Poor customer service = Annoyed customers

In the past 60 days, I’ve experienced two instances of poor customer service that left me truly stunned. One was just downright surprising and the other was clearly a reflection of the business reality in 2008. Both were examples of cost-cutting that lead to an annoyed customer (me) and probably the end of my business relationship (in due time).
The first interaction happened in October: I received a call from my mobile phone provider, which happens on occasion when they are trying to sell a new product or service. This time, however, they were asking me to leave and offering to waive the early termination fee to make it easier for me. It seems that I was using too many roaming minutes and the only solution they could come up with was to ask me to switch to their competition.
I’ve been a customer with this particular provider for 10 years. I think I’ve been a good customer, although I’m sure I’m not their most lucrative account. I have a few discounts applied to my account and I do use roaming a lot since I get a terrible signal in my apartment. They didn’t fire me, although there was the vague threat of roaming charges which are currently free under the contract I have. The woman I spoke to clearly does this all day, as she was very understanding and explained everything in great detail. Still, it’s a bit hurtful when a company you pay tells you they don’t want your money anymore.
The second interaction happened just three days ago: I’ve been writing new code for my website and spending a lot of time editing through both Dreamweaver (the new site uses PHP and MySQL) and FrontPage (the old site uses these unique Microsoft extensions). During this update, I’ve received two errors when using FrontPage, and had to call technical support to solve both of them. The first time, I called and spoke to someone in India or the Middle East (I think, judging by the accent, and where outsourced tech support is usually found). It wasn’t a pleasant call, and I found it difficult to interact efficiently, but my issue – a low file count limit – was solved within about 20 minutes and required no escalation. The second time, which happened when I discovered an error on Thursday night, was much, much worse.
The call started at about 5:30p when the error – a corrupt FrontPage extension – halted my work and I was connected to someone in Russia or Eastern Europe (again, judging by the accent, and where outsourced tech support is usually found). I explained the issue and the rep came back with a simple solution. He told me to stop usingFrontPage, to edit the files locally on my hard drive, and to use FTP to upload the changes. Seriously.
For anyone reading this that might not be familiar with FrontPage, this solution is the equivalent of your mechanic telling you to change your oil to fix a flat tire. It doesn’t solve the underlying problem and it shows ignorance to the issue and the customer. I asked for a manager. He put me on hold and conferred with someone, somewhere. When he came back, he told me the solution he had presented was the best he could offer. I asked for a manager. After trying to explain his side, the rep put me on hold again and tried to reinstall the FrontPage extensions (without my permission and without consulting with a manager). When he came back and told me what he had done I was furious. I tried logging in to my site and was now totally locked out. I asked for a manager and told him that he was not allowed access to my account anymore. I was put on hold and eventually found my way to Tier 2 customer service (which means someone located in the U.S.). To make a long story short, the overseas rep had done so much damage to my site that the host had to get a specialist to manually reinstall the software. The issue was not solved until 4:48am on Friday (per the email I received).
I’ve run into bad customer service before, and been annoyed at the way my issues were handled, but nothing even close to these two examples (perhaps the reason for my rant today). The bottom line is that in today’s economy, you need every customer you can get and should do everything in your power to reduce churn and increase retention.
I’m not oblivious. I can see the other side in both situations. My only point is that there are better ways to handle a business relationship. I’ve been a loyal customer to each of these companies for many years. Now, that loyalty is pretty much lost and they can forget my recommendations. Just be careful out there, and once you’ve secured someone’s loyalty, make sure you make every attempt to keep it.