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Is Customer Service a Myth in the Internet Age?
Growing up, I can remember my grandmother calling down to the grocery store to put in her order and having her groceries delivered. When I got older, I still was called by name by the clerks at the stores where I shopped, and when being trained for my first job, it was drilled into my head that the customer is always right. A lot of things have changed since then, in particular, the introduction and rapid growth of Internet has made it easier to do business with companies across the globe than it is to run down to the corner drug store. The Internet has also made doing business more impersonal. Internet retailers and service providers don’t ever have to deal with customers face to face, and due to this fact, many Internet companies no longer value customer relations they way that they were valued in the past.
A good example of this is occurring with the recent epidemic of Hotmail accounts that have been hijacked, including my own. The hijackers go into the accounts, change the password and secret question, so the legitimate owners cannot access their accounts. The hijackers then spam all their contacts, presenting themselves as the owners of the accounts, and claim to be stranded and in need of financial assistance. Microsoft makes no contact information available to distressed customers, leaving the only avenue for assistance, the Windows Live Customer Support Forum.
In this forum, the customer posts their problem and waits for a response from moderators, sometimes for several days. Microsoft Corporation has outsourced these forums to a third party company, which trains their moderators to scan the forum posts for key words, search a data base, then copy and paste scripted responses that may pertain to the difficulty the customer is experiencing. Many of these scripted responses do not apply to the problem, or do not function as they are supposed to and so, are ineffective. Moderators do not seem to have any real technical support or trouble shooting skills, and one might even doubt that they actually read the posts, as many of the responses instruct customers to carry out steps that the posts have stated were already attempted. The resulting situation is many frustrated, dissatisfied customers that are unable to get any real help in solving their problem and are left feeling that no one is really listening.
While it is true that Hotmail is a free service, many of these people have other paid accounts with Windows Live, and Microsoft still makes ad revenues off of Hotmail accounts. All of the Windows Live services are connected to the same login, so when one is locked out of their email, they are consequently locked out of all of their other Windows Live accounts. In my case, I have a Windows Live Messenger account, a Windows Live Spaces account, and an Office Live website. Customers use emails for many things that are important in their daily lives, such as business correspondence, storage of contact information, bill paying, and notification of payments through PayPal. One quick glance at the forum reveals a whole line of frustrated customers, with threads concerning this problem and others like it, which are not receiving solutions within a reasonable amount of time. These customers are left scrambling to open a new email accounts and switch over all of their online accounts that are attached to the old email address. Customers have on other option, but to keep posting in the forum and then waiting again for a reply, for an additional two to three days, each time. In the meantime, they may have payments floating around in cyberspace or late payments, because they aren’t receiving their bill notifications. They also may be unable to follow up on urgent business correspondence matters that were left unfinished, and have no way to notify any of their contacts of the scam emails that are being sent out in their names. It took me three weeks to regain access to my Hotmail account, and hence my other Windows Live accounts.
At one point, after filling out a detailed form answering questions regarding my Hotmail account, I was finally validated as the account owner and allowed to change the password. When I tried to login with the new password, I was told that I had to finish signing out, (because the hijackers were still logged in), but when I went to the forum to inquire as to what to do next, found a response stating that their investigation had determined that there had been “questionable activity” with my account and so, they had placed a block on it. So, even if I could have gotten the new password to work, they were now preventing me from accessing my Hotmail account, because of the “questionable activity” that I brought to their attention.
Microsoft has the ability to correct this problem if they cared to do so. As one forum participant pointed out, “Microsoft has recently released their revenues for the last quarter. Those revenues (for just one three-month period) were over $16 BILLION DOLLARS. That is a 22% increase over the same period last year.” (http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2010/jul10/07-22fy10q4earnings.mspx) They could easily offer methods of contact to obtain some true customer support, with live people, who possess technical and trouble shooting skills. They could employ people to investigate and fix technical problems and keep customers informed as to what the difficulties are and what is being done about them. When questions like these are posted in the Customer Support Forum, they are simply ignored, with no reply given. On the Customer Service Scoreboard, (http://www.customerservicescoreboard.com/Microsoft), Microsoft is rated as disappointing, (#166 out of 302 companies), with 48 negative comments and only 6 positive comments, out of a total of 54, and an overall rating of 36.51 out of a possible 200. It seems to me (and to dozens of other frustrated customers), that Microsoft simply doesn’t value their Hotmail customers enough to provide good, old fashioned customer service.