Adventures with Customer Service

I will soon reach a point when I will have a panic attack at the mere thought of having to call a customer service representative about anything. Maybe that's what businesses want as they make it ever more complicated to resolve an issue or, in some cases, virtually impossible to speak to a human being at all to resolve a problem.

I've had some terrible experiences in the past that have annoyed me and inconvenienced me (and yes, angered me) so much that it forced my hand and made me decide to cancel my service with those companies altogether. (Cablevision and Verizon both come to mind -- I dropped them and haven't looked back.) 

Two recent experiences have driven me to the precipice of insanity as I've tried to fix what seemed to be relatively simple concerns. First, I subscribe to Sports Illustrated magazine, but for some reason I've been getting two copies of the same issue in my mailbox the last few weeks. I thought this would be a quick and easy thing to correct by going online, but trying to find a valid Web page on SI's site was a hassle.  A separate Google search for their customer service led me to the info, but why do they make it so difficult for subscribers to find help?  Every magazine (nay, any product or service at all) should have an easy to find icon on their online home page for customer feedback.  Anything more complex than "one click away" is absurd.

I typed in my account information only to discover that my subscription is handled by a separate company -- Synapse Group, Inc. They only had a phone number to call, no electronic communication option.  So I called the number, but it turned out to be an automated system with no way to speak to a human being.  None of the options given on the recording matched the reason I was calling, but I tried most of them anyway. The closest seemed to be "Delivery Problems," but the only choices were "Missing Issue" or "Damaged Issue."  My problem was that I was getting two issues!  After wasting a lot of my precious time going through the labyrinth of the automated system with no luck, I finally gave up and went back online. 

I searched for Synapse Group and found their corporate phone number. I dialed it only to reach another automated recording.  One of the options was for "Subscription Services," with a different number from the one I dialed before, so I tried that only to find myself in another useless maze of pre-recorded options that didn't provide me with the information I needed -- and no way to talk to a human.  I called the corporate number again and tried dialing "0" to speak to anyone who might be alive, but no one answered and it just kept taking me back to the automated choices, an endless loop that would drive anyone mad.

Rather than just call some poor random worker at Synapse in the blindshot hope that he or she might be able to direct me to the appropriate person,  I tried once again to search online, and somehow I found another Web page where I could manage my account (separate from the page I found on the main Sports Illustrated Web site). I don't know how I found it, but lo and behold, there, buried, was a choice to correct multiple issues being delivered to my home.  Apparently they had me listed under two accounts -- thankfully I was able to merge them into one, so I'll only receive (and be charged for) one subscription. We'll wait and see how it turns out.

If a human being were managing the account, they would have been able to see that there were two printed issues going to the same person at the same address, but when everything becomes automated it's easy to let such mistakes slip and blame it on "computer error."  I was able to fix the problem after some annoyance, but I still would like to speak to a human being to file a complaint to keep this from happening again -- and to make sure that I haven't lost a few issues from my subscription due to their mix-up. (And they wonder why digital is beating print.)

Another ridiculous misadventure that I've endured the last few months has been with DirecTV.  I love my satellite television service, and for the most part the customer service staff there is always cordial and extremely helpful. DirecTV solicited me with an offer to upgrade to a new TiVo brand HD receiver. I jumped at the chance because I've been eagerly waiting for DirecTV and TiVo to partner again. Even though I currently have a DirecTV high-definition DVR, I'm excited to get the TiVo brand again. I ordered it on December 22, they charged my credit card on December 23, the technician came to my house on January 2 to install the receiver -- but he had the wrong one with him. He brought the receiver I currently already have, not the new TiVo brand that I wanted and purchased. Apparently, they didn't have in stock the TiVo HD H34 which I ordered. They told me they'd come back with the right receiver on the 14th.  No one came and no one contacted me with an explanation.  I lost two days of my time waiting for them to deliver and install it, and no satisfactory explaination on what happened or when exactly they'd get it right.

So now the fun begins. I called and tried to resolve the issue, but the customer service representatives, even the supervisors with whom I spoke, seemed to have their hands tied regarding what they could do to expedite my issue. I just wanted to know an explanation of what happened and a date of when my receiver would be delivered and installed. Multiple emails and phonecalls (in which I had to retell my dilemma to someone new each time) seemed to lead nowhere. They made note of my concerns in my account, they told me they would contact the subcontractor to expedite my order, and they promised that someone would be in touch about the issue within 24 hours. 

Nothing.  As a longtime customer of DirecTV, you would think some Customer Service Manager would be assigned to handle my case until it was satisfactorily resolved -- instead, it seemed that the system wouldn't allow it, that the only thing they could do was pass the buck in a circle of confusion.

Frustrated beyond belief, I looked again online at my account on The last open order was the early January installation which never happened. It listed a separate phone number to call about my appointment. I figured, let me give this new phone number a shot since I tried almost everything else. It was (no surprise) an automated message, but when I entered my account info, I was informed that I have an upcoming service appointment in a few weeks. Interesting, since no one bothered to tell me or confirm this with me!  Does this mean that they have the correct receiver I ordered and will install it that day?  The automated message I had called gave me the option to keep the appointment, cancel it, or reschedule it -- I kept it!  It was the most progress I had made during this whole ordeal.

I would still like to receive a phone call from an actual human being (but at this point I'll even settle for an email or voice message) verifying that this will indeed be resolved soon, explaining what happened and what will happen next. Will the February appointment be kept and all will be resolved that day? Until then, I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

I know that it's a two-way street -- some customers can be just as annoying as the automated customer service systems. There has to be a happy middleground, though, in which open communication makes customers like me happy and makes their business practices most efficient.  They should remember the adage that "the customer is always right" -- the more we get frustrated or find it difficult to do business with them, the more the likelihood that we will abandon them and seek similar services elsewhere.  Lately, however, a better name for our experience would be Customer Disservice!


Anonymous said…
That sucks and may be illegal. I don't think they're supposed to charge you until the product is shipped. This sounds very shady. ~E
Traci said…
This is one of my BIGGEST frustrations. Conversely, on that rare occasion when I do receive good customer service I always make it a point to get someone higher up in the company to hear me compliment the person who gave it to me. Hopefully a combination of both negative and positive feedback will help companies realize that costumer service still has a value in terms of repeat business. I have stopped doing business with many placed where service is bad.