Online Exclusive: It's Time for a Customer Service Bill of Rights

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If the experience most of us have gone through is any indication, there's something terribly wrong with most customer service in this country.


If you live and breathe and buy products, sooner or later you will have to talk to a customer service call center, either here or offshore in India or the Philippines or Ireland or wherever.


How many millions of hours U.S. consumers spend each year with customer service trying to sort out their problems is anyone's guess, but one thing is certain: most of us have had the experience of endless waits on hold, the need to repeatedly provide our personal information to yet another customer service representative and all the other frustrating snafu's of trying to solve a problem by telephone.


If you look a little closer, you might come to the conclusion that there's an unfortunate mentality that has set in with the so-called "customer service" provided by major U.S. companies.


Once companies have happily accepted our money, things change. Instead of treating us as individuals with value, we are "managed."


Calls are "managed" to the shortest possible talk-time; customer service representatives are managed to completing the highest number of calls per hour.


In a blind rush to reduce costs at any cost, companies are trying to impose 19th-century, assembly line, manufacturing guidelines on the delivery of customer service to educated and empowered 21st-century customers.


The results are not pretty.


Time and again, national studies show that most consumers are not happy with their customer service experiences. My most recent survey showed that almost two-thirds of consumers -- 63 percent -- rated their most recent telephone customer service as negative or neutral.


This research also shows that poor customer service isn't good for American businesses, either. Eighty-three percent of consumers who had a poor customer experience have negative perceptions of that company. Seventy-seven percent are unlikely to recommend that company to others. Seventy-two percent are so perturbed they are unlikely to buy from that company again.


Considering what we spend for products and services don't we have the right to better treatment?


I'd like to suggest the following Customer Service Bill of Rights that makes companies accountable for the quality of their customer service -- or they credit you for your time and frustration.


The Customer Service Bill of Rights


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 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 two 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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