Slow Burn

Has Customer Service Hit Bottom Yet?

Journalists who have covered wars have a saying: The first casualty is the truth. The same can be said of squabbles between customers and companies who try to sell them things, something we see a lot of around here.

As part of Aviation Consumers charter to its readers, we find ourselves as a neutral third party in many of these disputes. I wish I could say that being a referee is fun and rewarding but the fact of the matter is that its neither. But as the old clich goes, someones got to do it.

Fairness dictates that we listen to both sides of the sad story and try to draw some kind of conclusion that will prove useful to our readers. Very often, these disagreements degrade to finger pointing and name calling such that anything resembling the truth is lost in the smoke.

The ad industry has done a superb job of painting manufacturers in the most favorable possible light, especially with regard to the quality of their products and after-the-sale service. But its my impression that things in the world of customer service are getting worse. Much worse. Although I cant put a number on it, were receiving more letters, e-mails and phone calls describing complaints about products and services than ever before. Most grievances arent so much about products as support.

In short, customers are angry. In the aviation goods and services market, I suspect some of this is spillover from the consumer market, where you buy computers that don’t work, software that chokes, airline trips that are like a tour in a slave ship and all manner of other products and services that simply fail to deliver. And few businesses-not to say none-seem to give a hoot.

Inevitably, those who seek redress are routed through some inane phone robot that promises to call back but never does. Who can blame customers for being enraged?

Beginning in this issue, were introducing a new periodic survey form called Heres My Beef. We want to hear about poor customer service, what happened, why it happened and what the company did-if anything-to set things straight. Its not our intent to publish or intervene in all of these complaints, but we do plan to maintain a database of customer service issues so we can advise readers accordingly.

You may use the form on page 17 or contact us by fax or e-mail with your comments. If we decide to pursue your complaint editorially, we’ll be contacting you directly and you’ll be kept fully aware of our editorial plans.

Fair warning: We always contact companies involved in these disputes for their point of view, which we often publish. Our intent is not an editorial lynching but a fair airing of all the issues at hand. We recently had a reader withdraw a complaint because he thought the companys point of view painted him in an unfavorable light.

So be it. Every story has two sides and only by telling them can we hope to get at what passes for the truth these days. We know by experience that if we present all sides of the story as accurately as we can, our readers are sophisticated enough to draw their own conclusions. And frankly, thats the best possible outcome.

-Paul Bertorelli