Karin Kloosterman
Forecasting technologies and design to better the planet

Bad customer service hurts the economy and environment

Scenario last time I called the customer service of PayPal, or was it Apple, my bank? or the phone company I used in Canada last time I was there? You know what –– We have all been there before: Confronting companies that have the power to make or break our day. If one thing goes wrong in the channel you can lose your marbles, or worse –– your business or personal life can suffer. Just before making an essential call, I warned my friend that I might not be able to make it up north if I don’t get some banking details sorted out. 

I take care to make a cup of coffee, take a bite to eat, isolate myself in a soundproof room away from the kids and I get ready to jump into the ring. Instead of technology making our lives easier when we need customer service, it’s starting to look a lot more like Kafka’s Castle. More frequently there are fewer and fewer people to speak with and the labyrinth of questions you need to answer and special passcodes one needs to figure out how to reach a person can be challenging beyond belief. Many companies cling on to outdated processes and fail to get to know their customer needs.

One tactic I employ with companies that are selling a product is to go through the new sales channel rather than customer service. This is usually a more rapid way of entering the system of finding a live person to speak with. Of course I can try the old tactic of complaining, saying I have been on the phone for hours, but there is no-one to complain to. In Israel that kind of approach will just have the customer service rep hanging up on you. Same if you ask for an English speaking agent. 

So I go back to being old fashioned and listen to the prompts and try to be a good soldier and do the right things. Oh no, I am stuck in the loop again. Okay, next plan – press zero – that sometimes work. Nope, the call gets disconnected. 

Finally after going in a circle pressing 3, 4 and then 7 and then #, and saying a few words in a Scottish accent (E L E V E N) just to make the robots on the other side laugh (they don’t) I somehow miraculously get through to a person. Maybe the robots did think I was funny? The operator told me that it’s easy. If only I had said the word AGENT then the robots would have noticed I needed someone. Did they not sense my distress? Can robots not yet use AI, or artificial intelligence to understand my human emotions? I am a customer after all, but it seems more and more these days that companies care only about getting customers hooked into the trap of chaos, and less about how they treat them once the credit card details are in the system.

We the customers have been so tired of trying to get our old phone’s Apple Password recovered or remaining balance from the cell phone company returned in a check that will take 6 months (are you sure you want that money, the agent asks me about the $86 owed to me from Rogers phone in Canada) –– than switch services or look for new ones. Or even fight to get our money back. We are burnt out and distrustful of service providers and like to deal with customer service only when necessary. 

Back in the day when I bought my first Apple product, a Mac computer, Steve Jobs sent me a thank you card in the mail, hand-signed. Where is that kind of customer service now? We need to retrace our steps a bit and think less about hand-over-hand economic growth, but ways to keep companies stable and their customers happy. 

Zendesk has been more helpful for small companies and complicated time zones, but still we want more educated customer service where we speak with real people. 

There are companies trying to tools to improve customer satisfaction, and one of the approaches understanding how to know your customer better. And this is a reason why the US giant Salesforce just bought an Israeli company. I say another is to support the kind of company that supports your vision. Maybe it costs a bit more to buy the services of a hosting company that powers its services from renewable energy, but chances are their vision will better match a world you will want to live in. Or think more locally: maybe it costs a bit more money to shop at the mom and pop grocery store or organic food shop than by shopping at the big chain shops. But when you do you have someone to talk with. Someone to ask about the products, what you need, and in some cases what you don’t need. Spirulina? Not for you.

I believe that choosing companies and products that match your values and customer service needs (do you know how hard it was for me to unsubscribe from Dropbox?) will only make this planet more livable. We will really have more patience and time to hang out in the garden and play with our kids. Chances are we will also be supporting less aggressive business models where the CEO makes $200 million a year, and the employees a fraction of that, but we will be supporting companies who have enough vision for 100 years, not a 3 year exit or IPO.

About the Author
Karin Kloosterman was born an activist, focusing that spirit to align human desires with Earth-friendly approaches. She's a published scientist, award-winning journalist and a serial entrepreneur who founded flux to cognify Earth's data. She is the founder of the world-leading Middle East eco news site Green Prophet www.greenprophet.com Reach out via karin@greenprophet.com
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