Customer service is an HR issue

Bad experience highlights need for greater customer focus

Brian Kreissl

By Brian Kreissl

I’ve been having a problem with a large retailer for several months now. My experience got me thinking about how poor customer service is actually an HR issue.

It began back in July when my wife called to have a problem with our store brand built-in microwave fixed. After arranging for a technician to come by, the call centre rep asked if we wanted to have our air conditioner serviced for half price.

But there was a catch. We had to provide a credit card number right up front.

Since we were using my credit card, my wife handed me the phone. I thought about it, and because our aging air conditioner wasn't working, I agreed to have someone come and look at it.

A few days after the microwave was fixed, the air conditioning technician arrived. I was home at the time. He fixed a problem caused by an earwig shorting out one of the connections, topped up the fluid in the unit and gave me some advice about our furnace.

He also told me the air conditioner is old and they won’t be able to replace the fluid after next year. We both agreed it probably wouldn’t be worth paying to have it serviced again.

Monthly billing program

Several weeks later, I was annoyed to see they put me on a monthly billing program — something I never agreed to since they quoted me a flat fee.

After speaking with several people and having to convince them that, yes, that was what I was told, and it wasn’t worth it to have a warranty on such an old unit (even after they still tried to sell me on the monthly plan, or I could pay a flat amount about $50 more than what I was quoted), they agreed to do an investigation and find the recording of the original conversation I had with the agent.

Eventually, they credited me for the monthly charge. But three different people called me over several weeks to tell me they needed a credit card number to charge me for the service call. Three times I gave them my number and questioned why they needed it again because they already had it on file.

Finally, the fourth person was actually able to charge my card right then and there. She told me she would mail me the receipt, which she did.

When I asked her why no one else could do that, she told me the other people were calling from the call centre and their privacy policy doesn’t allow them to take down customers’ credit card numbers. I asked her why no one else told me that, but she couldn’t answer me. Why would they call me for my credit card number if they couldn’t actually process it?

A few days later, I checked my statement. Not only had they charged me the original amount plus tax, but another part of the organization charged me the same amount without tax on the same day. We hadn’t bought anything else, so clearly I was double charged (I believe we paid cash for the microwave).

When I called two different people to complain, neither of them could even see the second charge in their system. The person who had charged my credit card said they would investigate and reverse the charge before my next statement.

I waited a week and left a very pleasant and polite follow up message with the person who processed my card. My wife also called her. The lady snapped at my wife that she didn’t have time to deal with it and I should just pay my bill. So it looks like I have to wait.

I’m also disputing the charge through my bank, but that will take several weeks and it seems unnecessarily bureaucratic as well.

The amount isn’t insignificant and I was relying on that money for Christmas. And it isn’t the first time we’ve had substandard customer service from that organization, which I have vowed never to deal with again.

A job for HR

Obviously, the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing there. It sounds like they need better customer relationship management (CRM) systems.

But they also need a complete cultural shift to one that better supports customers. It also sounds like training may be lacking, and perhaps their recruitment practices should be improved. This sounds like a job for HR.

Brian Kreissl is the managing editor of Consult Carswell. He can be reached at [email protected]. For more information on Carswell's HR products visit  

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