Customer Servitude Has Replaced Customer Service

Author: James Western

Organizations have improved their operations each year, with technological advances having a profound impact on both profitability and quality of products and services. These technological improvements over the last 50 years have provided significant benefits to both end- users and the organizations who offer them products and services. The automotive industry has leveraged the benefits associated with robotics to improve the quality and reliability of their vehicles, telecommunication providers have moved from wired to wireless communication to allow end-users the ability to communicate from places unheard of in the past, the internet has facilitated online shopping that is both convenient and more competitive, driving the prices down for many product offerings just to name a few examples.

One area, however, has declined significantly owing to technological improvements. This is what we aptly call remote telephone ‘Customer Service.’ In the past, before technology took a sharp turn to automated call attendance, one would dial a phone number found in a local telephone book, talk to an available person who answered the consumer’s call, discuss the problem with that customer service representative, have them address the problem at hand and then terminate the phone call. It was generally both an efficient and effective experience. Today, however, the experiences are significantly more ineffective and inefficient.

Rather than simply outlining the multitudinous breaches manifested by remote customer service departments throughout most industries, the following scripted scenario should resonate with many of us who have experienced the transition from customer service to customer servitude.


Stacy Worthington, a Business Development Manager for Mantaki Enterprises, clicks on the ACME Dashboard program icon with her mouse on her personal computer to open the program. After this financial software is launched, she discovers that she can’t pull up any financial reports to print without getting an error message as shown below.

Error: A13593B2931

To improve this product offering, please forward this error message to

Stacy: “Why is this happening? I pull these reports every day,” exclaims Stacy. “What am I supposed to do when ‘A13 blah, blah, blah’ shows up on my screen? Are you kidding me?!”

Stacy recognizes that she has no choice but to reach out to ACME Dashboard Customer Service.

Stacy Googles ‘ACME Dashboard Customer Service’ to secure their contact information. What shows up is a hyperlink to their customer service department. She clicks the link and sees the following:

Welcome to ACME Dashboard Customer Service. Please provide the following information so that we can more readily assist you with the problems you are having. You will receive an ACME Dashboard Customer Service reference number in your email inbox.


Business Name (if applicable):

Phone Number:

Email Address:

ACME Software Name:

Please explain the problems you are experiencing:


Stacy begins to quickly enter the information regarding the problem of pulling up and printing the financial reports. Before she finishes, an overlay web advertisement promoting the newest version of ACME Dashboard 2016 appears atop the text box where she was entering data. She tries to close the web advertisement but there is no obvious way to do so. After trying to figure this out for 30 seconds, it finally disappears.

Stacy: “That is what I want. More software from them given I can’t even use what I have now,” mumbles Stacy to herself as she finishes entering the information.

She completes the entry, having to go back to the ACME Dashboard software program and retry to load the financial reports, just to get the error message again such that she could copy and paste it into the message box. She hits the “Send” button at the bottom of the page. She receives a pop-up message that the Customer Service team will respond as soon as possible.

Stacy: “Now what? I have a meeting in 15 minutes to present our business development quarterly financial results. I can’t wait for ‘as soon as possible.’”

She closes the ACME Customer Service webpage that is devoid of a phone number and Googles ‘ACME Dashboard Customer Service PHONE NUMBER!’ To her amazement, a toll free number shows up. She dials the number immediately and hears the following automated message:

Thank you for calling ACME Dashboard Customer Service. If you are calling about upgrades to ACME Dashboard products, press 1; if you are calling about compatibility problems with your operating system and ACME Dashboard software, press 2; if you are having problems with ACME Dashboard software performance, press 3.

Stacy selects 3, presuming it is a problem with performance. She then hears the following:

If you have ACME Dashboard 2013, press 1; if you have ACME Dashboard 2014, press 2; if you have ACME Dashboard 2015, press 3; if you have ACME Dashboard 2016, press 4. For all earlier models, press 5.

Stacy selects 3, knowing the software name is ACME Dashboard 2015. She then hears the following:

If you are using ACME Dashboard 2015 version 2.33.8, press 1; if you are using ACME Dashboard 2015 version 2.33.9; press 2; if you are using ACME Dashboard 2.34.0; press 3; for all other versions, please press 4.

Stacy:“Are you serious! I have no idea what version I am using. What kind of user knows this? I am not an IT manager. How in the world am I going to find this out?”

