Customer Service: You Can Do It the Easy Way or the Hard Way

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

My wife and I recently moved. Some aspects went smoothly, and others were not so good. Part of moving is canceling services and changing mailing addresses. Each one is a customer service opportunity. Some companies excel at this, while others struggle, which produces repeat calls. This causes ramifications for both customers and employees.

When my wife called to cancel the garbage service, the rep took the information with ease and the refund check arrived a couple weeks later. (Curiously, they sent the check to our old address.)

The gas utility was likewise easy: One call and done. Our final bill arrived soon after. The jury is still out on the electric company. The phone call went well, but the subsequent bill doesn’t show the service as cancelled. Another phone call is in order. This means double the work for us and them.

I handled the phone cancellations. A large regional carrier provided our home phone. Since friends and family usually email or text, I’ve long advocated that we cancel it, but my wife disagrees. I think she enjoys receiving illegal telemarketing calls and political robo calls. (Remember the two uncles in Secondhand Lions?)

When I called to cancel this number, the rep took my order and left me with a confident feeling. They disconnected it within an hour, but the new-number recording wasn’t activated. A second rep told me that the first one placed the order incorrectly; it would take twelve hours for the change to go through. By the weekend, there was still no recording. After a third call, customer service said the order was still wrong, but they couldn’t fix it because I was no longer a customer; the fourth call, this one to the repair department, resulted in the same story. A fifth call on Monday produced only frustration. This took too many repeat calls. After repeated begging, the rep transferred me to a supervisor. A few minutes later, the recording was working. (Not that it mattered – after three weeks the only calls we’ve received on the new number are my test calls.)

That left my business line, which was bundled with Internet access and video, courtesy of a local telco. A small company, these folks know how to service customers. Though their methods aren’t always ideal, they are effective.

Placing the cancellation was easy, but they didn’t offer new-number recordings. When I insisted, the rep put me on hold to consult with their head engineer. His response shocked me: Their switch couldn’t do a new-number recording. The solution I eventually settled for was to keep the phone number active and remote call-forward it to my new number until I could notify everyone. This solution took multiple calls, callbacks, and consultations, consuming way too much of my time and theirs.

I could have ported both numbers over to temporary cell phones and then ported the cell phones over to Google Voice, thereby keeping the numbers and saving money. But the process seemed too cumbersome; plus, this would entail another round of customer service calls, which I feared would go poorly.

Changing our address has been the easiest. With most individuals and companies, I just emailed them. Changing magazine subscriptions was a time-consuming online process, not always straightforward, so a couple of cases might result in duplicate subscriptions. (Buy the way, if you receive duplicate or unused copies of Connections Magazine, you can cancel or change them at

For credit card companies, I’m using the “new address” section on their bills. With our credit union, I updated our address online, but our bank didn’t allow that. A call to their main office left me frustrated. I have to go to their nearest branch, now sixty miles away, to fill out a form. (I’m headed there this afternoon.) This isn’t customer service; it’s customer disservice. Needing to drive to a business to complete a simple task is even worse then needing to make repeat calls.

In your contact center, look for ways to prevent repeat calls and customer frustrations like those I encountered. Doing so will delight callers, save your staff from extra work and angry follow-up calls, and make everyone happy.

Peter Lyle DeHaan is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time. Learn about his books and read more of his articles at  Peter Lyle DeHaan.

[From Connection Magazine Sep/Oct 2014]