That is not a facetious title. Contra John Kelso, I think customer service has improved the last few years -- and is miles better than the service of the 1980s and 90s -- thanks to better automation.
Once upon a time, if your cable or internet went out or you wanted even basic information about your credit card or mortgage accounts, you had to steel yourself for a long, irritating call to customer service. You were first be subjected to a clumsy automated system that asked a lot of questions irrelevant to your problem. Besides wasting your time, this gave the impression that the cable company or credit card company or bank really had no idea what kinds of problems consumers had with their products. Or that the company was trying to discourage pesky customers. That impression was often accurate, of course: after outlasting the automated system, you were transferred from one live representative to another until you lucked into someone who would own up to some expertise. By this point, of course, you had explained your problem -- either to a computer or a person -- a half dozen times.
Things are better now, mostly because automated systems have gotten good at identifying the real problem and helping you fix it.
An example. I have AT&T's DSL for both internet and television. A few weeks ago, my TV service went out briefly and my internet service started fading in and out. The TV problem seemed to resolve itself but the internet problem did not.
So I called customer service. I of course got an automated system, which offered no immediate opportunity to connect to a human being.
But the automated menus quickly got to my actual problem. Then the system started walking me through the troubleshooting process. This was a little irritating because I had already tried four or five things. I recognized, though, that it is efficient to have the customer try these basic steps before involving a live human being.
The initial round of troubleshooting did not solve the problem. After a brief period on hold, the system connected me to a technician. A real technician who was trained to resolve these kinds of problems.
I didn't have to recount my problem. The technician reviewed my records, confirmed I had tried the troubleshooting the computer had suggested, and immediately started more sophisticated troubleshooting. I was on the phone a long time but that was because the system is complicated and there are lots of things to try to identify a problem. Troubleshooting is a process of exclusion; excluding lots of possibilities takes lots of time. The technician was merely doing what any technician would do to identify the problem.
We eventually got the internet service working again. (He stayed on the line for 5 minutes to make sure it did not go out again.)
A couple of weeks later, I had the same problem. So I steeled myself and called customer service again. This time, though, the automated system did not make me jump through the same hoops. It noted I had had a problem a couple of weeks earlier, asked if it was the same problem, and then put me through to a person. That technician had all of my records at her fingertips, reviewed the troubleshooting that had been done the last time, and within seven or eight minutes concluded that I had a bad modem. She had a technician there the next day.
I don't mean to sound like a shill for AT&T. My point is simply that the automated system and computerized records actually saved a lot of time compared to the old days.
This is my typical experience. With a few pushes of the button, my mortgage company will tell me how much interest I paid in 2009. Walgreen's will not only send me an email when my prescription is ready, but will notify me of any delays or tell me that the price has changed. When I had a wreck a couple of years ago, Progressive sent me frequent emails updating me on the repair status.
Electronic data is cheap. Companies have gotten better at managing it. They have made incremental improvements to their automated systems. They've got a better idea today what works and what doesn't. Customer service is better today than it used to be and that's largely due to better automated systems.
Of course there are still horror stories like Kelso's. But customers have always been subjected to bad repairmen. Unless one has evidence that the average quality of repairmen has declined over time or that companies have become more mendacious, there is no reason to believe that this particular kind of customer service (home warranty visit) has gotten worse. In fact, I expect it has gotten better. Thanks to the internet, it is very easy for a company to develop a reputation for bad customer service. And customers care about customer service. Companies should be more sensitive to their service quality today than in the 1980s.