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Customer Inter@ction Solutions
July 2007 - Volume 26 / Number 2
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Playing Customer Service Password

By Tracey E. Schelmetic
Editorial Director, Customer Inter@ction Solutions


This is my favorite customer service scenario (I speak with sarcasm) as of late. It goes like this:

Agent: Thank you for calling IndifferentCast, the cable company that doesn't much care. How can I fail to serve you today?

Me: Yes, I'd like to find out why you triple billed me this month for services I don't even have.

Agent: I'll just look that up for you. What phone number is the account under?

Me: I'm not sure. Try my cell phone: 203-123-4567.

Agent: No, there's no account under that number.

Me: Well, I have lots of different phone numbers. Maybe it's under my home number: 203-987-6543.

Agent: Nope, I'm not finding anything.

Me: OK, this is frustrating. Maybe it's under my work number: 800-123-4567.

Agent: No, I'm not seeing anything.

Me: Well, I first ordered services, when I had an old home phone number. Try 203-555-5555.

Agent: Ummmmmm…nope. Nothing there.

Me: Well, my boyfriend placed a service call once. Perhaps it got put under his number. Try his cell phone…860-987-6543.

Agent: Nope.

Me: Fine. Try his work number: 800-999-9999.

Agent: Still nothing.

Me: Can you just look up the account by my last name?

Agent: No, we use phone numbers to keep track of accounts.

Me: Right. Clearly, it works very smoothly. Can you try my previous cell phone number? I haven't had it in years, but maybe you've linked my account to an account I had years ago when you merged your databases. It's 203-555-1234.

Agent: Nope. Nothing.

It's important to note that at this point, the account number that gets printed on my cable bill each month is not, in fact, in my cable company's system as being a valid account number. Apparently, the fairies made up the customer number and put it on my bill, and it bears no resemblance to any number the company uses to keep track of customers. Which is why every time I call the cable company, we need to play this ludicrous game.

I realize no one wants to use social security numbers in these days of ID theft, but there has got to be a more efficient way.

Tell me again…what's wrong with identifying customers by their names? Or even their addresses? You'd think that as a sort of utility company, the service address would be the most relevant factor in keeping track of cable customers.

My other great pet customer service peeve is the user name/password phenomenon. In the early days, we got to make up our user names and passwords. Whatever your first experience with online customer service was, you probably sat and tried to think up a clever user name and a password that was not too obvious (the dog's name) but that you could still remember.

Little by little, the number of online accounts you had rose. A work e-mail address, a free e-mail address and a wireless e-mail address. Network passwords. User names and passwords for your bank accounts, your mortgage, your car loan, your credit cards, your car insurance, your online subscriptions, your utilities. And little by little, the demands from these companies became greater. Your user name must include so many letters and a number. Your password must be comprised of five to nine letters and two digits.

But here's the kicker: identity theft experts say you should never use the same user name and password on more than one account. And you should never write them down. I don't know about you, but as the decades pass, the chances that I'll be able to mentally keep track of 21 different user names and passwords are about as likely as me flapping my arms and flying to work tomorrow morning.

I'm holding out for voice and fingerprint biometrics to access my accounts. I realize that both of these things are used by some banks, but they're generally only the kind of banks that serve customers who would view what's in my accounts as not even worthy of raiding the couch cushions for.

I've discussed fingerprint and retinal scan biometrics with conspiracy-minded friends who worry that perhaps thieves will resort to removing fingers and eyes to get access to your computers and accounts. That's a little too James Bond for me. It's not like I'm storing the missile launch codes on my laptop. Anybody who desperately wants to find out the contents of my last five e-mails to my mother or how much balance I have on my Home Depot account for that hot water tank I just had to buy is really welcome to the information without having to remove my thumbs.CIS

The author may be contacted at [email protected].

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