June 2009


Bad Customer Service

More Modern than Ameritechs best.

More Modern than Ameritech's best.

After growing up and living in the (American) West, I’d come to understand one solid fact about US West, the local telephone company: It was the most evil, awful, horrible, and despicable company on the face of the planet.

And then in 1998 I moved to Indiana.

Even before I moved to Indiana I realized that the folks in the West were myopic. They didn’t understand how good they had it: US West could have been Ameritech.

I remember dialing up the Ameritech 800-number about a month before moving to Indiana in order to establish my phone service. Upon getting through I faced a phone tree: “Press 1 if you are already a customer, press 2 if you are a new customer.”

I pressed 2.

The phone tree presented me another series of options to choose from: “Press 1 if you want to establish phone service in Illinois; Press 2 if you want to establish phone service in Indiana; Press 3 if….”

I pressed 2.

Clearly I was a new customer wanting phone service in Indiana.

Eventually I reached a live human being who wanted the nitty-gritty details that a phone tree just cannot handle easily, like my street name and house number—which I happily provided, followed by the name of the city—which I provided.

And then the lady asked what state that was in.

Which made me wonder, why exactly had I bothered to answer the automated voice’s question—or why the information hadn’t some how been passed along to the person I was talking to.

Really, nothing annoys me more than having to repeat information. It’s almost a guaranteed way to give me a bad impression of a company.

It turns out that there is another way to annoy me—and that’s to try and sell me stuff that I don’t want—I find it distasteful to stand at a Best Buy cash register and have some cashier try to sell me a subscription to a magazine or an excessively expensive extended warrantee for a $30 trinket. I once timed a woman in front of me at Best Buy: five minutes to buy one item. I told the cashier not to try and sell me anything else, and it took me 30 seconds to buy my one item.

Ameritech was the master of the up-sell and continual verbal sales bullshit. I would occasionally call the company, whether to move my service (I moved several times in Indiana) or change my package of services. After a few calls where they tried to convince me to add shit to my services that I didn’t need/want/imagine, I started being proactive, asking the call center employees to not try and sell me anything—it’s actually a really good way to bypass the bullshit, and the employees were more than happy to oblige me.

Until I got this woman—I can still hear her voice clearly in my mind. She’d agreed not to sell me anything and to just make the changes I requested—and we’d sped right though the entire call—but as we were wrapping up, she paused and said to me, “I see that your local (in-state) long distance service is not with Ameritech.”

She was right: I’d switched away to save money.

That said, I was annoyed—I responded to her, “I thought I asked you to not try and sell me anything.”

“You did,” she told me. “I’m not trying to sell you anything; this is like telling you your fly is unzipped.”

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