Stacy begins to search through the software to try and find this information. She is feeling stress as she has already spent 15 minutes to get this far and has made no progress in describing the problem to an available customer service representative. She doesn’t know how long the automated customer service program will wait for her before terminating the call, so she scrambles through the software quickly to secure the current version. Fortunately, she finds the information after navigating through many of the software tab selections.

Stacy selects 2, as she discovered the version is 2.33.9. She then hears the following automated message:

Please enter your 16 digit software registration code. Press the pound sign when finished.

Stacy: “How in the world am I supposed to know this information?” offers Stacy incredulously.

She goes back to the area of the software where she found the software version. Unfortunately the software registration code isn’t there. She doesn’t know what to do at this point. Having lost so much time, she lays her head down on her desk and pounds the desktop with both her right and left fists.

Stacy: “I hate ACME Dashboard! They have no customer service at all. I am going to post this horrible experience all over social media,” shouts Stacy.

Unexpectedly, she hears an accented voice from the phone handset she set down on the desk next to her resting head, “This is John Peterson with ACME Dashboard customer service, what can I do to assist you today?”

Stacy can’t believe she heard anyone talking to her on the phone about her problem with the ACME Dashboard problem. Feeling some degree of hope, she picks up the phone handset.

Stacy: “I am so glad you are on the phone. I was supposed to enter a software registration code and I don’t know it, so I don’t understand why you are on the phone to assist me,” inquires Stacy.

John: We have an automated system that connects us to callers if they don’t enter data within a stipulated time period. What can I do to help you today?

Stacy: What did you say your name is?” asks Stacy.

John: “John Peterson.”

Stacy: “Where are you from, John?” she asks, knowing that he can’t be from the same country as her owing to his strong accent.

John: “I am from Bangalore, India,” responds John.

Stacy had experienced this many times before. Like everyone who worked in the business world, she knew that many of the outbound customer service calls from organizations were transferred overseas to individuals who work for customer service entities who provide commonly recognizable first and last names that align with the country they are supporting. This was their strategy to try and disguise the fact that they hire or contract with overseas individuals to reduce their customer service department’s variable payroll expense.

Stacy: “I have a problem with your software. I can’t pull up and print any financial reports. I have to be in a meeting in 3 minutes with all this information,” offers Stacy anxiously.

John: “Well, I am sorry that you are experiencing this problem. I believe that I can assist you here and solve the problem immediately. First, I just need some information from you. Can you provide me your first and last name?”

Stacy: “I really don’t have time for this. I already submitted all of this information on your customer service website.”

John: “I am sorry ma’am. A different customer service team is responsible for online support. I don’t have access to that information so I need to get it from you before I can continue.”

Stacy is feeling so frustrated and angry at this point, that she is ready to hang up. A peer of hers enters her office to tell her he is on the way to their meeting which starts in one minute. She puts her hand over the microphone portion of her phone handset and tells him to let everyone know she will be a little late.

Stacy: “My name is Stacy Worthington,” offers Stacy to John.

John: “What is the name of the business you are working for?”

Stacy: “Oh my gosh. This is ridiculous. Mantaki Enterprises,, (383) 854-2212, ACME Dashboard 2015, I don’t remember the software version number and have no clue what the software registration code is. Is that enough or do you need my social security number too?” offers Stacy sarcastically.

John: “I am sorry Ms. Stacy. I know this can be a little time consuming, but it is required of me by ACME Dashboard. I am also sorry that I couldn’t enter all of the information that you just provided to me Ms. Stacy. I couldn’t enter the data as fast as you spoke. Fortunately, we don’t need your social security number, so you don’t need to share that with me. Can you spell ‘Man-Tack-E’ for me?”

Stacy is beside herself at this point. She is beyond angry and frustrated yet has no alternative but to move forward by painfully offering redundant and seemingly useless information for their database.

Stacy: She spells the word for John, “M A N T A K I.”

After painfully going through all of the information for the second time, she is hoping they can begin to address her real concern.

John: “Did you say that you did or didn’t know the software registration code?”

Stacy is nonplussed at this point. She doesn’t know whether to scream, swear, criticize, or simply hang up on him. She restates to John that she has no idea what the software registration code is. He explains how to navigate her way through the software to secure the information, which she does and then provides that to him for validation.

John: “Thank you for providing that to me. Would you like to explain to me the problem you are experiencing?” inquires John robotically.

