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Qwest: a customer service success story

As promised, in response to my previously mentioned harassment from my Citibank credit card, I contacted my telephone company Qwest. The difference in the two experiences was like night and day. They were such polar opposites, I can steal a couple of the sub-headings from my last post to illustrate.

By way of full disclosure, I did work for Qwest some years back when they were called US West. Still, I'm pretty neutral when it comes to service companies like banks and phone companies. They exist to do a job, and either they do it well or they don't. Judge for yourself if I have any bias in this account.

This is where things got bad.

My first step was the Qwest website. As with CitiCards, I'm pretty hands-off about simple things like phone service. I don't get physical bills from Qwest, since I'm on auto-pay, and their electronic bills oddly don't list a phone number, but point me to their site.

And that site is terrible, from a customer service perspective. It comes across as little more than heavy-handed advertising of all the new things they'd like to sell. Even when I did searches regarding harassing or unwanted phone calls, it tried to direct me to extra "blocking" products I could purchase. Since I need proper customer service, I dug until I got a phone number to call. It was a surprising amount of effort, considering.

And their automated system at the other end of that phone number was also surprisingly bad. Again, it seemed geared to up-sells or new customers rather than proper customer service. They went through a list of no less than 6 options for directing my call, and none of them fit my problem, nor did they give a "to talk to a representative" option. Being Impossibly Stupid, I just started to mash the 0 button. It only took a couple times before I got put on hold to wait for a real person.

This is where things got good.

It was maybe a 5 minute wait, which was not bad at all. I then got connected to a gentleman who was somewhat older than me. It is worth noting early on that I never got transferred at any point or spoke to anyone else. This guy's job was to be the voice of Qwest, answering the rollover line for all calls of any subject matter, and he did an awesome job.

So I stated my concern right off the bat: harassing calls. There was only a minor mention of "other" Qwest services. It was simply amazing how he just got that I didn't need to be informed of them. Did I give enough of an indication at the start of the call? Was there some entry in a customer database that noted I had visited those web pages? All I know is that skipping the sales pitch smoothed things along greatly.

He was able to immediately inform me of a couple great ways to deal with the problem. I'm not sure what kind of legal protections phone customers have around the world, but it was refreshing to hear how simple it would be to put pressure back on harassing callers. So simple that you have to wonder why CitiCards engages in the kind of abuse they do; I guess they mainly harass people who feel like they brought it upon themselves.

Guess what I didn't want to end?

Anyway, the best parts of the customer service experience had only a tangential relationship to the call. Part of the conversation was about how the phone company could deal with harassment back when it was a monopoly (phone cops!). Part of the conversation was about his own experience with harassing callers. Part of the conversation was about a related Clint Eastwood movie.

Now some bean counter might look at those pieces as 1 minute out of the call that was "wasted", but it is really that kind of stuff that makes for a good customer experience. Instead of just a cold, scripted reading of some facts off a screen, the guy made an actual effort to engage with me as a person! I suppose it could still have been scripted, but even then it would have been such a good acting performance that I wouldn't mind a bit.

So, again, just the one guy who was there to take a call on anything vaguely phone-related. Effortlessly gets me the information I needed. Talked like an actual human being. That is how all customer service needs to be done. Citibank might have started that way, but it failed to see it through to the end.