Business Columns & Blogs

Nancy Napier: Letting the customer do the work

“Hello, this is customer service. I’m calling to find out why you cancelled your contract.”

“Because my older relative never used the mobile phone. After seven years, I decided it’s time to cancel.”

“But you can’t say that? That’s not one of the reasons on the form.”

In other words, Sorry Mr. Customer, yours is an unacceptable answer. You’ll need to do a little work and give me a more suitable response that fits the survey form I’m using to learn more about how to serve my customers.

Just how much more work must the customer do for the seller?

I found a wonderful product that comes out of South Africa. I bought it years ago after emailing with the very helpful customer service person in Cape Town. Then I paid a fortune to have it shipped to me, but I saw it as an unforgettable birthday treat to myself. So I was delighted to learn the firm now has an American office where I can buy on line.

Alas, I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up.

I tried to place an order twice from the U.S. office in Connecticut. But when I got to the point on the form about shipping, it told me that there is no shipping between Connecticut and my town.

Mind you, Boise is isolated, but goodness. I’ve been a catalog shopper since I grew up in remote sites where big excitement was getting the new Sears catalog. Even in Boise, packages find their way to me. I wrote the customer service office asking for help and they kindly sent an auto response on how to reset my password.

I wrote again, explained again that I wanted to place an order and had my credit card in hand. I never heard back. The firm lost a sale and probably will never know it. But what really bothers me is feeling I’m doing the work for the company.

The notion of “letting the customer do the work” has taken hold with a vengeance, from bussing our dishes at fast food restaurants to banking on line to making airline and hotel reservations. We check ourselves into the airport, and someday we may tag our luggage, put it onto the conveyor belt, and eventually unload it. We sit on hold for an hour, which takes our time, but not that of the seller because he’ll come on line when he’s ready, not when we are.

It’s done in the spirit of making life more convenient for customers, but sometimes, it wears me out. Sometimes, I just seek out places where I don’t have to do the work, where I feel taken care of. A luxury indeed.

Then again, I do like happy endings.

I wrote South Africa (which is eight hours ahead of my time zone) and got a response within minutes. It was 10 pm Cape Town time. Someone somewhere is doing the work for the customer. And maybe I’ll get my product after all.