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Computer Customer Service?

By Greg Harris

Where Real Humans Respond to Customers

Greg's Corner No one can manage a business these days without the aid of computers and yet when a business loses its human touch, it will probably lose its customers as well. I'm reluctant to tell a customer service story about a credit card company because they are easy pickings, but here's a story about how the computer seems to have eaten the humans.

On the surface it sounds like a great plan. Don't wait for me, the credit card user, to spot fraud, be proactive when something suspicious happens. I got both an email and a phone call alerting me to the problem. I was thankful until I heard why they were calling me.

The suspicious charge was a $6 recurring charge that had been charged to my card every month for the past eight years. I had never questioned this charge before, nor had the credit card company. Why did this look suspicious after all these years? I explained the situation and thought I was done with the problem.

Then it happened again the next month and again the month after that. What I originally thought was great customer service was turning into a maddening annoyance. I imagine someone's idea of great software had been newly installed and I was one of its first victims. Despite my pleas for help, the calls and emails kept coming every month.

Let's say for a second that this had been a fraudulent transaction. It was still bad business. Let's say there is an 80% probability that it's fraud. For a $6 charge that means the expected loss is $4.80. It must have cost them more to call me than they could reasonably expect to save. It certainly wasn't worth the time that I was forced to put into it.

After my efforts to get the human to retrain the computer failed, I decided to try to find someone in management who could do something about it. No matter where I sent my email, I got a form letter in return directing me to call the fraud department. I explained that I was trying to complain about the fraud department, but all I got was a form letter response.

Finally, I drew my line in the sand. I demanded a reply that addressed the specifics of my problem and not a form letter.

No, not every company is like Jameco where real humans respond to customers. I get that, but when a customer is frustrated I expect there to be an escalation path to management that's not too difficult to find.

I got a response that was a little bit better. Someone was trying and came close to acknowledging the specifics of my problem. But there were three fatal mistakes:

First, the email was signed with the company name, not the person's name. I had no one to hold accountable.

Second, the signature was followed by a pretty little copyright line which could only be important if you are sending a FORM LETTER!

Third, the copyright date was 2011 which says that my personalized response was written last year apparently in anticipation of my problem.

Let me switch gears and contrast this with a recent story that highlights Jameco's approach. A long-time customer had been purchasing the same product for years. Over time our costs increased and while we did our best to protect his price, we ultimately were forced to raise his price. He was furious. Our sales team did their best to explain, but he just kept getting angrier and angrier. Finally, he threatened to call the CEO directly to tell him how poorly the company was being run. At that point the sales person said, "I'm sure he would love to talk to you. Please hold while I transfer you."

Jameco's management team believes that we are accountable to our customers. That means that we need to be accessible. While hopefully you'll never have a need to contact the management team, we think it's good to know that you always have direct access without any filters. Just write us at [email protected]. Finally, I hope you'll excuse the copyright at the bottom of this page. While I haven't written this note personally to you, if you do take the time to write me, I'll send you a personalized, non-copyrighted response that is actually written in the same year that you write me!