Customer Service Matters

A couple of weeks ago, I moved from an apartment into my first house. It wasn’t a long move – a couple of miles – but it was a big one. And, like all moves, there were things that went very well and things that went very badly.

Something that went very well was the physical move itself. The Two Men and a Truck crew was awesome. They got the move completed in less time than they had estimated and saved us a lot of money. Ten out of ten. Would recommend.

Something that went very badly was moving my internet service. We use CenturyLink. And they screwed up. They screwed up so badly that I didn’t have internet service for seven days. I posted the story of my experience with CenturyLink customer service on Facebook. You should read it.


Here’s the tl;dr: When I scheduled my move with CenturyLink, they should have sent me a new modem that was compatible with my new service; they didn’t. It took me about six hours over two days, talking to eleven people, to get a new modem sent to me. And another half an hour on the third day, talking to two more people, to get a paltry credit on my account.

Thankfully, the problem is resolved now. But it caused me to ask a question: what would good customer service have looked like in this situation? In other words, what can I learn from this?

The problem started with the initial phone call. That person should have sent me a new modem that was compatible with my new internet service. In fact, according to one of the tech support people, my order had a note saying that I needed a new modem. But no modem was sent and the person I ordered the service from told me I didn’t need a new modem. Since I leased my old modem from CenturyLink, this would have been a great opportunity for an automated process. CenturyLink’s system should have compared the modem they knew I had to the service they knew I was getting and flagged the order to make sure that the right equipment got to me.

But mistakes happen and flags are missed. Once the problem was discovered, the next place where it could have been solved was tech support (Person 5; P5 for short). P5 diagnosed the problem correctly: I needed a different modem. But he couldn’t solve the problem by sending a modem to me. The two tasks – diagnosing a technical problem and ordering equipment – were siloed in two different departments. If P5 had been empowered to solve the problem, the process would have ended much earlier and I would have been a disappointed – but not angry – customer.

The third point where customer experience could have been improved was at the end of the process during my conversation with customer service (P13). There are two different perspectives to any customer experience. On the one hand, P13 spoke to me for a few minutes during her normal job. To her, I was missing a few days of service, and it was only right that I not pay for the service that I didn’t have. On the other hand, I had talked to person after person over the course of hours and days. I had spent time, money, and energy on this single problem. To me, it was only right that I not pay for service and that restitution be made for what I had lost. Doing only what was fair from the company’s perspective led them with an angry customer instead of an annoyed one.

These two points come together in one last lesson. Every time I spoke to a new person, I had to explain the problem again. Often, I had to verify my account again, giving some combination of my name, address, last billed amount, last four digits of my social security number, and so on. For each CenturyLink representative, this was a problem that began with me explaining the problem and ended a few minutes later with them transferring me elsewhere. For me, it was a seamless experience of being denied a solution to my problem. It was bad enough that my final tech support representative (P9) wanted to start with the first diagnostic steps. A better experience would have included information being passed from one representative to the next, even through something as simple as notes in my file. It also would have included passing my calls and chats from one person to the next, instead of leaving it to the customer to contact the next representative in line.

One final point: while tech support seemed interested in figuring out the problem, customer service was interested in selling me something new. Every customer service person I spoke to verified my account and then let me know that they’d take a look and try to find anything that would be beneficial to me. Even P13 suggested that I could save money by bundling my internet with television service. Customer service representatives are probably judged by how many new sales they make. But that means they’re not really servicing customers. They’re selling. And when someone is encountering a problem – especially a problem caused by CenturyLink – that’s a huge failing.

Of course, CenturyLink is a telecommunications company. That means I don’t have very many alternatives. If I want to do things like post to this blog, I’m stuck being their customer (or a customer to a company that’s just as bad).

But I work in the nonprofit sector. I work in the church. I’m a fundraiser. And that means that the people I rely on – donors and volunteers – have a lot of choices. They could spent their time, talent, and treasure at any number of other organizations. And that means that it’s important that nonprofit organizations – not just mine, but every nonprofit organization – prioritize customer service.

So, let’s take some time to look at our customer service systems. Let’s think about what happens when we make a mistake. Let’s be better than CenturyLink. No, that bar is too low. Let’s be infinitely better than CenturyLink.