 30 percent discount on any purchase made in the next month. Summer clearance sale anyone?

Please.

You want to chalk this up to a smaller company not knowing the ropes? Well, you don't get much bigger than Comcast or Time Warner Cable.

The battle among Internet service providers is already pretty fierce, as anyone who has seen the cable versus FiOS ads would testify, and the battle promises to heat up even more as broadband proliferates and prices come down.

But here's Comcast redirecting users who type the wrong URL to a marketing page -- and requiring them to opt-out if they don't like it.

Comcast is testing a program called "Domain Helper" that will redirect you to an advertising page if you type in the wrong URL.

The Consumerist reproduces user comments that can't make Comcast executives very happy, unless more interaction with the FCC is what they were hoping for:

It is not surprising that Comcast cannot be trusted to conform to a standard, time tested protocol. Instead they have willfully chosen to damage the user experience in an effort to squeeze a few extra dollars from a service we are already paying for. To expect Comcast to be reasonable and customer focused on this issue is expecting too much. I think the only option is to complain to the FCC. It is what I am doing and I encourage others to do so as well.

But Comcast isn't alone -- Time Warner Cable offers customers the same exact "service."

You entered an unknown web address that was used to present site suggestions that you may find useful. Clicking any of these suggestions provides you with search results, which may include relevant sponsored links. If this service is not right for you, please visit your Preferences page to opt out.

Treating customers well is a much better way of ensuring repeat business than trying to trick them with dubious marketing practices or skating by with a poor excuse of an apology. Obvious as this may be, it seems to have escaped a lot of people in the digital landscape.

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