Archive for July, 2010

On Kagan and Moving the Goalposts

I largely agree with Scott Lemieux on the overall wisdom of the Kagan pick. My one point of hesitation is that in a lot of ways Kagan seems like the left’s version of John Roberts. By this, I mean that because Kagan has little paper trail and is clearly qualified, she’s like Roberts in that she’s a perfect post-Bork nominee for getting through the Senate under the pretense that she is a reasonable moderate. I had a liberal friend in Boston who was a family friend of John Roberts who swore up and down that he wouldn’t be a radical conservative. We all know how well that worked out.  So maybe in Kagan we’ve managed to find someone who will dutifully say all the right things that please the Villagers of Washington while actually performing as a highly progressive judge.

Now I’ll allow this is quite possibly a stupid and risky way to get progressive justices onto the Court. For one thing, I think there’s probably an imbalance between how conservatives and liberals rely on this kind of subterfuge, so it’s possible that Kagan is every bit the boring establishment moderate that she seems to be. It would be much better for our peace of mind if it was inarguably possible for non-ciphers to make it past the Senate. But it’s not clear that that’s inarguable right now, and the reason is that the Village still thinks of unabashed liberalism as outside the bounds of acceptable philosophy for a President or Supreme Court justice. So it’s crucial that we need to  reset the goalposts too.

Good customer service

And now, back to your regularly scheduled crankery. The problem with most big businesses that think they’re “customer-focused” is that they’re really only concerned with the appearance of customer service (being “nice” to you in a scripted way) rather than focusing on all the ways they could be improving their products and operations to do the things that actually make customers satisfied. The reason of course is that a lot of companies consider screwing their customers as integral to their business models.

Take the experience I had with AT&T just now on the phone to get DSL service. Let’s count all the things that went wrong with this experience:

1. AT&T’s broadband products are laughably bad, especially in my area. Unfortunately, telecom services are oligopolistic so it’s not like I have a whole range of better choices here. Comcast might have been cheaper for the first few months, but I trust them even less and I’m wary of getting locked into a contract with them.

2. Too many promotions and price discrimination. All the complexity is incredibly annoying. I should be able to pick a speed and get one price regardless of what other AT&T crap I buy. Instead I’m confronted with nonsense. Do I want to lock myself into a contract to save some money? Do I want a land line? No and no. I don’t need anything besides my cell phone and a contract is a company’s way of saying “we have no confidence in our own ability to make you a lasting, happy customer.” But going with a contract and a land line are usually the best deal by far for AT&T DSL.

3. Terrible phone trees. The AT&T interactive voice response (IVR) system isn’t horrible. But the way they’ve structured their customer support teams is. I waited for a few minutes, got a nice enough representative, gave her all my information…and then it was determined that because of where I live, the AT&T U-Verse team was the one who needed to work with me, not her. Which wouldn’t have been so bad except of course I had to repeat all the same information I just gave them. Why can’t CRM systems be smarter at always sending this info along when a person takes it down?

4. Bad logistics. You’re sending me equipment that takes about a week to get here via UPS? Here’s where I could use some options! I live in a city where you have tons of stores for your wireless service. I’d much rather swing by one of those stores and pick up the damn thing than have to wait 6 days for it. Especially when then you’re telling me that it’s going to take another full week to send some guy to my domicile to install it. I’m as critical of people demanding instant gratification as the next guy, but having to wait 11 days for this kind of thing because your technicians are all booked is not OK.

5. Using Twitter as a band-aid. AT&T is using Twitter heavily in response to people’s constant complaining about the company, and responded to me within minutes of my own complaint. This comes off as really generous and responsive. But why can’t they just get it right the first time? It’s totally unfair to Twitter non-users to dole out goodies whenever someone on Twitter complains. You’re giving people a higher level of service based solely on their demonstrated ability to yell about you to their friends.

So when the agent asks me “did you consider yourself ‘very satisfied’ with the customer service I provided,” how can I really answer no? I had a bad experience, but it wasn’t really her fault. She was cordial, stuck to her scripted niceties, and offered me everything she could. The problem was that while her customer service was just fine, AT&T’s whole approach to customers is bad and she’s not authorized to do things that would improve it. She can’t offer me better products or stop the endless flow of bullshit pricing or fix the broken support team structure or make the installation guy show up any quicker if he’s already got a full schedule. Doing this stuff isn’t that hard. It’s just too expensive for most companies to consider it a rational business decision.