The Checkout

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.

By  |  April 13, 2006; 7:00 AM ET Customer Service
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Roman should work with monopolistic cable companies (especially Comcast) since they seem to enjoy delivering bad customer service.

Posted by: ProfessorB | April 13, 2006 7:34 AM

Haha! Try Washington Gas. Talk about a bad-service company!

Posted by: Silver Spring | April 13, 2006 8:21 AM

Are you willing to pay for these customer services outlined above? If so, you certainly are shopping in the wrong place when faced with these issues. Concept of you get what you paid for is all about this issue.

Posted by: George W Bush | April 13, 2006 9:05 AM

"Are you willing to pay for these customer services outlined above? If so, you certainly are shopping in the wrong place when faced with these issues. Concept of you get what you paid for is all about this issue."

Except when there are no choices in the matter-- i.e. Comcast, etc.

Verizon, too, has some of hte most horrible customer service. I waited at home for them twice (missing one day of work and one day of school) and never had a person show up to install my phoneline when I first moved into my apt. Only when I threatened to find another company did they rectify the problem and credit my account for the first month of service.

Also, I wonder if older people dislike long hold-periods more b/c they have less free time than college students. When I was in college, I probably didn't mind the long-holds as much b/c I could do other things while sitting on the phone, and unless I had to be at class, your schedule is quite flexible. Now with work and graduate school in teh evenings, my days are less flexible and I have more time-constraints... therefore waiting on the phone (and then getting poor service when I finally get a rep) makes me upset...
Just a thought...

Posted by: M | April 13, 2006 9:29 AM

Amazingly, a $20 discount appeared on my Cox Cable bill after I unsuccessfully tried to find out why the sound randomly disappeared from WETA's broadcast of the News Hour. Their follow-ups petered out, but the discount affected me favorably.

Posted by: Walt | April 13, 2006 9:56 AM

Maybe these right should be extended to professional appointments. How about doctors who make you wait for 30-60 minutes pas your appointment time? How about waiting more than 10 minutes in line at a bank? If we are to start demanding that our time be compensated because we view our time as being to valuable to wait on a phone, wait in an office, or wait in line, where will it end? I think the best way a customer can complain about bad customer service is to never shop with the retailer again.

Posted by: Alan | April 13, 2006 9:57 AM

I agree with Alan! What about not being able to get an appointment with a physician for 4 months? I've had to call in April to get an appointment in August. And called a dermatologist in December who had nothing available until after March. Go figure. I've started going to doctors in Annapolis because you have to drop dead in Calvert County to get any kind of service. I even took time from work for an echocardiogram (for heart arrythmia) and when I showed up, the tech who was doing the test had an 'emergency' at home and wasn't there -- her teenaged daughters were fighting! I had to reschedule the appointment, and take more time from work, on a non-fighting day!

My veterinarian is also to blame -- I show up on time, then wait 30 or more minutes in the waiting room with a nervous pet waiting for attention.

I'm all for charging them for our time -- we have other things to do instead of cooling our heels in their offices.

Posted by: Bev | April 13, 2006 10:05 AM

In the 80s and into the 90s call centers were generally believed to be a cost center. This is why many centers focussed on ways to minimize those costs... by pushing for faster closure of calls, and pushing quantity over quality.

However, in today's business environment, enlightened companies realize that the "contact" center is a valuable opportunity to interact with your existing customer. Since it is far more expensive to attract new customers than to keep existing ones, enlightened companies living in today are investing heavily in building world class call centers with a focus on QUALITY not quantity in the center. Companies that still view their contact centers as cost centers are destined to fail... Today's customer will invariably move their business to an enlightened competitor.

It is not difficult to enable CRM and the corresponding 360 degree view of the customer in the contact center. It does, however, require investment in systems, and it requires a fundamental change in thought as to the purpose and goals of the contact center.

I will be happy to share insight and case studies on how any call center manager can make changes in their call center towards the goals of delivering world class service to the customer. It is even possible to reduce the costs while doing so, if the right steps are taken.

