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Home » Personal Asides

A Letter to the Management of Companies with Hated Customer Service

Last updated by on 9 Comments

A news article headline caught my eye the other day.

“Rogers CEO says customer service needs to improve ‘significantly’”.

Rogers, a Canadian cable, wireless, and media company (Canada’s version of AT&T) – made the bold statement that they need to improve their customer service. The outgoing CEO, Nadir Mohamed, made similar statements when he took the job 4 years prior.

I’m not a Roger’s customer. I’m not even Canadian. But the headline and CEO statements got my blood boiling a bit.

Telecoms are world renown for their soul-crushing customer service. In the U.S., Comcast, Dish, AT&T, & Time Warner frequently make annual lists of the companies with the worst customer service, as rated by the people who should matter most – their customers. Banks like JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America are not far behind.

Does it have to be this way? I’ve worked with plenty of big businesses that I should also hate by the fact that I must pay them money and they occasionally raise rates on me. My experience with Liberty Mutual, a large insurance company, has every reason to be awful. It’s not. Same goes for American Express. And the regional bank I work with – TCF. I’ve never had a bad customer service experience that left me bitter towards them. Each time I have talked to them on the phone or in person, I feel like they have customer service reps who are empowered to give a damn about customers.

If they can do it, why can’t every company?

customer service complaintSo, I was feeling a bit charitable and wanted to do my part and write this “letter to the management” of the most hated customer-facing companies in America, in the hope that maybe it actually makes it to someone who gives a damn. Maybe it ads a bit of much-needed perspective from leadership who may come across it. You aren’t going to hear this message from short-sighted shareholders, those who report to you, or your board of directors. Hopefully it adds some third-party perspective and gives you an alternative course to pursue. And if you’re a reader – let the management know if you agree or disagree – and heck, feel free to send them an email with a link to this.

Here goes:

To the Management of Comcast, AT&T, Dish, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and All Companies of Similar Customer Service Reputation:

Look, we get it. It can be tough, maybe even stressful to take the long-term view for the company when all that matters to your bonus, your board, and short-term shareholders is short-term performance growth from one quarter to the next. And rewarding customers with high-paid, high class customer service, and… hold on to your cufflinks… loyalty discounts for remaining a customer – probably lead to a negative short-term profit impact.

So, crazy idea here… what if your reputation was built on things other than short-term results – like making or keeping your customers happy, improving your brand or your customer’s brand, and maybe even setting a legacy that lasted longer than a few annual meetings and conference calls? What if you won one for the people?

Whether you realize it or not, the long-term outlook for your company actually depends on you being able to convince others of the importance of this very issue. Do you want to be known as the guy/gal who was there for a few short years, business as usual before fading in to obscurity? Or do you want to be known as THE ONE who changed everything for the betterment of customers, employees, loyal shareholders, and the company’s legacy?

Here’s the thing – when enough customers hate you for long enough periods, they are going to exhaust every possible resource to find alternatives to doing business with you. This is true whether you have legitimate competition or not. If you enjoy a partial government-granted monopoly (i.e. Comcast for cable in just about every geography you serve), they will find a different market sector to move to entirely. By the way, Comcast (special message just for you here) – changing your name to XFinity and creating a funnel to direct unhappy loyal customers to reps whose job is to say “no” is not fooling anyone. Your customer service still sucks. This is not 1990 anymore – we have alternatives, and we are not afraid to use them.

I’m sure you have all kinds of analysts to crunch the numbers – so here’s one that you are encouraged to compute and use as a pillar for change within your company: the lifetime value of a happy customer. Odds are that value is far greater than a customer who signs on for a cheap promotional rate and churns over and over until finally they’ve had enough with your disloyal, scheming ways towards them.

Shame on you for continually raising prices on loyal customers and nickel & diming them with new fees while offering sign-on bonuses and steep discounts to acquire customers with no loyalty.

Shame on you for outsourcing customer service to low-cost foreign workers.

Shame on you for locking customers in by contract when you could have locked them in by virtue of treating them well.

Shame on you for not having customer service policies that reward your representatives for making customers happy.

Shame on you for devoting resources to fight and eliminate market competition instead of focusing on a better offering.

Shame on you for not giving your customers the choice to pay for what they really want, a la carte.

These practices will not produce the marginal short-term gains that pad your bonus at the end of the year when there is no customer base left to draw from. And as consumers only get more and more educated in today’s information economy, and more and more technological disruptive competitors hit the scene, you can damn well bet customers are going to do everything in their power to not only find an alternative, but tell everyone they know and meet about how much better that alternative is than you. Your strategy may have worked prior to the advent of the Internet. It’s doomed now.

You have a choice – do you want to fade away in to the imprisoning walls of your McMansion – left to fight the voices in your head who charge you for doing wrong to others? Or, do you want to go out with a bang and make yourself, your company, and a small slice of this world better for trying?

What’s the worst that can happen? You already have untold millions in the bank, and if you lose your job, you can take a golden parachute and then get some pretty sweet gigs in consulting for companies who do give a damn about their customers, be a consumer lobbyist, and maybe even get a nice book deal. Who knows – you might even make a lasting difference and become celebrated.

I can promise you, your efforts will not go unnoticed.

