Jewish World Review Dec. 15, 2004 / 3 Teves, 5765

Jeff Gelles
Consumer Watch

JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
MUGGER
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports


Penetrating a wall of customer service

By Jeff Gelles

http://www.jewishworldreview.com | (KRT) Taking a complaint up the chain of command is standard operating procedure for many consumers, just as it is inside many organizations.

The idea is simple: If you have a good point to make but it falls on deaf ears with the person at the service counter or answering the phone, you ask for a supervisor.

You may eventually wind up arguing all the way up to the boss. You may still lose. But at least you know your complaint was heard by someone with authority to respond.

And sometimes, asking for a supervisor is all it takes to succeed. After all, you presumably wouldn't be raising a fuss if you didn't have a good case.

But what if the entry-level person simply refuses to let you speak to a supervisor?

That's the problem Joe Glah says he encountered at Verizon Wireless during a nine-month billing snafu.

It all started in February when Glah, of West Chester, Pa., wanted to add a second daughter to his Verizon family plan.

Month after month, each bill contained a nasty surprise: charges far higher than the $165 he expected. In May, his bill hit a whopping $652.

Glah and Verizon agree on one point: Each time Glah called, a customer-service rep politely tried to address the problem. But at least three times, the representative he dealt with introduced another error into his plan.


Donate to JWR


For instance, Verizon accidentally added Glah's daughter as a second "primary" account, rather than adding her to the Glahs' family plan. That gave her 1,200 minutes of her own - far more than she needed, and without the free calls between her, her sister and her parents.

Verizon fixed that - then did the same thing to Glah himself.

Month by month, Glah grew more frustrated. At least four or five times, he says, he asked to speak to a supervisor. He never succeeded. Each time, he was met with resistance or outright refusal.

Glah called me to ask, "Is there a secret code you have to go through?"

The question caught my attention, in part because I've faced similar problems myself - though never at a company so emphatic about customer service as Verizon Wireless. "There's no one here you can speak with," I've heard. Or, "I'm sorry, she's too busy."

The good news is that Verizon Wireless says there's no secret code.

"Our policy absolutely is not to refuse customers the ability to speak to a supervisor," says Verizon Wireless spokesman Sheldon Jones.

But - you knew there was a "but" here, didn't you? - that's clearly not the whole story.

Jones also says this: Verizon wants its reps to initially dodge such a request, not to simply hit the transfer button as soon as you make it.

"What our customer-service reps are trained to do is to probe and try to solve the problem themselves," he says.

Jones concedes that some customers may have a different perspective. "In some cases, customers may view this as resistance rather than proactiveness," he says. But he says the company's goal is simply to solve problem as efficiently as possible - and notes that Glah has now been credited $630 for the string of errors.

How common are such policies? I put that question to John A. Goodman, an Arlington, Va., customer-service consultant, who told me that similar rules are in place at many companies with excellent customer-service reputations, such as Nordstrom's and FedEx.

Goodman says problems arise from mixed messages - when the real message from the supervisor to the line employee is, "If you pass me something, I'm going to seriously wonder why you can't handle this."

All good companies allow complaints to "bubble up" to higher-ranking employees. "If the customer starts getting hot under the collar, they are absolutely crazy to preclude them from going up the line," Goodman says.

The best companies, he says, don't tell line employees simply to resist. They give them tools and authority to actually solve problems, and back them up.

Verizon says that's exactly what happened in Glah's case - except for a string of unfortunate mistakes.



Jeff Gelles writes the ConsumerWatch column for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Comment by clicking here.

Up


Taken for a ride over an old ticket
Check your balances: New rules reduce 'float'
Just as worthless as... a cashier's check
I write dead people: Glut of mystery junk mail
It's up to you to keep credit bureaus honest
It's up to you to keep credit bureaus honest
No simple solutions to the techno-nuisance of fax blasts

© 2004, Philadelphia Inquirer Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services