I opened my Mindspring account in 1996. I was later than some, to the Internet party, though way ahead of most. (I was on Compuserve and Prodigy before Mindspring, but I was even a Usenet user back in the late 70’s and early 80’s.)
But Earthlink blew it. They lost a customer of 15 years, because they, like every other ISP, telephone, and cellular provider — actually, throw airlines in there, too — out there, doesn’t give a tinker’s damn about their customers. Sure, they train their offshore support people to be excruciatingly polite as a proxy for real service. “Thank you so much, Mr. Lee [sic], for tolerating my existence while I look up your account. Your immense patience serves to remind me that I am not worthy to gaze upon your account history.”
But when it comes to performing real customer service, well, that’s pretty much not going to happen until the day you call to close your account. I had months of dropped connections, days of multi-hour sessions with Earthlink tech support, countless frustrations with intermittent outages. The service was just good enough to make the hassle of changing providers unappealing, since I knew I was just going to one of their equally poor competitors. It took Earthlink about a year to finally send AT&T out to my house to see if there was a problem with the wiring. Of course, it turned out there was. They fixed that in ten minutes, and my service has been rock-solid since then.
Too bad that they burned all the good will and patience of a 15-year customer in that time. I had already called another ISP (I don’t trust them either, so I’m not going to endorse them here.). Now, I’ve got faster service for the same price. (Don’t even get me started on the whole sweet-introductory-deal-for-new-subscribers/screw-you-existing-customers scam.) And, months ago, in preparation for this, I had already transferred all email from firstname.lastname@example.org to other places, so they didn’t have that to hold over my head, though they tried.
So, when I called to cancel, they squirmed and bargained. They went through all five stages of grief (though they hid their anger well). They showed me they “cared” only when I was out the door. The price kept dropping like they were going out of business. This, despite the fact that three months earlier, I had been quoted a price that they refused to honor. These companies act like a bad girlfriend with low self-esteem. They treat you like crap until you tell them you’re leaving; then it’s all back rubs and BJs. Of course, the way they treat you, it’s only right that they have low self-esteem.
So, how big is the era of which this is the end? On one hand, it’s merely the end of 15 years of email@example.com. Big deal. Looked at another way, though, it’s another step towards the end of human decency by American business. Somewhere along the line, this became the way that these big companies decided they had to treat their customers. We’re all just batteries in the Matrix.
Frankly, I’m pretty sick of it.
What’s really frustrating is that I’m not one of those “business is evil” liberals. But sometimes businesses do make it tough to defend them. I wish they would wise up and see the big picture.