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This Is Customer Service?!?!

An example of how NOT to treat your best customers---or any customers

I have always considered myself to be a customer service “warrior.” When receiving really good customer service, I’ll agree to buy just about anything. I’ll even make a point of sending an e-mail or completing an online survey to make sure the rep’s performance is acknowledged as being “truly exceptional."

On the other hand, there are times when customer service is bad … really bad. When things don’t go well, it is both convenient and easy to blame “the messenger.” However, it is often the case that the rep has been neither trained nor empowered to solve a customer’s problem. Consider this recent scenario.

I have been a faithful subscriber to a certain popular magazine since the mid-1960s. Until a couple of years ago, the magazine was published on a weekly basis, and my copy was delivered with unfailing reliability every Thursday in the US Mail. In early 2018, the frequency and format changed drastically, and it was simply not the same product I had looked forward to reading every week.

The change in frequency---from weekly to biweekly---was bad enough, but the change in format was even more extreme. Instead of delivering true sports news and photographs at the highest level, the magazine content was reduced to one feature story after another. The edict from the corner office must have been … If our readers want real sports news, they can find it at our website.

I gave the new product a decent try for the first few months. After a while, I realized that my time spent with the magazine was on a steady decline and that I no longer looked forward to receiving it every other week. I made my decision to cancel, or at least to find out the number of issues remaining in my subscription.

I called the toll-free number to the subscription agency. When I reached a live agent, the conversation went like this.

Me: Hi, I’m calling to inquire about my subscription.
Agent: Sure, I’ll be happy to help you. Would you like to renew your subscription?
Me: Actually, I’m calling to cancel, but first I would like to know the remaining value of my subscription.
Agent: I’m sorry, but I don’t have access to that information.
Me: Perhaps I wasn’t clear. I’m thinking of canceling, but depending on the amount remaining on my account, I may decide to continue.
Agent: I’m sorry, but I won’t know the account balance until after the subscription is canceled.
Me: Are you saying that you can’t tell me the account balance right now, but you will have access to it after canceling my subscription?
Agent: Yes, that’s right.

At this point, I paused and thought to myself … I have been a customer for more than 50 years, and I am giving this lady the opportunity to change my mind from canceling to extending my subscription, but she is unable to give me the only number I need to make my decision … until after I make my decision! She really left me no choice.

Me: OK, please cancel my subscription.
Agent: Yes, sir. <Pause> You will be receiving a check in the mail for $36.50 in four-to-six weeks. Is there anything else I can help you with tonight?
Me: No, there really isn’t anything else. Thank you.
Agent: You’re welcome, sir. Have a good evening.

My guess is that mine was not the first call this agent had received in which she was unable to provide the information the customer was requesting. In fact, she was probably as frustrated as I was that she was unable to provide the answer to a simple, reasonable request.

The problem here was not the agent, but rather, it was the procedure assigned for her to do her job. I saw no point in challenging these constraints. Instead, I chose to cancel my subscription and, in doing so, the magazine missed an opportunity to retain a loyal customer.

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