It’s not a new revelation that most large American businesses just don’t get it, but over the course of the past few weeks, this has driven me almost to a breaking point. As friends and frequent readers of this site know, my fiancée and I are moving from our large, but only-slightly-better-than-college-quality apartment in wonderful Highland Park, NJ to a townhouse in Somerset, just a few miles away. The big move is happening this weekend, I’ll be picking up the keys tomorrow morning and, on Saturday, we’re renting a truck to move everything that I won’t be able to fit in a few car loads over the course of the day tomorrow.
With everything there is to do when moving, I figured that it would be a smart move to get a jump on setting up utilities and changing our address at the various institutions that (may) send snail mail or need our address for one reason or another. I thought getting a head start would mean that we could move in this weekend and not have to worry about anything beyond unpacking. Unfortunately, while I’ve ultimately been successful, this has turned out to be a rather torturous affair.
It might be a somewhat obvious statement to say that moving can be a pain in the ass, but the biggest pains have been solely (read: solely) caused by major American companies either not caring about their customers or not really thinking about their needs or sanity. Maybe this is a passive thing. Maybe these companies are just too large for customer complaints to make it anywhere that would actually cause a meaningful change to their practices. Maybe these companies know that it doesn’t matter because we have no choice but to deal with it because there either is no competition or the competition is just as bad. Maybe these companies know that Americans are generally extremely complacent when getting screwed by large companies and we do little more than complain on the internet about it (see: what you’re reading right now). Or maybe, these large companies really just don’t get it and don’t understand their customers at all. I don’t really know, but I’d venture to say that elements of each of these play a part. In most cases, greed probably plays a large part as to why these companies don’t put forth a serious effort to make their customers actually like them, but much of what I’ve encountered through this can’t even be explained by the standard corporate greed.
Now, I’d like to take some time to actually describe just a bit of the pain I’ve gone though.
The first issue was Comcast. I’ve been a Cablevision customer for the last five years so I had to open a brand new account with Comcast. After finding out that after six months we’d be paying more than we are now for the same service, I was already not very happy, but there wasn’t much choice in the matter, FiOS isn’t available and there’s no way I’m doing satellite/DSL. I finally accepted this and tried to actually set up the account and schedule the installation. The fiancée is taking online classes currently so it’s a somewhat high priority for us that we have as short of a gap in internet access as possible. Plus, I’m a nerd, I pretty much require it.
I initially tried setting things up online, but the site was not being very helpful so I attempted a call (it takes a lot for me to actually use a phone for the purpose of calling). No luck, their customer service is only open during regular business hours. That works great for those of us that work 8:30-5:30 during the week. It’s not easy to step away from my desk for long periods of time just to make a phone call to the cable company. I eventually found some time to call on a day when I had to shift my hours back to provide some extra developer coverage post-release. Thinking that I’d be able to get everything scheduled and set up, I again picked up my phone and called. Nope, couldn’t be set up yet. The previous tenants hadn’t ended their service yet and it didn’t matter that I had a friggin’ signed lease for the place starting on the first of November. Comcast wouldn’t do ANYTHING until the previous tenants ended their service. They wouldn’t even at least create the account and allow me to tentatively schedule installation. It was a waste of my time to even call, apparently.
So I waited a little while and then tried again last week. This time I actually made it further on their website, but when trying to finalize, I was taken to a chat session with a representative. I have no idea why, but it happened. I spent a while chatting with this person giving them my information and working everything out with them. It seemed like I’d actually be able to make some progress and the previous people had told Comcast they were closing their account. Excellent. But if only it were that simple. After a while, the representative I spoke with told me that he wasn’t in the sales department so he had to transfer me to a new person…in the chat, mind you. So a new person hops on and I had to reconfirm everything I already provided. Annoying. Then, Comcast had the balls to actually have this person ask me for my social security number. Really?!? Really? I’m going to just provide that in a chat window to someone? Nope. I said that I didn’t feel comfortable so I was asked to provide my driver’s license number instead. Not as bad.
Eventually, I got everything sorted out and actually got a decent installation time. But this took multiple tries and hours of my time to accomplish. Not cool, Comcast. I’ll leave this one here and not even get into the ridiculous things that Comcast charges for.