Best Regards,

Ken Coman
Sr (Technical) Account Manager
AMC Technology

Posted by: Ken Coman | April 13, 2006 10:10 AM

Oh, Verizon is on my bad list this week.

I like that list, but I would modify #5. I don't mind getting transfered to another rep quickly if it's clear from the outset that the first-level rep can't solve the problem or knows that someone else could better deal with my issue. Actually, I expect this with something like a credit card security issue. Certain personal information shouldn't be available to the first-line reps. That's the one case where I'm willing jump through hoops because my private data is at stake.

Posted by: J | April 13, 2006 10:11 AM

My worst customer service nightmares are Gateway and
Once you purchase a gateway computer, if you need to call their tech support, there's no free 800 number, you must dial a long-distance number and wait for over an HOUR on hold!!! And then you are lucky if you get a rep who actually knows what he/she is talking about. Never again will I buy anything from Gateway.
Overstock doesn't even provide a phone number on their website, you can get it only if you go on Better Busines Bureau website. Also, the only way to resolve our problems with overstock was filing a claim with BBB, to that they responded quickly and claimed that we never notified them of the problem (why would I go to BBB before trying to resolve it through them?!)

Posted by: Elle | April 13, 2006 10:13 AM

I feel that as a customer, I have a right to be heard, but am not necessarily right. I also, believe the companies need to "respect" their customers. I think that would solve a lot of the problems. I also, think some people are never happy or satisfied. Just because we buy a companies product, does not give us the right to demand certain things. Yes, the company should stand behind their products, then most of these problems would not persist.

Posted by: Bryan | April 13, 2006 10:28 AM

I agree that we have a right to these things. The thing is, the business will just find a way to make the customer pay for them - by increasing the costs of their products. And since there really isn't as much diversity as there needs to be for true competition to help keep costs down but quality up, they can do it. As my economics professor always said, "there's no such thing as a free lunch."

Posted by: Caroline | April 13, 2006 10:40 AM

Frankly, all of the electronics industry stink at tech support. You're better off using Google for help.

Posted by: tallbear | April 13, 2006 10:51 AM

If I receive poor customer service I do not use that store or product again. More companies should pattern their CS after Southwest Airlines. Real people answer the telephone and usually the first person can answer any questions you have and they are allowed to use their best judgement when you have a problem. That is why I fly SWA whenever I can. Northwest Airlines has the absolute WORST customer service!!

Posted by: Karen | April 13, 2006 11:03 AM

I have worked for the past 32 years in various capacities. However, this is my first time in a call center (actually, a hospital's registration department.)

I am an administrative assistant to a manager who is a nurse, and all our "schedulers" are nurses. The hospital is attempting to try a business model to recover costs lost due to poor response time to patients, doctors and clinics.

Our goal is that no patient leaves the doctor's office without knowing when his/her follow-up appointment will be. However, this lofty goal is accompanied by inefficient software registering systems that either don't interface smoothly; data that needs to be entered into three different systems to make one appointment; not enough staff to complete over 225 calls a day, and redundancies galore.

It's not working.

Posted by: Maria in Missouri | April 13, 2006 11:14 AM

If readers would like to express their opinions regarding their experiences with Customer Service Call Centers, they can visit and take the Customer Care Call Center Survey (the link is located at the bottom left of the page).

Posted by: Ernan Roman | April 13, 2006 12:40 PM

As a younger person who's been "trained to accept poor customer service" I'd like to point out that "poor" is in the eye of the beholder.

I don't object to menu trees per se -- assuming that a menu is logical and succinct. How about the chestnut "so we can better service your account, please enter your account number" and then, when you do reach an agent, they don't have your name and account info queued up?

I do loathe voice menus that seem to have been desiged by someone who was careless about thinking how a user would experience them. But you run into the same sort of problems (I think often worse) when you talk directly to a receptionist. Have you never spoken to a receptionist and explained your issue, only to be asked in response somthing akin to "do you need to speak to someone in department 33, then?" -- as if you know what "department 33" is. And you know who's the worst about that? Government Agencies. Who would no doubt of course be exempt from any Customer Bill of Rights.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 13, 2006 12:51 PM

I need this bill of rights applied to health care insurance customer service representatives.

