Is it just me or does the term “customer service” seem like an oxymoron?  The term implies cheerful, helpful people who want to resolve your issue.  But is that what we get?  Instead we’re shuffled around, leaving us more frustrated and no closer to finding the needed information or solution.

Do you provide top notch customer service?  Have you examined your processes lately? Is your staff properly trained? Is your phone number clearly listed on your site or is it buried? Do you want to hear from your customers? If any of these leave you questioning your own service then it’s time for an examination.

Lately I’ve gotten cynical and believe customer service has become a lost art. Requests that should take fewer than 15 minutes have turned into 50 minute conversations.

A couple of recent customer service issues have left me scratching head.

For instance, I signed up for a 30-day trial for an accounting system. Though it was kick-butt it was much more than I needed, so after a week I called to cancel.  It took a bit to get to the appropriate person.  After explaining the situation I was instructed to send an email to “cancel” the subscription.  So I fired off an email immediately.  End of story, right?  Nope.

Twenty-three days later I was charged for the cancelled trial software.  Admittedly I was mildly peeved, mostly because I wasn’t interested in calling customer service.  But I did.  Fifty very long minutes and three transfers later repeating the same story, I was connected with someone (knowledgeable) who said to expect a refund in 7 to 10 business days.  It was 14 days, but who’s counting.

Another recent head scratcher.

A client’s project stalled out and I offered to help move things along and contact Ms. J, who had three numbers listed.  Three is better than none right? Unsure of the best contact number and time to reach, I tried one of the numbers:

Me:  “This is Angie from Company K, is Ms. J available?”

Her:  “I’m not sure. Could you hold?”  Then, “Could I take a message?”

Me:  “I see she has three numbers. Does she have an assistant who handles her schedule? I’d like to know best time and number to reach her.”

Her:  “Could you hold?”  Comes back and says, “I’m trying to leave her a voice mail.”

Me:  “Thanks. It probably makes more sense if I connect with her directly.”

This goes back and forth for another few minutes. I’m dumbfounded over the difficulty in trying to reach an admin.  Does she have one?  My mistake for presuming this would be a simple task with a simple answer. So I try again.  This time I’m transferred to the general counsel.  Great, an attorney.

Me:  “Hi, I believe I was transferred to the wrong person. This is Angie from Company K, and I’m trying to reach Ms. J’s assistant, if she has one.”

Him:  “Who are you?”

Me:  Explain again…

The attorney, being an attorney, grills me, asking the purpose of call.  The kicker is he accuses me of being mysterious.  Is this request that unreasonable?  Instead I thank him for his time and end the call.

I was no further in helping out my client.

I immediately wanted to rant about this goofy exchange on Twitter and Facebook but held back, deciding it would make a better blog post.

So there it is.  Social media is great in so many ways and if you are already doing something great, social media amplifies that.  And if you’re not, it’ll shine a spotlight on those areas for improvement.  Know your weaknesses and fix them.  Test your customer service processes. Train people who answer the phones. Make sure your contact information is prominent on your site.  And most importantly let your customers know you want to hear from them. They want to know that customer service is a top priority.

If you run a smooth ship, the customers will be ready to board.