Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Customer Service Headaches, and Why Clearwire Fails

Oh, friends.  I am livid.

Livid and weary.

I have been doing battle with Clear (the internet provider) for weeks now.  And every time I think I'm winning the battle, something happens to remind me that it takes so much effort to win.  

We've all been there.

Despite your best hopes and intentions, your top-notch research, and your staunch-but-wavering patience, you have -- at one point or another -- found yourself forced to call the customer service hotline of [insert name-of-business here].

You don't want to call them, because you know what it could mean.  Hours on the phone.  An unfulfilled promise to call back.  No resolution. 

Or maybe you're in my boat and you've been promised a resolution, only to have that promise broken.  Again and again.  It astounds me that in today's social climate -- where frustrations with companies can be tweeted live, posted on Facebook, and written in a (ahem) post -- that companies still choose to be difficult and -- at least in this case -- untrustworthy.

It's frustrating.  But here's the thing.  I have a few tips up my sleeve for dealing with customer service, and here's why:
  1. I used to work at a customer service hotline.  This gives me a few "ins" to which most people are not privy.
  2. I work for a business and spend much of my business hours researching and writing about what makes companies tick.  
I'm going to share my story with you, and then I'm going to take what I've learned and share it with you.  A lot of people give up way too easily when it comes to dealing with customer service hotlines, because really -- let's face it -- it's inconveniencing YOU to be stuck on the phone all day sorting through your problem (that person on the other end of the phone?  They get PAID to do it, so the stakes are not as high for them).

These tips (in the next post) should hopefully work -- or at least get you further than before -- as long as the company has integrity and cares about their reputation.  The jury is still out for Clear -- I thought they were going to be decent but they have repeatedly gone back on promises, so I'm not so sure.

The Backstory
When we were moving into our new house, I spent a while comparing the prices and plans of the three internet providers in our area.  I found Clear to be pretty convincing -- top internet speeds, the lowest price, and (the clincher) no cancellation fees.  My salesperson told me that it was a month-to-month contract and I could cancel at any time.

"Great," I thought.  "If it doesn't work well, I'll just switch over to the bigger provider and only miss out on paying the installation cost."  It seemed like a no-brainer.  There was no risk, so why not give the little guy a shot?

The first six months were fine.  We really didn't encounter any problems of note.  Suddenly, out of nowhere, the internet got really slow.  And then it got slower.  And then it stopped working (literally DID NOT WORK) when it rained or was windy outside.

It seriously got to the point where only one of us could use the internet at one time, and then it still took about 10-15 minutes for things to load.  We did all the troubleshooting required, but nothing happened.

"Oh well," I thought.  "It's a little hassle, but I'll cancel before the next month starts and we're charged."

And then something happened.

I received an e-mail from a lawyer that included this text in it.  Basically, Clear customers are suing Clear because of alleged lies they told about internet speed and cancellation fees.

The internet speed I agreed with wholeheartedly.  The cancellation fees perked my interest because I hadn't yet called to cancel.  

So I called.

The Battle
I am still so weary from this experience, so let's see if I can recap it without prolonging the agony.

I called.  They said I had a 2-year contract so was required to pay a cancellation fee; if I had signed up for the month-to-month contract, then I would have no fee.  I explained that my salesperson didn't even TELL me there were different contracts; he just told me there were no cancellation fees.  So he promised me one thing and signed me up for another.  It was not my fault, and I deserved to be cancelled without a fee.

I was then told that the salesperson was a part of a third-party sales provider, and there was no way to reach him to verify my story.  Frustrating, right?  I told them that it wasn't my fault that my salesperson was from a third party, and it just added to my distrust of the company.  A third party they can't reach, a blatant lie about contracts, and still I get to pay the penalty?  I don't think so. 

We left with a promise to have a manager call me back.

Nearly a week later -- a week later!!! -- and no call back.  Meanwhile, I've been tweeting back and forth with their customer service on Twitter (a pointless service, I might add -- they are not helpful at all, but just say things like, "I'm sorry about your experience.  That's not what we strive for."  They also promise to have someone call repeatedly, with no results), I finally ended up calling them back.  This time, I was absolutely determined not to get off the phone until it was resolved.

I was transferred to two managers.  The last manager I spoke with (in customer resolutions) tried to -- get this -- sell me a different type of modem for $99.99, even though he couldn't promise it would work in my area.  This baffled me beyond belief.  Why would I spend another $100 to get something that may not work at all, only to have to cancel again, and be stuck with both the modem and the cancellation fee -- not to mention, still no working internet?  The bonus of this modem, the guy said, was that I could use the internet OUTSIDE the house!  

Wow.  Are they serious?  I am paying for internet inside my home I work from home.  The whole point is to use internet in my home!  If I wanted to use internet outside the home, I would just go to Starbucks, but that defeats the whole purpose of paying for internet in my home.

This is when I went into a long monologue about how I don't trust Clear at all (still don't), that I don't understand why Clear would want to present itself as an untrustworthy company (which they are), and that it's about integrity (this is when my voice raised dramatically in pitch).  Didn't they want to have integrity?

He promised to cancel my service without the cancellation fee.

Oh, But Wait -- There's MORE!
Fast forward to today (the above happened about two weeks ago), and I am charged (surprise, surprise) the cancellation fee.  I go on Clear chat and am simultaneously on the phone with my bank to stop the charge.  Clear tells me the same old stuff -- 2 year contract, cancellation fee, etc.  This is when I lose my cool.  Like seriously.  I actually had to TELL the CS staffer to CHECK MY FILE with the notes from my previous 2-hour call (isn't that part of their job?  Why else do they access the account?  I'm sorry - but I used to work in CS, and if we saw an account with a lot of notes, we read those notes first before continuing the conversation.  Common sense, people!). 

So after reading the notes, he said he'd refund my money.

I asked for a number to call in a few days if it doesn't go through, and he avoided the question.  I had to ask him THREE TIMES before he gave me the basic customer service number -- not a real person, just a general number.  So if he doesn't refund me the money (and I doubt he will, at this point -- yes, Clear -- this is where you brought me -- this is how much I do not trust you), I have to go through the ringer again with a new customer service rep who won't read the notes in my file when I call in.


Worst company ever.


Later this week, I will share a few practical tips to help you along in customer service battles. 
  • What are your customer service horror stories?
  • Do you have any happy customer service stories?  I'd love to hear those too!

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