Posted by: M. Ho | April 13, 2006 2:40 PM

Several thoughts:

On the one hand...

(1) I, too, get terribly frustrated when the account number I've "typed" on my phone is not accessible by the service rep who eventually accepts my call.

(2) Worse than that is to work your way through several menus of "Press 1 for this, Press 2 for that" only to reach a final message, "That mailbox is full."

(3) The "cost center" approach is death to genuine consumer service. I assume Gateway uses this approach, as they provided the worst service, over two different three-month periods, two years in a row, that I have ever (ever!) received.


(4) It is incumbent upon us consumers to give praise when service is good. I do my best to compliment the service rep directly, and either to speak to or write to his/her supervisor praising such qualities as professionalism, product knowledge, civility, patience, and perseverance in following the issue through until the matter is solve. Good service should be rewarded and the good reps kept on the payroll!

(5) As for doctors, I was frustrated with the waits, too, until my doctor pointed out that many patients make an appointment for one issue, but bring up several more when they get into the office. How many times I've done that myself! To provide good service to people like that (me), everyone else's appointments get pushed back. Now I try to at least mention that I'll have several things to ask about.


(6) What exactly does Ms. Mayer mean by "negotiable" in the context of her proposed "consumer bill of rights"?

Posted by: bluejay | April 13, 2006 2:49 PM

It's a sad comment on the state of customer service when companies like Citi Bank are advertising credit cards with the sole selling point of customers being able to press "0" to speak with a customer service representative. When did that become exceptional customer service?

I have had many frustrations on account of scripted answers from call center representatives, or worse, trying to speak to a live person by going through the audio-only voice command system.

Recently I had several problems with my cell phone service provider (which recently merged with another provider) and became so fed up with the customer service representatives that I sent an email to the company's Board asking them to look into this problem. I received a quick phone call later answering my questions and reassuring me that the call records would be checked and that the reps that had taken my phone calls would be spoken with.

While I appreciated this response, it didn't solve the bigger problem of clearly inadequate training and probably an inadequate number of employees handling a high volume of calls. If companies knew that they would be crediting customers for long wait time or receiving incorrect information, I think they would be more committed to making sure customers' needs were being met. As it is, I sometimes think bad customer service KEEPS customers if only because it takes so long for an angry customer to get through the options menu, speak to a person in the right department, find someone who has the authority to cancel the account/services, that the customer just gives up and lets it go.

Posted by: Jennifer S. | April 13, 2006 4:24 PM

This is genius. I need this bill to protect me from COMCAST. They have the worst customer service - it's unbelievable.

Posted by: Megan P. | April 13, 2006 4:25 PM

Remove "precious" from number 1.

Posted by: Gollum | April 13, 2006 4:46 PM

Listen to Act 2 (about 33 minutes in) of this 2003 episode of the radio program "This American Life."
"Act Two. On Hold, No One Can Hear You Scream. This American Life Senior Producer Julie Snyder found herself in a ten-month battle with her phone company (MCI Worldcom), which had overcharged her $946.36. She spent hours on hold, in a bureaucratic nowhere. No one seemed able to fix her problem, and there was no way she could make the company pay her back for all her lost time and aggravation. Finally, she enlists the aid of the national media."

Posted by: Amy | April 13, 2006 4:49 PM
It wouldn't let me post the URL.

Posted by: Amy | April 13, 2006 4:50 PM

Well, first off, I've had it up to here with things calling themselves "The XYZ Bill of Rights". JFC, if that phrase gets any more meaningless.

That said, though, I hear what you're saying, but lists of rights should as often as possible come with concomitant responsibilities. When I'm frustrated with customer service for having given me the runaround for half an hour and then disconnected me so I have to call back, for instance, my instinct is to snap at the first person who gets in my way -- but the random call-catcher who answers my new call isn't the one to blame. That's some kid getting paid seven bucks an hour to press 'transfer'.

