It's nearly impossible> to get customer service these days without waiting in line, on hold, or for a technician to show up within an eight-hour window. But now companies are promising shorter wait times, 24-hour access and other privileges to those customers willing to pay for it.
In an effort to both make a buck and fix the public-relations nightmare that has become customer service, cable companies, airlines, gadget makers and other firms are now charging for better customer service. For roughly $180 extra per year, Time Warner Cable (TWC)
The companies say they aim to provide good service to all customers, and this is just a cut above. (The Time Warner technician will wear protective booties in the homes of Signature Home customers, for example.) But to hear consumers talk, finding even decent customer service is practically a miracle. Last year, 64% of consumers said they'd stopped doing business with a company due to poor customer service, according to a global survey by Accenture. And complaints to the Better Business Bureau, which are often but not exclusively about service, rose 10% from 2008 to 2009 (the latest available data).
Loyal customers have typically gotten better service for example, call centers often route big-ticket customers to a shorter queue -- but it's only in recent years that companies have begun openly attaching price tags to that perk, says Lopo Rego, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Iowa's Tippie College of Business. As a result, businesses who offer the prospect of a better experience, even for a price, may have an edge on competitors. Even in the throes of the recession, 85% of consumers in a Harris Interactive poll said they would be willing to pay more for their purchase if it meant getting better customer service.
But the companies have another incentive, too: Those fees may be used to encourage customer loyalty. Best Buy (BBY)
So should you pay? Not if you were already getting bad customer service, which isn't necessarily going to improve with payment, says Kelly Hlavinka, a managing partner for loyalty research firm Colloquy: many companies use the same service centers for all their callers. So priority customers will have a shorter wait, but not necessarily a nicer or more knowledgeable rep. "This should be built on a base of good service," she says.
Instead, check to see if a company's competitors are offering a similar perk for free, or if consumer reviews are somewhat kinder regarding hold times or rep know-how, says Richard Chase, a professor of operations management at the University of Southern California. Trading up may also be worth it if you're getting access to something that's already an expertise of the company. A spokesman for Dell (DELL),