how to lose customers

Soviet telephone, Popov Communications Museum, St Petersburg, Russia_2

Part of the fabric of a modern life is access to the internet. You don’t really think about it but you rely on it more heavily than you know.  In addition, you rely on simple and quick fixes to problems with your access.  You could say the same for most services.  Most of us don’t anticipate a year without phone service, or a year without electricity.

Let me dial back about 10 years to a younger Steve living in Moscow, Russia. I had a home telephone line through the state phone company which had – at that point – resisted efforts by the state to privatize the service.  Cellular phones were available, but considering handsets started at $1000 apiece, they weren’t a reasonable option for your young expatriate-about-town.  I relied on my home phone, which I had jury-rigged up using a half dozen European converters to my Radio Shack answering machine.  I conveniently recorded polite messages in both English and Russian, informing callers that I might be back soon.

As I’m sure my worried parents could attest at the time, my phone service was spotty at best and nonexistent at worst. I tried to keep up with payments, which had to be made in cash to a local branch.  Bills were shoved into my keyless mail box and tended to “fall out”.  I struggled to keep up my payments, but since my mail box was an empty hole in the wall and – unsurprisingly – mail often disappeared, I missed a payment or three.  Service was cut.

After I was cut off I was forced into two dark underworlds – first, the world of Russian payphones, and second, the world of state telephone service restoration. Suffice it to say I did not merely endure – I prevailed.  I stood in the local subway station and called friends for weekend plans.  I abused office calling privileges to call the States.  I threw myself against Soviet power, and was rewarded with a restoration of phone service (after being disconnected for six weeks).  I spent hours in line.  I brandished forms.  I triplicated.  I stuttered my way to glory in Russian.

My point? Simple. In every way that matters, dealing with the post-Soviet state services was easier than dealing with the horrendous post-globalization customer service we have to deal with in America today.  People were nicer, humans were easier to come by, solutions were easier to arrive at and resolutions were clearer.  I love India.  I wish India the best going forward replacing the US as Superpower 2.0.   But let’s face it – India’s really not ready to deal with Steve from New Jersey’s internet access problems.  Steve is needy, and won’t be mollified with reading from a script unless it solves his expensive problem today, or at least promises some chance at a solution in the near future.  Whether or not Megacorp believes he will be, Steve won’t be happy dealing with voice response systems, endless menus and customer service reps from the far reaches of the former British Empire.

I’ve got internet access again for the first time in weeks tonight. It’s nice.  What I don’t feel happy about is the fact that I had to fight for that access.  I’m paying for a service.  I can understand when Google doesn’t perform as advertised – I’m not paying to subscribe to Google.  I’m paying some other services, and I expect at least a pale imitation of service.  If these corporate customer service departments are the future, I’m ready to fold.

Photo:  photo credit: gruntzooki