So my answer to "Thank you for calling Whomever, how can I help you?" is "You can put me through to a manager right now." This invariably gets me "Is there something I can help you with, ma'am?", to which I say "Yes. You can put me through to a manager, right now." Should this fail, I lay it on the line: "Look, I'm annoyed and it's not your fault, but I know you can't fix it, so rather than waste your time and my time, why don't you put me through to a manager. Right now."

Also, I do always apologize when I have snapped or yelled at someone who couldn't possibly be responsible for the original screwup. They treat you better if they don't think you're off your nut.

Posted by: balance=good | April 13, 2006 6:04 PM

In response to the "George W Bush" posting: I thought we already were charged for these "services" when we pay for the product and they give a waranty period....No?

Posted by: crf | April 14, 2006 9:29 AM

I think that bluejay makes a very important point here:

(4) It is incumbent upon us consumers to give praise when service is good. I do my best to compliment the service rep directly, and either to speak to or write to his/her supervisor praising such qualities as professionalism, product knowledge, civility, patience, and perseverance in following the issue through until the matter is solve[d]. Good service should be rewarded and the good reps kept on the payroll!

It only takes a few minutes to hold for a manager, and at some places, you get your CS person a financial bonus - which can make up for the rest of the angry people who deal with good CS reps the same as the bad CS reps.

I can tell you, I work in a very CS based industry, and a good 60% of my job is telephone-based CS. For those other CS reps out there - do your best to resolve the question, and DO NOT BLINDLY TRANSFER SOMEONE. Even if you cannot help the individual, telling the caller who (or even what department) you're transferring to, and then stay on the telephone until you connect with the right person. Finally, brief the person that you're transferring to, since when the Customer repeats her story multiple times, the customer only gets angrier.

Two companies that have made great strides in their telephone customer service over the last several years:
Verizon Wireless

Now if only we could get their in-person services (both VZW Stores and some DHL delivery people) to be competent.

Posted by: kate | April 14, 2006 10:27 AM

Twice this week I had two different companies try to sign me up for a service--OnStar to renew my free subscription, and Verizon, for their new phone service. It took me three times saying "I'm not interested" before I hung up on OnStar and Verizon hung up on me (when I mentioned that arguing with the guy to leave me alone didn't make me want to do business with the company).

On the other hand, I had a complaint about a kitty litter product from Citramax, and shot them a quick e-mail. I was surprised when a woman e-mailed me back the next day, and continued a dialogue until the problem was addressed--and she even asked for information to fix the problem at the store's inventory. I think part of the problem is there's not enough emphasis on the good service we do get. Start rewarding workers/companies for providing exemplary service and use that as a model.

Posted by: Meg | April 14, 2006 11:19 AM

I just sent a copy of your, "Make Them Pay..." article to the CEO of a major credit card company. Because they exact no surcharge for foreign currency transactions, I wanted to sign up for credit card. The online attempt failed because I had no balance to transfer, a user interface glitch. The telephone attempt failed because there was no way to opt-out with the application to prevent sharing of my information within the group of companies, nor with outside companies.

The phone rep suggested I call customer service. The call to customer service was difficult because the phone tree was not designed to accommodate customers-to-be. Once through to a person I was handed of to the supervisor who put me on hold to research the opt-out question. He came back to admit there was at least a 48-hour window when my data might be shared. That is, my data already could be sprayed around the world between the time of my application until I received approval with a customer number and could spend time to call back to opt-out. I think there should be legislation to prevent that privacy exposure, or require opt-in for such sharing.

I complimented the CEO for lack of a surcharge for foreign currency, and said it was a shame customer service interfaces did not match that level of excellence.

