Customer no Service
And thus we come to the most insidious offense against humanity: Online customer service. This exists only to further the agenda started with outsourcing to non-english-speaking nations; providing just enough service to sign up for reocurring bills, but not enough service to actually cancel the service. AOL, I am looking at you. You gave us this idea, You pushed it further and further, You are still pulling this on people. What does this have to do with something nice, safe, and comfortable like online bank statements? Actually, more than you’d think. Consider those bank statements — what happens when you’ve switched banks, and the IRS comes a’ knockin. “Where are your bank statements?” they ask. “They are in my bank account online,” you reply. Unfortunately for you, you can’t log in because you’ve changed banks and your old account is closed. The good news is that public awareness of this very issue has been making things happen, if slowly; banks are more likely now to enable you to easily and legibly print out online statements and records, and also able to download records for offline perusal. The bad news is that this is the only scenario that can land you in prison most of the time, and it’s the only scenario getting any attention at all. Other industries are putting more and more of their customer service and – worse – technical support online. The upside is that dealing with funny accents over the phone is getting easier to avoid. The downside is that if the problem isn’t in the FAQ, there is no institutional memory, and the tech support guy has no opportunity to have figured this out himself a month or so back. Since, in my experience community forums are a poor substitute for actual qualified technical support personnel with access to engineers, and online technical data repositories are usually a poor substitute for community forums, you can expect to find only the most common and easily-figured-out problems to be addressed by these support systems. The other symptom of declining customer service due to excessive automation is phone tree hell. While the end of “Press one to go to another menu. Press two to be placed on hold indefinitely. Press three to strangle yourself with the phone cord” style menus is thankfully within sight, due to improvements in voice-recognition technology, this is generally only found at a few elite high-tech firms – Apple and Google are two you may have spoken with. Having spoken with both in the last day, my attitude has softened a bit; had I called the bank today, my prose would be full of bile and invective.
Perhaps I am not railing against online customer service so much as I’m railing against bad customer service, but even bad customer service – with a person in the loop – can be worked with. You can ask for the boss, the boss’s boss, et cetera until you get to someone who is able to make decisions and help you. Not so much with a computer that only speaks DTMF. When technology is used as an excuse (or enabler) for those who think “cusomer service” is about average call times and not satisfaction, bad things happen with machine-like precision, and no appeals to the sympathy of the person on the other end are going to get you anywhere – this should be obvious, but since The Consumerist is still posting new material all the time — and I think I’ll quote them here, “Customer service reps with no power are the reason for so many of the complaints here at Consumerist” — that means that people are getting screwed by this all the time.
TL;DR: Technology is being substituted for competency by many companies, and they’re screwing people over.
The moral of the story is that until ubiquitous broadband really is, inter-network bandwidth needs to be treated like the scarce resource that it is. Before making a feature online, it should be considered – is there a better way to do this, minimizing bandwidth use? Does this need to be online constantly? At all? Other important questions are things like, “are we going to kill our reputation with terrible service?” These questions need to be asked by any smart executive, coder, or manager in the industry if they want to get a leg up on their competitors. This has been true for a while, but now especially, the chance to stand out from the crowd means not making the same mistakes as your competitors. I swear, it’s easy – just give it a try.