Sincerely,

Everyone who has ever reluctantly given your company money

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About the Author
I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 7,500+ others by getting FREE email updates. You'll also find every post by category & every post in order.


9 Comments »
  • LOVE this! Nice work G.E.. I couldn’t have said this better myself. I don’t know if anyone at these large companies ever had a simple marketing class, but it is always cheaper to retain a current customer than it is to find a new one. Customers now have a larger voice than ever and if they did a better job a serving the customer, then they could use free marketing from their customers to their advantage.

  • Phil Anderson says:

    Well written and well said. For years I have been saying virtually the same thing. As your first comment stated, it is less expensive for a company to RETAIN their customers than it is to find NEW ones. Treat them well and they will follow. I site two big corporations for stellar customer service: Alaska Airlines and (believe it or not) AT&T (wireless service). Now I know there are other big companies that ‘get it’ and do a nice job of customer service but these two I rarely have a problem with and if there are issues I have they take care of them swiftly with a smile on their proverbial face.

    Also, I know it’s common to bash companies for horrid customer service but I think we as consumers also play a part in good customer service. Our demands can sometimes be unreasonable. Most of the time we DON’T compliment or promote those companies that treat us well. As consumers, we could do a better job, I think, of spreading the love.

    Thanks for this post. I’m going to share it.

    Phil Anderson
    Anderson Social Media Solutions

  • Michael says:

    I love this article, especially for cable companies.

    That being said, I’d like to speak up and say Bank of America has always provided fantastic customer service across multiple issues since I first opened my account with them in 2009.

  • Jesse K. says:

    Great article and I agree with everything said except that I (personally) have had excellent service from Chase. I have my checking, savings, freedom credit card and, up until I refinanced recently, my mortgage through them.

    One time I fell for a door to door magazine salesman claiming to benefit the boys & girls club and Chase was willing to waive the check holding fee to cancel the check. I’ve had my credit card number compromised twice and they were quick to reassure me that they were investigating but that I would not be responsible for the charges. Their mortgage web interface was awesome too (I miss it now that I’m with a small bank where I can’t see much more than my balance). Quick pay is awesome too. Maybe I’ve just been lucky? I’m a happy customer so far..

    Time Warner on the other hand is a PITA. Every call they try to sell me something. With the same services, my rates have increased $32 in the past 1.5 years. Google Fiber just came to my city so I’m hoping that competition will drive prices down, or at least maintain them.

  • Ivan says:

    This is awesome! Your letter needs to be read by every C-level executive out there who thinks they are doing their shareholders a favor by abusing their customers.

    Seriously, how do these companies get away with their horrible customer service?

    That being said, the onus is still on people to stop giving these companies new business. I, for one, am more than happy to do my part!

  • It’s especially sad to see smaller, but growing companies begin to cut corners in the customer service department. I do agree with you that this behavior isn’t very conductive of preserving a good company image and retaining existing customers. Those companies which do maintain their customer service, despite their growth make a tremendously larger profit in the long term.

  • Shobir says:

    I love companies that offer excellent customer service and I probably recommend them to people everyday, what these companies fail to realize is that the customer is always right and giving the customer a negative experience costs the company dearly. If I really like a company but detest their service I usually email the CEO of the company and share my thought, this way something gets done. I’ve tried this with Homebase and Dreams and it’s worked both times. This is a really excellent article and I’m really beginning to like the blog, keep the quality content coming.

  • Rose says:

    I worked for a small LLC as a customer service rep for 6 months in college. It was undoubtedly the worst job I’d ever had. Not only is it just dull to sit in a cubicle for 9 hours speaking into a headset, but our administrators managed us very strangely in my opinion. We were pitted against each other and rewarded with commission only when we signed a new customer up for our service- never for resolving a problem or working through someone’s specific situation. Obviously, this resulted in some CSRs focusing only on signing new customers up and leaving the angry, confused, yelling customers for us less money-driven workers to talk to. Our admin also kept odd tabs on the CSR department. I can’t be sure of their reason, but the company had 4 departments, each filled with college students working part time. For some reason the customer service department was paid the least, had the least authority (but the most knowledge of the company), had the worst office (no heating in the winter… I mean, what is that?), and we were given one department-wide email address whereas every other employee had their own private email. If we had a problem with a coworker or needed a supervisor’s help, we resorted to leaving handwritten notes on their desk *flashback to middle school* I could understand that if the other departments were more qualified or had more experience, but every employee below administration was a ~20 year old that was just doing this job after class.

    I’m not sure if this is normal for CS departments, but it definitely could explain why customer service has such a bad reputation. I agree with your letter. The people managing customer service only want potential profit. If you already have someone’s money, it doesn’t matter how happy they are with the product; and if you’re paying a college kid $8 an hour to deal with those unsatisfied customers, you’re feeling almost no cost as a company administrator to have poor customer service. That’s not a business that I would be proud to call mine.

  • Imran says:

    There are a few small companies who are priding themselves on customer service. I ordered some business cards from a small online retailer, the color of the cards was slightly different to what I wanted an I bought this to the attention of the company founder. My cards were reprinted and sent with the right color free of charge, that what I call service! Whilst I agree that there are a number of businesses cutting corners there are also those who are going the extra mile.

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