The End of Customer Service

We were stuck on the ground in Denver yesterday for a bit under two hours past our scheduled departure for San Francisco. The explanation from the captain of our United flight was that SFO was permitting only limited runway operations, hence we’d all have to wait our turn. Yet a United plane that was scheduled to leave Denver for San Francisco an hour and 15 minutes after our original departure time arrived in San Francisco soon after we did. It made me wonder if we’d been given false information.

At this point, I tend to believe what the airline told us. But United should look in the mirror when it looks for someone to blame for the fact that customers tend to be suspicious. The airline has been torturing its customers this year, with yet another spate of canceled flights (AP) announced today.

If switching airlines would make a huge difference, I would. I’m assuming United will eventually return to being no worse than the rest, which is no compliment to any of them. About the only airline I enjoy is Southwest, for short flights.

The airline industry’s indifference to customer service isn’t unique.

While in the Denver area over the weekend, my Verizon (formerly GTE) mobile phone service didn’t work properly. I spent about two hours on the phone with the company, to no avail. It turned out there was a network problem, according to a call I received yesterday from the company, which hadn’t bothered to tell its customer-service people during the weekend.

I did learn from one of those folks that there is a problem with the Qualcomm phone I use (model number 860). Verizon knows that these phones have problems delivering alerts that messages have been received. Were they going to tell their customers? Not unless or until customers called to complain, apparently.

Verizon’s voice mail system is an utter joke. A message was left for me while I was in Colorado. The company admits it can’t alert customers to messages received when they’re outside their home area (no one tells you this when you sign up; you have to find it for yourself in the fine print). But it wasn’t until many hours after I got back to California on Monday that the system let me know there was a message waiting. Pathetic.

I asked the customer-service people whether I could cancel due to the problems. The answer was no. I could put the service on suspension for the remainder of my year-long contract, paying $10 a month, if I chose. Of course, then I’d be subjecting myself to the other wireless providers. Judging from the complaints I hear about them, Verizon is probably no worse than the rest.

What United and Verizon have in common is this: They are in businesses where oligolopies rule — small numbers of very large companies. Yes, customers can shop elsewhere, but all of the major players in these industries behave the same way — with indifference to their customers. In a boom economy, they have us pretty much by the throat.

Normally, when the business cycle brings another recession, these companies would regret the way they’ve treated people. I wonder. Oligopolies may not have to care. With so few major competitors in the airline and wireless communications businesses, it’s difficult to see why customer service will ever be more than an afterthought.

I’m a big fan of deregulation. But I fear we’re moving into the worst of both worlds.

ZDNet Problem is on My End

Never mind on my recent query about ZDNet, which I’ve been having trouble accessing. Turns out the problem is with my office network configuration (still unclear precisely what’s wrong). Works fine from my ISP at home.

This entry was posted in Archives. Bookmark the permalink.