Posted by: Scott | April 14, 2006 12:21 PM

In fairness to call center reps and customer service people in general, they find themselves on the receiving end of a lot of abuse from angry customers who think nothing of cursing and using obscenities right off the bat as soon as they answer a call. Generally, whatever the customer is mad about is in no way the service person's fault, and much of the time, the service person has no authority to fix the problem, which eventually makes the service person become automatically defensive if not bitter (example: flight cancellations due to weather that cause passengers to abuse flight attendants and airport ticket agents. That's part of why some career flight attendants seem so dour--customers have trained them to expect the worst.)

The earlier suggestion to officially compliment someone who delivers good service is excellent. That helps retain good service people and makes it more likely that the next person you talk to will still have a good attitude!

Posted by: Scott W | April 14, 2006 1:39 PM

American Express should get some much-needed help from Mr. Roman - their customer service is not just lacking - it's neglient!

Posted by: mmp | April 14, 2006 1:42 PM

Wouldn't it be nice to have, say, electric companies, cable companies and other utilities pay for outages? That would certainly encourage more sensible maintenance practices! When out-of-state utility crews were here after the hurricane, their comments about spliced wires and old, cracked insulation in electrical lines were an eye-opener. Then, too, trees DO fall: why not simply put all that electrical stuff underground, in some sort of locked raceway so fallen trees didn't knock us all off the grid?

Posted by: Sam J. | April 14, 2006 2:32 PM

It looks like I'm the first of the evil ones to post back here, so forgive me my transgressions, all of you who appear on the other end of my headset day after day...

I am a call center rep for a large utility company (not in the DC area, I just prefer the Post to the terrible papers we have here). I agree there's no excuse for treating people badly whichever end of the phone you're on, and I'm happy to say that my call center is one of the ones that rewards reps when people take the time to call or write with compliments for good service.

That said, good customer service is a two-way street. If someone is snapping at me from the get-go, and refusing to give me any information because "you should KNOW that already!!!", I can't get to the bottom of the problem quickly. Have your information in front of you and ready to go when you call, and be prepared to discuss what you've called to discuss.

I see a lot of mindsets, here and at work, that requesting a supervisor is the magic phrase to getting what you want from the rep who's handling your call. Sometimes it is, but to be honest most of the time that request is just going to tie you down longer and make the company less willing to work with you. You're much better off dealing calmly w/ the rep who is handling your call and convincing them to use whatever empowerment they have towards your situation - you'll spend less time on hold, you won't have to re-explain yourself. And, I'm going to break ranks and tell you that probably half of the "supervisors" you speak to aren't supervisors, they're other reps helping each other out of tough situations. There simply aren't enough supervisors in the world to handle all of the "I want a supervisor NOW" requests we each get every day - if there were, they'd be on the phones all day like us.

And please, please, PLEASE understand that it really isn't necessary to shout into your cell phone or speaker phone to be heard, we wear headsets, so I'm sure you can imagine some of the grouchy reps simply have terrible headaches.

I think that with strictly over-the-phone communication people say things (from both ends) that they would NEVER say to someone's face. I worked retail for years, and had some rude customers, but nothing like people I've had on the phone...people will curse you, threaten your family, throw around racial slurs & insults, and just generally degrade customer service reps if they aren't happy with something.

I'd love to see the author of this list take calls for a week...they've got some good ideas there, I will admit, but could use some perspective from our end of the phone line.

Posted by: Other Side of the Coin | April 14, 2006 2:34 PM

America has totally turned on American consumers. Customer Service does not exist.

Now when I speak to a rep, I demamd to know where they are from and pretty much do their job for them.

Cell Phone companies are the worst, and of course tel and cable companies are not far behind.

Altel seemse to be a phone company for some reason blocking NYC cell phone calls to its customers; someties its understandable, but seems to have become the norm. Maybe Sprint does not connect to their network; who knows? When you can call everyone on your cell but an Altel customer in SC that's pretty sh-tty!

I could go on and on. I was just telling someone yesterday how there is no more customer service, no more jobs, America is fastly becoming a third world country.

Posted by: D | April 14, 2006 9:07 PM

Myy major complaint is those "press x if) trees, most especially the ones that do not have "to repeat these choices, press..."

