act customer serviceOnce upon a time life was much simpler – at least if you believe everything you see in “Leave It To Beaver” re-runs.  Dad marched off to the office every day while Mom stayed home and dusted.  Not once did you hear Dad cursing because he couldn’t find his software activation code and the gentleman at tech support couldn’t speak English, or watch Mom navigate through a maze of “Press 1 or Press 2”  in an attempt to correct a billing error.

I moved across town last summer.  Although the move went smoothly, dealing with the various service providers didn’t.  Six months down the road and I’m still receiving monthly bills from Comcast for my old address.  The message that AT&T promised would play for a year providing callers with my new phone number stopped working after 30 days.  My lender closed its doors 30 days into the mortgage; the new lender routinely disconnects incoming calls and provides support via a third-world company with very poor connectivity.

Alternatively, I recently purchased some software from Staples online and found it the next day at my local Costco for $75 less.  I made a call to Staples and was put on hold; I expected to hear the usual drivel about restocking fees and software returns.  I was shocked when the rep came back a minute later and informed me that she had just made an $80 credit to my account.  My, that was easy!

So when did we start the downward spiral from idyllic support to customer service nightmare? And more importantly, is there anything we can do about it?

My dad always said that if you point a finger at someone you’re actually pointing two fingers back at yourself.  Try it, you’ll see what I mean.  Having been in the software industry for over 20 years I can’t help but think that I helped to contribute to this mess.  After all, I’m guilty of wanting to get the absolute best price around.  In turn, my comparison shopping cuts into the revenue stream of the companies I do business with.  Small wonder that the lines are now longer and the support folks less knowledgeable.

Software companies are in the same boat as your local hardware or office supplies store.  Hard as it may be for the average consumer to believe, software companies are in business to make money – or at least to remain solvent.  For example, ten years ago there were very few players in the CRM market; today there are virtually hundreds.  And, like the independent candidate that chips away at a front-runner’s lead, each of those companies represents a bit less revenue for the major players.  The math becomes simple – either raise the price of the software or cut back the services.

I’ve decided to start my own one man campaign to try to improve upon customer service.  I’m going to compliment great service (Staples, Staples, Staples) to my friends, neighbors and anyone else who will listen.  Rather than complaining about poor service (Comcast, Comcast, Comcast) I’ll give them two chances to correct the problem; if that doesn’t work I’ll do a search for “investor relations” on the Net, contact the President’s office, and let them know how lousy their service is.   When given the choice, I’m taking my business to the company that offers the best service, even if it’s a bit more pricey.  After all, if I don’t continue to support the one man shops I’ll have no one to blame but myself when my only recourse is to shop at a Superstore where I’ll have to deal with both long lines and poor service.

Finally, when it comes to software I’ll remember the words of my father – and those two fingers pointing back at me.  If I do something to mess up my computer (like simultaneously install 3 different Betas), don’t know how a program works, or try to get my latest piece of software to work with my oldest piece of hardware, I will call tech support.  And I will be willing to pay for their services.

Who knows, maybe my grass roots effort will catch on.  Now I wonder if that Obama guy needs some help with health care reform.

Karen Fredricks