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I Hate Customer Support

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Toll free support fails customers for the simplest of reasons: There's no accountability.

Business owners everywhere know that there are countless reasons to dread September. The month not only signals the end of summer -- it's also when businesses must file tax returns.

The phrase "Customer Support" is one of those horrible misnomers. Few companies do it well. Some do it really, really badly. They give you a reason to hate them. Which is about the worst possible thing you can do as a company.

Consider Wells Fargo. I like the bank. For nearly two decades, my wife and I have had a Wells Fargo loan and various personal and business checking accounts. All of which is supposed to afford us special status. So I phoned the Wells 800 number last week and ordered missing bank statements to complete business returns.

Because the account had been closed, the agent said my statements would have to be faxed, but I would still receive them in 4 hours. Four days later -- with no fax in sight -- I phoned again and asked to talk to a supervisor. He informed me that there was no record of my request. Dumbfounded, I said that wasn't right. Then after a minute, he came back on the line. His second story was that I had indeed called, but the agent I spoke with reported that I had not requested old records.

Double dumbfounded, I said that wasn't correct, and made clear I wasn't a happy customer.

Lo and behold, the original agent's memory returned, and I was told a third story. It seemed I had after all requested the records. But instead of apologizing for wasting my time, the Supervisor rationalized this blunder. Something about it being old account.

Don't you love it when a bank talks about its clunky record keeping to cover up sloppy service?

Message to Wells Fargo Customer Support: Take responsibility for your business. Wise companies recognize that mistakes are opportunities to build -- not break -- relationships.

The Supervisor was covering for his Liar Liar. Getting in that Liar Liar spirit he declared that his agent had never promised the statement would arrive in 4 hours. He then added that it would arrive in my fax that very afternoon.

No Wells fax arrived. Not that afternoon. Not the next morning.

I called our accountant. "Never call customer support," she said as if it was written in stone. "I always call the branch."

She then actually laughed, saying, "Their customer support is terrible."

So the next morning, I took her advice (and the "Fool The Rules" chapter from our own book) to heart. I phoned the branch near my San Francisco Bay Area home. An individual by the name of Justin took my call and within 15 minutes I had my fax.

I now feel good about Wells Fargo. I know who to call for results. I will never ever call their toll free number again. The price is too high.

The moral? When you need real business support get it from a real person, who works in a real office. Someone accountable. Someone who will give you a phone number where you can call them back, and get results on your time schedule.

That's the real business of customers support.

Jonathan Littman is the co-author of the new book I HATE PEOPLE! (Little, Brown and Company; June 2009) with Marc Hershon. A Contributing Editor at Playboy, Jonathan is the co-author of the best selling Art of Innovation.