TCS Daily


Why Abusing Customer Service Representatives Makes Economic Sense

By Jens F. Laurson & George A. Pieler - April 30, 2010 12:00 AM

If you live in the western world and can breathe, you are a victim of "customer service hotline syndrome". Apostrophes are essential with this triple-misnomer: You are not treated like a customer, calling the response you get--if you get one--"service" is a supreme exercise in irony, and the evil seven-menu loop of low-grade on-hold music for upward of 15 minutes ("your call is important to us") puts the 'hotline' term beyond reach of parody.

It takes superhuman effort to remain calm and civil with any customer representative who finally comes on the phone. Common decency demands that we try to be nice to fellow man (or woman), unless injury has been done upon us. Yet we have been harmed by the time we reach the rep, if not directly by this person. Agreed, active niceness can work wonders. More often though, it's irrelevant. Sometimes the representative is incompetent, not fluent in our language, or plain defiant. Even simple transfers to a different department are denied, plunging us back into the horror-loop. Of course the phone battery is under strict instruction on what to do and not to do--simple workers, they are not trusted to make decisions, which, at their wages they receive, makes sense. Their lack of personal fault doesn't lessen our frustration.

As for remedies, it turns out that yelling and a good dose of verbal abuse (within the limits of governing legal restraints, of course) is the way to go. They ruined your day, so ruin theirs. See if you can't make them cry. This may seem petty vengeance, punishing a maybe-innocent in a fit of anger, appeasing our basest instincts. Who would do such a thing?

Permitting a gross exaggeration: Not going full throttle for their mental constitution would be like not shooting at armed child soldiers because the poor sods are just cogs in the machine and not personally responsible for the local atrocities. But here as there, if you don't get them first, they will get you.

Soberly put, rage may be the economically sensible response and one of the few remedies the customer has to address the problem. Why so?

Telephonic customer service over the phone is expensive. Costs vary from company to company, but a major phone corporation estimates an average cost in excess of ten dollars per customer phone service call. No wonder they put you in the menu-maze, hoping you will never reach an operator, and hide the call number in the deepest strata of the website's sub-menus. It is inefficient by design, real customer service being a quaint luxury that can't survive an era of globally competitive pricing.

Instead of abusing customer service representatives, once could pay a premium for efficient, personalized help. Customer interest is questionable, though, and the option often doesn't exist. This leaves the Machiavellian option of driving up the psychological price of bad customer service so that no one, anywhere, will take these jobs at current prices. That might bring a system of even more automation, but also, possibly, of better-paid and genuinely capable service reps. When you get them, of course.

Whether making customer service reps cry really solves problems is tough to guesstimate. You could end up just with disgruntled customers and workers, both a little more cynical about mankind..Still, bad behavior in business must be punished. Boycotting notorious offenders--Vodafone/Verizon, Bank of America, and Hewlett Packard spring to mind --sounds like a good idea, but the tortures of switching service providers, exchanging one bad customer service for another in the process, makes the Ninth Circle of Dante's Hell look pretty good.

Litigating, regulating, and protesting all create their own sets of non-user friendly complications. Is toughing it out (plus venting on consumer complaint boards, just to maintain sanity) the only rational course? Perhaps a non-complex, menu-free customer service rep interface service, with guaranteed results and authorized, friendly agents will be the next business 'regurgolution' (= the radical rediscovery of a tried-and-true business model)? If so, sign us up.


Jens F. Laurson is Editor-in-Chief of the International Affairs Forum. George A. Pieler is an attorney based in Falls Church, Virginia.

5 Comments

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[Off Topic] I've been watching the BBS remake of 'Survivors'
And there's this 'pocket dictator' in it that I've started referring to as The Obama Lady.

She's just like him...except she's been forced to dirty her own hands on occasion. Besides, after a virus wipes out 90% of humanity, not only is good help hard to find but ANY help is hard to find.

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Abusing Customer Service Agents
The grass is certainly NOT greener on the other side of the fence. Verizon management and CSAs routinely mock customers and their 'issues' during 'dead time'. I've seen managers and trainers state "Customers are stupid" and "Never trust a customer".

Those Agents who actually CARE about a customer are denigrated, mocked and held up as 'poor examples' to others.

As for bypassing the insipid IVR systems, try using the old '0' key.

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