In an Age of Bad Customer Service, Good Jewelers Have an Edge

Everyone who works in a customer-facing business should listen to the viral audio of a tech writer who calls Comcast and tries—in vain—to cancel his Internet service. During the eight-minute call, we hear the hapless retention rep on the other end refuse to cancel and repeatedly talk up Comcast (“Why do you not want the best Internet?” he keeps asking), as if the caller will have a magic epiphany after being battered by a sales pitch. At one point, the man says that this kind of treatment exemplifies why he’s cutting the cord. Unfortunately for Comcast, the call was recorded—and posted online.

It quickly went viral, not because the man’s treatment was so unusual, but because it’s so common. Even Comcast’s CEO admitted that the employee was simply doing what he was trained to do.

And that’s the problem. The customer wanted to discontinue his service. The rep was coached not to let him. And so there was a stalemate—and a viral train wreck.

This week, I had my own unhappy customer-service experience. I contacted United Healthcare, my insurer, to gripe about its consistent pattern of either not paying claims or paying very little. Unlike the cable rep, the person I spoke to was nice and professional, but in the end, he didn’t provide much help, just gave me the address to file an appeal. And while he kept telling me he had “empathy” for me, that just seemed empty. He may be sympathetic, but what does that matter if I just end up where I started?

In both instances, the two customer-services reps didn’t provide much service, just sales pitches and clichés that arguably made things worse. The most potent thing someone can say to a complaint is, “What can I do to make this better?” But neither person could say that, because of their scripts and where they stood in the corporate hierarchy. This post on customer service details four steps businesses should follow in response to customer beefs, starting with “sympathizing” and proceeding to “acting.” The United Healthcare guy stopped at step one. The mad-dog retention rep with Comcast didn’t even get that far.

We often see stories about big jewelry chains that get sued or slammed on local news. In just about every instance, the ticked-off buyer brought his complaint first to a customer-service person—be it someone on the phone or behind the counter—and was told that their choices were limited by corporate dictates. The aggrieved party then took his problem elsewhere. The result was a corporate black eye.

This may always be the case for big corporations who don’t want junior people freelancing company policy. But it’s an opportunity for independent jewelers. When someone calls them up with a complaint, they can help. They can make things better. They aren’t bound by company rules, because they set them. And while they may not be able to assuage every angry client, they have a much better chance than someone with no power to truly be of service.

For all the strength of online and discount retailers, there is a hunger out there for personalized service, for businesses that truly want to make their customers happy. And in this age of Yelp, if retailers aren’t truly good to their customers, it can be quite bad for them.

Some are beginning to understand this. In a recent customer service study, “traditional brick-and-mortar retailers set several records,” according to Time.com. “Internet retailers’ ratings fell sharply—a departure from the trend in recent years.” Yes, many customers will still gravitate to low-price retailers. But quite a few will abandon them if that means low-class service.

In the end, “I can help you solve this,” is music to a customer’s ears. “Why do you not want the best Internet?” is not.

JCK News Director