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Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 04/13/2006

Making Companies Pay for Bad Service

How's this for a radical idea? If you can't quickly reach a customer-service representative, you should be compensated for your time and effort.

Or this? You should get a credit on your next bill if the first customer-service rep doesn't have your records or can't solve your problem. Ditto, if you're billed incorrectly and have to call or e-mail the company to get the problem fixed.
These are the key provisions in a Customer-Service Bill of Rights proposed by Ernan Roman, a New York consultant who has spent more than 30 years advising major companies on how to give customers a positive experience.

Roman says he's become increasingly dissatisfied with how customers are treated. They have long hold times on the phone, are transferred to call centers either in the U.S. or offshore where answers are hard to find and often incomplete.

"It's a pretty sad state of affairs now," Roman said in a telephone interview. In fact, "customer service is so poor that the only way I know how to fix it is to get a movement going to put pressure on bad behavior, to make companies respect their customers and value their time, and if not, make them pay for it."

Roman said companies curry our favor and make all sorts of promises to get us to buy their goods. But once they have you as a customer, that attitude changes--the customer is "managed" to get the shortest possible amount of talk-time so customer service reps can handle more calls per hour. "Let's extract a little pain if companies don't respect our time as customers," said Roman whose client list includes Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Reliant Energy, IBM, the U.S. Postal Service, Computer Associates and Starwood Hotels.

For the past year, Roman has conducted an online survey, asking consumers to rate their experience with a customer-service call center. Nearly two-thirds of the 300 respondents rated their experience as negative or neutral. And almost all callers had a negative to neutral reaction when the call was outsourced to a third-party call center. It didn't matter if that call center was located in the U.S. or abroad.

Particularly surprising is Roman's finding that college students are less bothered by the automated call centers than older consumers; when it came to menu clutter, 53 percent of college students said they didn't like it compared to 78 percent of adults. "This leads to the interesting question of whether businesses are training young people to expect poor customer-service call experiences," Roman said. After all, he noted, most students have been "raised" on automated call center menus and haven't experienced anything else.

"Considering what we spend for products and services don't we have the right to better treatment?" Roman asked.
Here's his Customer Service Bill of Rights. I'd love to hear your comments.

As a customer I have the right:

1. To have my precious time respected by the company's customer service department in every situation and to have my issue resolved in a single phone call or e-mail by one representative who speaks clearly, is easy to understand and has access to my customer records.

2. To be treated with courtesy and respect as a customer who paid money to the company with the expectation of customer service that cares about my individual needs.

3. To have adequately trained representatives who know enough to actually solve my problem and who will provide me with a case number I can use for a credit if I do not receive great service, as well as the ability to call back or e-mail the same representative should the need arise.

4. To receive quality customer service -- including an easy-to-use menu with a minimum of clutter to quickly reach a representative -- OR be compensated for my time and effort.

5. To have rapid access to a live person from a company with sufficient staff so I am not kept waiting on-hold for more than 10 minutes, or I will receive a negotiable credit on my next bill. I also have the right to receive a negotiable credit on my next bill from the company if the first customer service rep does not have my records or cannot solve my problem and has to transfer me.

6. To receive a negotiable credit on my next bill from the company if I have to speak with more than 2 customer service representatives trying to resolve my issue. I also have the right to receive a negotiable credit on my next bill from the company if I ask for a supervisor and none is available,

7. To receive a negotiable credit on my next bill from the company if I am billed incorrectly and I have to call or e-mail to fix the problem, or I am given the wrong information to fix my problem by any of their representatives, compelling me to call back or send another e-mail.



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