These holdovers from the first such systems in the late Sixties are annoying to those of us with wireless or cell phones and no seperate keypad. By the time we get the phone back to our ear after searching out and pressing a button, two or more options have gone by.

Expanding on this, I recently signed up for Medicare "D" coverage. I have dealt with the drugstore having the contract with the insurer for several years, and was surprised and annoyed to find they insist that prescriptions be mailed to them. They will not accept them at the local brick outlet because the pills or liquids are themselves sent by mail from a distribution center. Odd because they not only refuse fax (the local brick does), but I have often gotten refills via their on-line system - which allows selection of a brick store OR MAIL!

Posted by: John Anderson | April 15, 2006 12:22 PM

Two ways to go to resolve these issues:

1. Inform the company on the phone and by mail that you will sever business with them, and that you will honestly answer queries from friends, neighbors, and relatives about your experiences with their company.
2. Follow up and go elsewhere. I spent six hours on the phone with various out-sourced personnel of Symantec. After 13 transfers (I kept a record of the person's name and department and the time of the transfer), some of whom had no idea why I had been connected with them, I was connected with "an expert." The end result was that my computer suffered a total system crash caused by my following the explicit step-by-step instructions of the "expert" on the line with me. Every direction had to be repeated; the "expert's" speech was so heavily accented that I could not determine what he was saying. Symantec blamed e-machines, my internet provider, and me -- for following the instructions provided by their representative. I now use Avast and have superior protection in comparison, and it's free!

Posted by: Kathleen | April 16, 2006 10:33 AM

Over a year ago my husband broke his ankle. Several months later the bills started coming. The hospital bill was enormous and we had difficulty getting anybody to talk to us about it. They offered us 10% off if we paid it promptly. Even the insurance co. wasn't interested in our problem. Eventually we decided to pay the bill but visited our surgeon first for a final checkup. We told him about the problem and he looked at our bill - his eyes got big and his face turned red. He said "Do not pay this bill!" He went to the hospital billing office and raised cane there. Eventually we found out that the hospital had over charged us by $29,000. This is TRUE - not an exaggeration! We can document it. We spent hours and hours over the next few months trying to get this straightened out. Finally we settled it. But we got little help from insurance company representatives - and the thing that interests me is, our co-pay with the overcharge came out to what the real cost of the hospitalization actually was. Were we scammed? I think so. We needed somebody to help us. We never got a single word of thanks from the insurance co. for saving them something like $23,000. I feel there was some sort of deal here and I think somebody should have been punished - but we were afraid to pursue it because it could have cost a fortune in more ways than one. How often does this happen to people?

Posted by: DEMO | April 17, 2006 11:19 AM

Gee, if all of those points were put into effect, I would own Verizon.

Posted by: NAC | April 19, 2006 10:12 AM

This was a GREAT article and really hit home!
I started working in retail when I was a teenager during a time when a customer was considered to be the most important element to your business because he/she ultimately were the ones who made you business and hence, your job, possible. With the possible exception of The Mens' Wearhouse, customer service on any level - whether in person or over the phone - is non-existant. Companies will do and say whatever it takes to get your business. Despite their protestations to the contrary, once they have your attention and, sadly, your money as well, they could care less. These days, customers are viewed merely as inconvenient interruptions of coffee breaks, personal conversations, phone calls, etc.
It is beyond the scope of most companies today to do what - at least in my opinion -would be the smart thing to do: Attract (mostly by paying them well)and hire qualified, personable people for customer contact positions, provide them with EXTENSIVE training and a readily accessable supervisory & support system thereby allowing them to do their jobs and do them well with a minimal amount of inconvenience to the customer.
These days, companies pay as little as possible and attract only those people who are - in some cases - forced by desperation or circumstances to work for such poor wages and can pass a drug screen. It just doesn't occur to them that they are getting exactly what they're paying for. They just don't get it.
The people that we, the customers, are forced to deal with are in many instances:
1. Generally unknowledgeable about the company's products or services.
2. Speak limited and, in some cases I have personally experienced (McDonalds), no english whatsoever.
3. Do not know how to effectively resolve a customer's complaint and often have no wish to do so either.
The emphasis today is on things other than quality. Even Giant Food (now owned by the same people who brought you financial mis-management in the foodservice industry among other things) encourages their cashiers to speed through check-outs (and rates them according to their scanning speed) thereby effectively reducing the time they interact with customers.
The bottom line here is that the prices for everything are going up and the value that we, as paying customers get, is going down. It used to be that if we didn't like the way we were treated, we could simply vote with our wallets and spend our disposable income with a competitor. Tragically, almost all consumer driven business' are like this, so we're now even robbed of that. How sad.

