Customer service

I agree with Pogue; my first AT&T iPhone bill is one of the most customer-unfriendly documents ever. Why is it that telephone and cable companies are so awful at customer service? Random ideas that occur to me:

  1. They don't make high enough margins to spend a lot on really great customer service or on great product design.

  2. In the old days, phone service was so simple and reliable and telephone design was so simple that these companies never built up any customer service or product interface skills. Since then, their oligopoly of the mobile airwaves has prevented companies who are strong in those areas from getting their foot in the door (but Apple is in now, so the product side will improve, I hope).

  3. Related to the previous point, perhaps the phone and cable companies are still trying to shake off the complacency brought on during the days before deregulation.

  4. The companies were built up through tons of mergers, and the integration of back end systems was so awful that even customer service reps have no idea what is up with your account.

Some of you with more knowledge of phone and cable companies and their origins and/or workings might be able to educate me.

I used to think that any company would obsess over its customers, but after working in a number of industries over the years I've come to realize how naive that notion was. Though it can be an effective strategy, customer obsession or empathy is not a pre-condition to business success. For example, some companies focus intently on product (many luxury brands come to mind) and customers come flocking even if treated badly because the products inspire consumer lust. The desire for profit can result in companies that offer fantastic customer service, but it's not a given.

But much more common is the ease with which customer concerns slip off a company's priority list during day-to-day operations. For any number of reasons, political, personal, and otherwise, the needs of the customer become an afterthought. In some instances, even those who start off focusing on the customer can easily lose their way. I almost believe that part of this is the result of some cognitive bias. For the same reason we act selfishly for the majority of our lives, we struggle to keep the customers' needs at the forefront of our minds.

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