Columns 2003

Being a good customer is a waste of time

I’ve written about the lack of service provided to customers by American businesses before. But every once in a while, a business will do something so egregious that it deserves special notice. There always seems to be some big corporation that thinks it can go one better than its rival in extending its middle finger of courtesy to its customers.

So what has started my ranting this year? Well, it’s based on my perception of how major businesses in this state, and probably in the rest of the country, treat customers who make the mistake of being loyal to them.  And boy is that a mistake.  All the deals go to new customers.  Once you become an old customer, you basically shoulder the cost of the company enticing new customers with great deals.  Deals for which you may be eligible but at a cost not incurred by the new customer.

Here’s what happened.  I called one of our corporate giants to ask about some deals they had been touting in big print in your local papers.  I’d been a customer of this particular company since I’d moved to Anchorage. I get all my services from them – TV, Internet, phone, fax – you name it and I buy it from them.

They were quite eager to have my participation in the new offer till we reached the point where I was told I’d have to disconnect my current equipment, bring it to them, pick up new equipment, take it home, hook it up and program it myself.  You have no idea how frightening that sounds to a person who once wiped out her entire hard drive when all she thought she was doing was running a spring-cleaning program.

I expressed my discomfort and asked for the free installation advertised in the paper. That’s when I found out that the free installation was only for new customers. Old customers, those of us they’d already hooked, would have to pay if we wanted an actual service person to cross our thresholds.

“So,” I asked optimistically, “how much would that service visit cost?” “Well,” they said cheerfully, “$20.” “So,” I responded, under the mistaken belief that they would want to keep the business of a good and loyal customer, “for $20 you will come and hook everything up and program the remote?” “No,” they said with a smile, “that’s only for one box. You have two boxes and it’s $20 per box. It will cost you $40.”

“Let me see if I have this straight,” I said incredulously, “your serviceman will come to my house and hook me up downstairs and then you will charge me another $20 for him to walk upstairs and do the same thing? Both of which operations you are telling me shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes each if you know what you’re doing – and I assume you serviceman does.” “Yes,” they responded still cheerfully.

“But I am a faithful and loyal customer who fills your coffers every month to the tune of well over $200 when all the services I get from you are added up. Doesn’t that count for anything? Don’t you feel at all obligated to not screw me so blatantly and at least pretend to work at keeping me as a valued customer?”

There was a stunned silence on the other end of the phone. I can only assume that the customer service representative’s training had never covered the idea of actually working to keep customers as much as it had been geared to luring new ones in. After all, corporate reasoning must go, people are basically too busy to go through the trouble of switching companies what with work and family and all – especially if we make them do their own hauling.  So once we have them hooked, let’s just forget about them unless we need to find a way to gouge them to pay for our latest advertising campaign.

The last sound that customer service representative heard was the click of my phone as I hung up right before calling that other company to see how much they wanted me as a customer.

Do I think this other company will treat me any better once I become their customer?  Not really. But it will amuse me to jump back and forth every 90 days or so just to annoy them all.  And, I’ll get free installation every time I do.