Okay, next issue, American Water. According to them, our address doesn’t even exist. Awesome. Comcast and PSE&G think that it exists and I can say with a fair amount of certainty (you know, because I’ve actually been INSIDE of it) that it’s there, right where I’m trying to tell them it is. This issue is still unresolved. I tried first on their site and then had to call. While the woman on the phone was extremely friendly when I called, it was a little difficult to get off the phone with her after she said about a dozen times that she shouldn’t find it. But how can they not find it? Did no one ever pay for the water there before?
When setting up our account with PSE&G, I filled out their form online and received and email confirmation saying that I would receive another email within 5 days. Yup, never got that. So I gave them a call today and found out that everything was in order on their end. Yeah, thanks, that email I was supposed to get would have saved me the call during my lunch break.
The rest centers mostly around just trying to change my address with various companies. I decided that this would also be a perfect time to update my passwords with newer, more secure ones. Not that my old passwords were terrible, but I’ve been meaning to use more secure ones that are unique for every site. So far the password changing process hasn’t been too bad, except at financial institutions. I’ve learned over the past few days that American financial institutions have the worst password policies on the internet. Almost none of them let me choose the password I wanted. They either don’t allow special characters at all or only allow the use of characters from a small list of three or four of them. Let’s just think about that for a second, the sites that you probably need the most secure passwords for do not allow passwords that are considered secure at all by today’s standards. What the what? Really? Every other site I’ve updated so far has allowed me to enter a nice and secure password. But not Citibank, Capital One, PNC, ING, AMEX, Fidelity, or Chase. Nope. I guess they hate security. Somehow, they don’t realize that asking customers to answer the security questions is a joke. Most of these questions could be answered by close friend or even through a few Google searches about the person.
Citibank, whom I’m still paying back a student loan to, wouldn’t even let me change my address via the website. I mean, the form was there, but it didn’t work. For some reason, the form required that I put something on the second address line. I had nothing, I really had no idea what they hell the wanted from me so I just put a period. When I hit submit, I got an error that I had filled in my social security number wrong. WHAT?! Social security number wasn’t even a field on that form! I couldn’t have entered it even if I wanted to. So I was stuck. I filled out the contact form with the issue, but of course that form was a mess too. The form wouldn’t allow me to enter any apostrophes or quotations marks (I tried to actually quote the error I received in an attempt to help their developers) in the message. Yup, no proper contractions! Proper grammar be damned!
And lastly, for this rant at least, Horizon Blue Cross and Blue Shield. They don’t want you to change your address…ever. This just can’t be done via their website–and by the way, their website only works with Internet Explorer and even then, it’s not even usable, they should be embarrassed. They don’t tell you that you can’t change your address either. Instead, you need to hunt around their site like a savage. You can change all kinds of info, including your doctor, but not your address. I tried clicking all over and didn’t see anything. Eventually, I clicked to send new ID cards thinking that maybe there would be a form there. I was presented with my current address and asked if this was current. AH-HA! I found it! Nope, just kidding! I clicked to modify it and was provided with a message stating that I would have to call to do that. So, I called. That was a joke too. No where in their voice menus were any options that alluded to allowing me to update my information with them. Eventually, I just got myself to a representative and had them change my address, but that apparently requires me to be on hold for ten minutes while they process it. That doesn’t make much sense. How does changing my address take ten minutes?
I wish that I could say this got long because I included everything ridiculous that I’ve dealt with in the past couple of weeks, but it doesn’t. These are just the highlights. And they all simply come down to companies not giving a shit. If these companies cared, I wouldn’t have had to talk to a single person, which mind you requires me to step away from my desk at work since evening hours almost never exist. I should have been able to accomplish all of this quickly online. The websites should be usable and provide the ability for people to do what they need, easily and securely. I should be able to use a long password with upper and lower case letters, numbers, and special characters. I should be able to change my address without much hassle. It doesn’t take much of a thought process to understand that if someone is changing their address, it’s likely that they’re doing so because they are moving and therefore, not only have dozens of other places to change their address, but lots of other crap that needs to get done for the move. Make this easier for me, not harder!
It’s almost 2011, there is zero excuse to not have a very well laid out website that works and allows users to do almost anything a customer service rep can do for them over the phone. It’s not hard. I would know, I make this stuff for a living. Hire developers that can think like users when designing the layout and functionality. At the very least, allow me to do basic things.
Companies don’t do this because they don’t care…and they don’t even want to pretend like they care.
Now there’s no need to comment asking if I’m surprised or anything like that. I’m not. I expected a fair amount of this, but this has been a lot to deal with in a very short period of time and I’ve just about reached my breaking point for it.