Stacy receives a text from the peer of hers who stopped by the office, letting her know that they had to alter the agenda owing to her not being present. She then explains the problem to John, emphasizing the need to address this quickly.

John: “This is an easy problem to fix. Press and hold the Ctrl + Shift + E keys at the same time and the problem should be solved.”

Stacy immediately follows his instructions, sees the data reports on the computer monitor and then tries to print the files. Voilà. The reports begin to stream from the printer in her office. She rushes over to the printer to pick up the reports

John: “Did that solve the problem for you, Ms. Stacy?”

Stacy: “Yes it did.” She takes a deep breath and continues, “Do you realize that it took 25 minutes of my precious time to resolve a 30 second problem? Why couldn’t you guys just answer the phone immediately, ask your users to describe the problem and provide them with the immediate solution the same way as in the olden days where it was customer service, not customer servitude?! All I am is an informational servant to your organization so that you can grow your database and market to me forever,” shouts Stacy.

She hangs up the phone without waiting for a response and marches off to her meeting, realizing how many apologies she must politely express to everyone in the meeting.

PS. Stacy is working in her office near the end of the day when she sees an email pop-up on her monitor. It is from ACME Dashboard Customer Service. She reads the message. It reads:

Hello Ms. Stacy Worthington,

I am Jane Smith from the ACME Dashboard customer service team. Thank you for sending us the information regarding the error message. You are having a problem due to an automated software upgrade that occurred last night with the ACME Dashboard software. To solve this setup issue, you simply need to push the Control + Shift + E button at the same time.

Please let me know if this resolves the problem. Please take a few moments and complete a customer service survey at

Stacy is trying to decide if she should take the survey to let them know how horrible their response time was, or to simply start promoting an alternative financial software to her peers. Either way, she hates ACME Dashboard!

There are so many versions of this scenario, but there are some common denominators that so many of us experience that run counter to positive customer service. The following represents some of those major areas wherein we are confounded at the lack of meaningful customer service.

The 10 Confoundments

  1. Struggling to find the “Customer Service” phone number on the organization’s website.
  2. Having to send an email to the “Customer Service” department to get them to respond to your needs instead of being able to speak with them immediately.
  3. Having to painfully navigate through auto attendant software to speak with someone (if we are lucky) and then when we finally connect with a live person, being required to reiterate so much of what we already entered into the phone dial pad (name, phone number, account number, last four digits of Social Security number etc.)
  4. Having to listen to irrelevant messages before we are able to push the appropriate buttons to navigate our way through the auto-attendant matrix (‘We are committed to providing the best customer service possible, if you are willing to take a brief three question survey when you are finished, please 1’). We are already frustrated for having to call them, and they are really going to force me to listen to a message about a survey for customer service?
  5. Not reaching the appropriate person, despite entering all of the requested information. Then, having to transfer to another representative and start all over with your name, phone number, etc.
  6. Being required to provide information to them that may exist, but isn’t top of mind for us. Frustratingly, they have that information themselves given their database of information about us.
  7. Speaking to someone who, despite their best efforts, doesn’t communicate in your language effectively.
  8. Still having to wait “forever” to finally speak to someone despite “you are now caller number 1.”
  9. Waiting for many minutes with various automated updates about, “Sorry for the delay, there is an unexpected high volume of calls at the moment. Our team will respond to your needs as quickly as possible,” and then hearing the unanticipated, final automated message after waiting ‘forever’ which states, “Please leave your name, email address and phone number and a customer service representative will return your call,” at which time if you don’t leave a message, the dial tone attacks you. After you leave a message, the same occurs.
  10. Being transferred to another representative to validate everything that just occurred during the customer service call, solely for the disguised purpose of them trying to encourage you to purchase something else.

Bryan Ritchie and James Western are co-founders of GrowthSPORT, a successful consulting company whose mission is to improve SCORES (Stimulate Culture, Optimize Results and Engage Staff) for Teams, Divisions, Departments and Organizations through the SPORT model (Strategic Alignment, Personnel Performance, Operational Execution, Results Accountability and Team Strength), which are the Five Core Elements of Success.

GrowthSPORT provides resources, tools and experienced consultants to effectively implement the SPORT performance model from companies ranging from Startups to Fortune 500 companies.

Feel free to reach out to GrowthSPORT at (801) 676-2500 or at


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