What Are the Major Problems Consumers Face in Customer Service?

Customer service issues are often caused by bad business policies and practices. In many cases, businesses prioritize revenue over the customer experience, which can result in frustrated customers and a failure to maintain long-term relationships with consumers. For their part, customers can protect themselves by reviewing agreements and contracts, following up with customer service representatives, and reporting bad companies to government agencies.

Poor customer service causes significant frustration for consumers and, over time, can cause businesses to fail. There are many different problems that consumers face when trying to get help from a company, most of which are the result of poor business processes.

1. Company Management and Policies

In most cases, poor company management and policymaking is responsible for consumer complaints. This is often because the company is not consumer-centric but is mostly focused on generating income and protecting its profits instead of developing long-term relationships with its customers.

A prime example of this type of poor customer service is what many consumers experience when attempting to cancel their cable or Internet service. Some providers have a policy of attempting to discourage consumers from canceling their service by transferring them to "retention specialists" who are often trained to not take no for an answer and to keep consumers on the phone for long periods of time in hopes that the customer will give up and decide to keep their services. While this approach can be effective, it also is very frustrating.

Another example of poor customer service policies is the practice by some companies of allowing individuals to sign up for subscription services online but then requiring subscribers to call the company to cancel the purchase or service. While this is being addressed in some consumer protection laws, the reason for these policies is simple: many people don't have the time to wait on hold for a customer service representative. This can delay the cancellation, sometimes resulting in one or more months of revenue for the company.

Other examples of poor customer service policies include very limited return periods, "restocking" fees for returned products, or refusing to offer refunds on merchandise or services and instead issuing limited product credits as compensation.

2. Poorly Trained Staff

Another significant problem in customer service is that of poorly trained staff, which includes both regular staff, such as those who work as salespeople or in technical support, as well as customer service specialists. In many cases, poor customer service starts with selling the wrong products or services to a customer because the salesperson did not understand the consumers needs.

The problem is then compounded when a frustrated customer requests assistance or support from a representative who is incapable of understanding the customer's situation, does not understand company policies or procedures, or does not understand the product or service offered by the company.

Another layer to the issue of poor staff training is that many companies outsource customer service to third-party companies. Representatives hired by these companies may be providing customer service to customers of multiple businesses and may lack in-depth knowledge of the client company and its customers.

To get around these issues, some companies, including third-party call centers, provide scripts to customer service representatives which they are expected to read from when a customer contacts the company. These scripts often fail to adequately respond to what the customer is saying and problems are not resolved.

3. Inadequate Staffing

Another issue is inadequate customer service staffing. Many businesses are happy to make a quick sale, but can be slow to respond to customer issues. This is often the result of not having enough staff to quickly respond to customer service inquiries. In the worst cases, companies deliberately understaffed customer service departments as a way to cut costs and dissuade customers from requesting refunds or compensation. In other cases, and adequate staffing is the result of poor planning by management. Either way, consumers can become extremely upset if they have to wait a long time to speak to someone regarding a purchase.

4. Failure to Follow-Up or Follow-Through

Another area of frustration from any consumers is a lack of follow-up by customer service representatives, or a failure to follow through on an agreed-upon resolution. Lack of follow up often takes the form of a company representative offering to research an issue or to speak with a supervisor or manager regarding an inquiry and then promising to call the customer back. However, in many cases, the representative never actually follows through on the promise to call back to update the customer on the situation.

Failure to follow-through is another major issue for customer service representatives: Sometimes customer service representatives will wrongly assure the customer that their problem has been resolved. A common scenario is when a company is billing a customer in error. The customer calls and request that the bills stop, and the customer service representative assures the customer that the problem will be fixed and that the customer can ignore any additional bills that might be arriving.

The problem is that the representative has not resolved the problem and does not follow-through on actions that will address the billing error and stop ongoing collection activity. Eventually, the customer's account is charged off and the customer is now facing a negative report on her credit history.

Failing to follow-up or follow-through is often caused by companies failing to give customer service representatives adequate time to manage customer cases. If the representative is expected to take a certain number of calls or chats during his or her shift, the representative may not have the time to follow up on calls, do research, ask questions, or double check steps taken to ensure that the customer's problem is resolved.

5. Disempowered Representatives

Some businesses severely limit what representatives can do for customers. A representative may only be able to carry out a specific set of actions in response to a customer issue. If the issue is not easily resolved, the representatative may only be allowed to escalate the case to a supervisor rather than taking responsibility for it. This can result in lengthy resolution times as well as miscommunication as a customer case is handed off between employees.

Customer service representatives can also be disempowered due to extremely inflexible policies: If a representative can't make policy exceptions for good customers, or customers who are in very difficult circumstances, customer service will suffer.

6. Lack of Consumer Protection Laws

In many areas consumer protection laws are weak: Laws often don't require businesses to operate ethically and may make it easy for a company to get away with shoddy practices. One example of this is allowing businesses to require customers to enter an arbitration process rather than seeking out legal remedies. Poor laws and regulations can mean that consumers are at a disadvantage in business dispute.

7. Lack of Transparancy About Company Policies

Some businesses fail to provide easy-to-understand information about their policies. They may use lengthy contracts and purchase agreements, have internal policies that are not disclosed to consumers, and may also engage in unclear and even deceptive billing practices. This can result in surprise billing increases, extra charges, and, eventually, significant distrust on the part of the consumer.

What Can Consumers Do?

There are several things that consumers can do to help ensure a positive customer service experience:

1. Research businesses before making a purchase. Check with Consumer Reports or the Better Business Bureau before making a decision.

2. Read over contracts and agreements carefully. Don't be afraid to ask questions.

3. When contacting customer service, take notes or screen shots. You may need these for escalating your case.

4. Follow-up on customer service requests, particularly if they involve billing issues. Don't assume that a matter is resolved: Monitor the situation and re-contact customer service to confirm your promised resolution.

5. Don't give up if a company won't treat you fairly or do what it promised it would do. Contact your state attorney general office and report the company to the Federal Trade Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

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