Customer support is deliberately unbearable (unless you complain in public)

Companies that lock you in with long-term contracts (mobile phones) or have a monopoly over your business (cable) carefully calculate exactly how terrible their customer service can be before you incur the pain of trying to get out of your contract or find an alternative.

A survey by the International Customer Management Institute found that "92 percent of customer service managers said their agents could be more effective and 74 percent said their company procedures prevented agents from providing satisfactory experiences."

You get better customer service from companies in highly competitive industries, especially where the competition springs from selling a product or service that is identical no matter who you get it from. This is one of the reasons that customer service is so great with Hover, which sells domain names. You also get better service from upstarts breaking into established industries (Hover's cellular phone division Ting also has great customer service).

I'm calling out Hover deliberately because I've been a customer of its various divisions for a long time and been very, very happy with them (they're not a current Boing Boing advertiser, though we'd warmly welcome their business!). I know some of the people in the company, and there's an interesting causal relationship here that's not immediately obvious from the outside.

If you're the sort of person who wants to treat people well, you get into the kind of business that can thrive by differentiating itself through excellent customer service. If you're the sort of person who doesn't care if you make other people miserable, you get into the kind of business where bad customer service doesn't hurt your profits. It's not just that some industries have good customer service and others have bad service, it's also that these industries attract executives whose temperament and empathy are reflected in the industry norms of the companies they're joining.

One interesting finding from the NYT's coverage of the ICMI survey: if you have trouble with a customer-service-unfriendly company, you can get better results by complaining in public on social media, because doing so embarrasses the company in front of other potential customers, reaches service reps through a less-crowded channel, and demonstrates that you're the sort of customer who can attract negative attention to the company.

Especially frustrating when talking to tech support is not being understood because you are trying to communicate with machines or people who have been trained to talk like machines, either for perceived quality control or because they don't speak English well enough to go off-script.

"It's utterly maddening because the thing about conversations is that when I say something to you, I believe I'm having influence on the conversation," said Art Markman, professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and co-host of the podcast "Two Guys on Your Head." "And when you say something back to me that makes no sense, now I see that all these words I spoke have had no effect whatsoever on what's happening here."

When things don't make sense and feel out of control, mental health experts say, humans instinctively feel threatened. Though you would like to think you can employ reason in this situation, you're really just a mass of neural impulses and primal reactions. Think fight or flight, but you can't do either because you are stuck on the phone, which provokes rage.

Why Tech Support Is (Purposely) Unbearable
[Kate Murphy/NYT]

(via /.)