A Customer Service Lesson In Doing the Right Thing

A friend of mine recently spent more than an hour on the phone with Comcast (no big surprise there) trying to dispute an unexplained $84 charge that ended up on her bill.

While she is far from the only person with a similar tale to tell, the incident serves as a reminder that some of the largest companies have yet to master customer service basics. The most important one being: just do the right thing.

Alicia opened her Comcast bill this month to find that it was nearly double what it should have been, so she called customer service to get to the bottom of it. The charge was marked as an outstanding balance from November, but there was no information provided on the nature of the charge.

Before calling, Alicia did her homework. She went through PDFs of past bills over the last year to see if she could find an outstanding charge. There was no unpaid $84 fee she could find from November – or any other month, for that matter. Every bill had a zero balance at the end of the month.

The customer service representative she spoke with explained that the charge was related to unreturned equipment. However, the rep said he wasn’t authorized to adjust the bill, so Alicia asked to speak to someone who could. The supervisor who answered had an entirely different explanation for the bill – an unpaid balance for Internet service from Alicia’s previous address. That charge had not appeared on any previous bills for the old address, however.

Suffice it say, the exchange got a little heated. Alicia was not willing to pay for a charge that Comcast could neither explain or document, but the supervisor kept insisting that it was a “valid charge.” Alicia continued to push back, frustrated that Comcast could simply claim a charge as valid without proof – particularly when a charge from November appeared out of the blue in March.

In the end, Comcast won — at least in Alicia’s mind. The supervisor finally agreed to split the difference and deduct $40, but that still felt unfair to Alicia without any proof that the charge was valid. She had a work appointment that required her to get off the phone, so she agreed to pay the $40 simply because she didn’t have time to continue arguing. Comcast was able to push back long enough that she had to give in, despite being more than unhappy about it.

The Customer Service Lessons

Although Comcast made $40 that day, the company lost in other ways. Alicia posted on Facebook about the incident, and she shared the story with friends over morning coffee and happy hour cocktails. That story turned into this blog. It begs the question: Was $40 worth further damage to the brand?

Comcast has a unique position in the market because in many areas there is no competition, leaving frustrated customers without the option to cancel service. However, this is most likely not the case in your industry. If customers have experiences like this, they’ll seek out your competitors instead.

There are a couple important lessons here: 1) In the modern world, a story about a bad customer experience can easily reach hundreds or thousands of people; 2) It’s more important to please the customer than to win; and 3) If you’re going to bill for a service or product, you should be able to prove it was provided.

There will always be customers who will try to dispute a valid charge or argue their way out of paying a bill, and you can’t give in to everyone. But in this case – which involved a loyal, long-term customer who does not have a history of complaints – the right thing to do would have been to refund the charge.

In the modern world of customer service, we all should know by now that preserving brand loyalty and retaining customers is the No. 1 priority. It should certainly come over nickeling-and-diming loyal customers.

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