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Remote Possibilities, Part 3

In fairness to the folks at the Logitech company, what I went through with their Tech Support folks is fairly typical these days. In way too many companies, they now look on the need to provide Customer Service as a burdensome expense. I don't know how many times lately, I've found myself talking to someone who clearly is not on the same continent as the company or me…and there'd be nothing wrong with that if they were well-trained and had the power to do more than read answers off computer screens. In most cases, they don't have the knowledge. They have extensive FAQs on their computers and they look up what I'm calling about and parrot what's there. That is, if it's there.

I blame Ray Kroc for this trend. One of the things he pushed when he was establishing the McDonald's empire was the notion of utterly interchangeable, don't-have-to-know-a-lot employees. I heard him speak once and he bragged about how he'd designed his restaurants so they could take any kid off the street and train him a few hours to output burgers and fries exactly like the burgers and fries in every other McDonald's. It's hard work, I'm sure…but it's all paint-by-the-numbers. And it's why they can get away with not paying very well. It's hard to get decent wages in this world if there's an endless stream of people out there who can and will do your job just as well for bad money.

And now we see so many companies trying to do the same thing with Customer Service personnel. A few years ago, I had a horrendous experience with United Airlines where I couldn't reach anyone who knew anything or had the power to do anything. Dialing Customer Service got me a guy in India who didn't have the answer to my problem on his screen and wasn't empowered to refer me to anyone who could help me. At least the Logitech folks have this Level Two department of wiser technicians who can take over when the lower level fails. The problems I had with them, apart from being on hold for a long time and getting dumped off the line a few times, were that their Lower Level people spent a long time with me to not solve my problem and it was hard to get Level Two on the line. But at least when I did, they solved my dilemma.

All of this is a trend I don't like and one I think is bad for business. As I've written here before, I've seen a lot of technogically-oriented businesses go under in the last few years — Good Guys, CompUSA, Egghead Software, others — and all I think for the same reason. This may just be anecdotal but in every case, I found that they had salesfolks who didn't have the foggiest understanding of what they sold or how most of it worked. I'd ask questions and get back tabula rasa stares.

I don't get why companies do this. I understand that the employees that know more cost more…or can cost more. But if I'm going to be buying computers or TVs or anything from employees who don't know anything, I might as well order on the Internet and save money. The one advantage a brick-and-mortar store might have is if they have staffers there you could talk to and get personal attention and info. But the last time I was in a Best Buy, none of their salesfolks could tell me which of their external hard drivers had eSATA ports. None of them knew what eSATA ports were. That can't be good for sales. It may be that companies can get away with this because everyone's doing it and they figure you won't be able to get better service anywhere else.