I spent the day yesterday hanging out at my parents’ house, waiting around for Telus to show up to replace their modem. I waited patiently until 4:30, then I got on the phone to ask Telus if someone was actually going to show up. I was assured that someone was. It’s close to midnight as I type this, and my parents are still waiting for someone to show up. It’s the easiest fix ever, all they need is a new modem. (I took my modem over so my Dad could check his email.)

I’m sure just about every one of you has some sort of horror story when it comes to dealing with the phone company, or the cable company, or whichever. Feel free to share your most horrific of those stories in the comments section. I give bonus points for cuss words.

I’m much more curious about why these companies are so bad at customer service. I like to chat with the repair guy once he comes around, partially to be a nice guy and partially so the repairman remembers me as a nice customer. Whenever I talk to these guys, they all agree the company sucks at providing good customer service. They overwork their repair guys. There isn’t enough guys in an area, so work gets backed up. The company over-promises and under-delivers. When you call into the call center, the person on the other end clearly doesn’t give two craps about you, at least most of the time.

So why are companies so bad at customer service? Here are some ideas I have as to why:

Useless Procedures

I don’t have any first hand examples, but just about every big company has policies and procedures that are only marginally useful. Usually these procedures are thought up by middle management types that are years removed from front line service, with no thought about how the customer will react. Middle management has to come up with this stuff, mostly so upper management can see they’re doing something. Hey, you’d want to justify your existence too, especially if the alternative is being laid off.

They Still Think They’re A Monopoly

I remember when the Alberta government owned the phone company, (AGT- which stood for Alberta Government Telephone) along with all the liquor stores, as well as all sorts of other stuff. Alberta ended up selling all that stuff off, letting the private sector run what the government used to, with the notable exception of ATB Financial.

These former crown corporations were bought by other former crown corporations, or companies that were dominant in their field. Since Canada has such little competition in industries like wireless or television, these companies can continue to treat their customers like trash, content in knowing their competitors are doing the exact same thing. They’ll lose subscribers because of bad service, but so their competitors. It’s a perpetual motion machine of crap.

Even if more companies enter the space, well established companies will just buy them out. The field gets consolidated to a handful of players once again, and we’re back in the same boat as before.

No One Cares

I don’t want to paint everyone who works at these places as an apathetic moron. I’m sure there are some great employees out there. But, for the most part, the employees don’t care.

And why would they? An entry level employee in a call center is probably making all of $12 an hour. A company isn’t exactly attracting the best and brightest paying that much. Plus, the culture at these companies doesn’t exactly award going above and beyond the call of duty. Doing something innovative to retain a customer would be punished, not rewarded. Besides, the entry level employee isn’t given the authority to do anything anyway.

Short Sightedness

The reason things are like they are is because the company thinks of only one thing: profits. They figure if they keep costs down, the savings will go straight to the bottom line, making investors happy at the expense of customers.

As a consumer, this attitude translates to a pretty crappy customer service experience. Giving some sort of compensation for a bad customer service experience can help the company maintain a good relationship with a customer. If a company does nothing because it’s good for the bottom line, they can lose a customer who might have paid for decades. Which is the better long term decision?

The Company Has Intentionally Bad Customer Service

I’m convinced that companies have intentionally horrible customer service. They use confusing automated systems when you call. They give customer service reps instructions to give callers the run around. They randomly hang up on people who call in. I used to think all this stuff was just a result of crappy systems, but I’m now convinced some of it is on purpose.

For what reason? It’s simple really. If nobody calls in, then costs to run a call center go down dramatically.

Other Reasons?

Readers, can you think of other reasons why big companies are really bad at customer service?

Tell everyone, yo!