Posted by: Bob Black | April 19, 2006 1:58 PM

How many times have I felt the same- perhaps it would be a new service business- college kids on hold to resolve your issues. The worst offender I've run into is Humana. The poor people have no idea what's going on. They play the transfer game until you give up. Voting with your wallet only works if there are competitors with what you need. Now that the banks have gobbled each other up, how do you avoid the assholes? My sister cancelled her cell phone service with a company that provided sub-par service, changed companies, and the first company bought the second- now she has to deal with them again till her contract is through. I had almost the same thing happen with a credit card. I try to avoid Chase at all costs- but they bought my local department store credit card!

Posted by: Adele | April 20, 2006 12:53 PM

I had the absolute worst possible experience a few years back with a hotel chain that had double charged my govt. credit card. Seems the desk clerk wanted the govt. to pay for both me and my co-workers room with my credit card. Even though my co-worker provided his card right after me. Unfortunately, the govt. doesn't reimburse me for "double" expenses. It took two months of a "late" balance on my credit card statement after being told by the hotel in question it was fixed.

Before you ask, we stayed at the hotel for a week, so paying it myself and getting reimbursed when I "thought" it was fixed wasn't the best option.

I even tried to reach the hotel manager and the desk clerk refused because he was asleep because he'd just finished a double shift. So I asked for the corporate number and amazingly it was fixed and I was sent a letter that arrived three days later. I hate to say it but corporate offices really need to do some more training of their "franchisees" as the hotel soured me on the entire hotel chain. Even though the corporate customer service was excellent.

Maybe if the franchisee were made to reimburse me for my time/efforts and it was fronted by the chain and exacted out of the franchisee we'd see better results. But alas the franchisee to this day remains unaffected for their mistake. Though they might have lost the money that should have been paid by my co-worker. They should have sent that to me...

Posted by: It's all about presentation. | April 21, 2006 11:00 AM

After 26 HOURS logged on the phone with various Verizon customer service reps trying to clear up the SAME issue (yes I counted), a particularly rude cusomter service rep. told me she had to transfer me up the chain. I had to wait another 25 minutes before someone picked up again. Instead, she put me back in the rotation so the person who picked up turned out to--surprise---not be a supervisor. My emotions got the best of me and I just burst into tears and said I couldn't take it anymore and that the company was making me suicidal.

I was immediately transferred to a higher-up who solved my problem within about 15 minutes.

So to those of you dealing with a similiar situation: begin weeping and threaten suicide. I think that's the emergency escape hatch.

Posted by: Well, You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do | April 21, 2006 3:51 PM provides just what is discussed here, a way to shed light on the problem by rating service levels-- check it out!

Posted by: Tom | August 8, 2006 2:54 PM

Its more than just bad service. In my case, Allstate admits it owes me payment because I have coverage, its just been six months and they refuse to send me the money. They have used so many tactics to delay or avoid payment that it amounts to breech of contract and intent to defraud. How does the individual consumer force a large company to honor its commitments? Its impossible. As a nursing student, I am not able to spend the time and money to pursue them in court and even if I won a judgement, I still can't force them to pay. The state department of insurance is a joke. I've contacted them and they are ineffective. There obviously needs to be some regulation and penalties and a process by which the consumer can force a company to honor its obligations.

Posted by: sandra | August 23, 2006 12:04 PM

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