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Great Product, Horrible Service -- How One Company Lost My Love

I love Skype. Or at least I used to, before I experienced its horrible customer service. Now I am in the frustrating position of being completely turned off by a company that provides a product I like and use, and having to decide whether to "speak with my wallet." At a minimum, Skype has lost my good word-of-mouth (and I have recommended it to a lot of people). And it all could have been avoided with even semi-decent customer service.

Business owners, take note.

For those of us who travel a lot -- especially internationally -- the ability to make easy and cheap (or free) phone or video calls from anywhere there's an internet connection is the best thing to happen since the business class upgrade. No dealing with global cell plans, no dialing hassles, no outrageous hotel phone bills. My young kids love the video chats. The Skype interface and functionality are simple and elegant, and I've been a happy user almost since day one.

Last week I logged on to Skype to do something (theoretically) very simple -- update my credit card info for auto-billing. But the site wouldn't let me. It just kept reverting to my old card, no matter what I did. That's when the customer service hell began.

First, the site made it excruciatingly difficult to find contact information. Finally, after a ridiculous amount of digging, I found an email form buried deeply in the site. Skype presumably does this because most people don't pay for the service, and I can almost understand and accept that; when you get something for free, you have to set your expectations accordingly. But I do use the paid service, and in my opinion anything you pay for should be supported at some level, with little or no hassle.

I wish I had the space to reprint the transcripts of the entire back-and-forth insanity that followed, but I suspect you've been there yourself. Agent with a probably-made-up name (and only a last initial) sends me a cut-and-paste telling me what I already know, and recommends that I try what I've already tried. I tell him it doesn't work. One day gone. Next day, new agent with different fake name tells me it does work and I should just try again.

Wash, rinse, repeat. Three e-mail exchanges and three days later, new agent with new alias tells me I should check with my card issuer. I tell agent my card is fine, I use it every day. Visa confirms there's no problem. I even send screen shots of the errors on the Skype page. Next agent starts where we began, explaining to me what I need to do to change my credit card info. I give up and just turn off the auto-pay option.

The icing on the cake? I get a call from Visa the next day saying my card was blocked due to suspicious charge attempts by Skype.

To quote the great philosopher Charlie Brown, Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh!

This is an all-too-common example of a company that does almost everything right but blows it in the proverbial "last mile." You can have the best product, the coolest website, the hippest marketing and a huge user base, but if you think that lets you off the hook when it comes to taking care of people, you may be living on borrowed time.

And there's the rub, the ultimate test of my Customer Service Avenger integrity: Do I just let this heinous experience slide and keep using the service because I am already set up and it is still the best and most convenient, or do I use one of the other VOIP services available, knowing full well that the product and/or service may be no better? I don't know. I just... don't... know.

As I write this I am in an airport, waiting to board yet another flight to Asia. Normally the first thing I do when I check in to my hotel is hop online and Skype my home and office to check in. I fear that the ease of doing so tomorrow may be irresistible, especially considering the time and annoyance of setting up a new application. And I suspect that in true utility-provider fashion, Skype counts on that inertia.

Maybe I'll use it for one more trip (disgusted at my own weakness, of course) and change services when I have more time. Either way, Skype has lost a fan. And if I practice what I preach, they'll soon lose several customers. Why, Skype, why? Just a spoonful of sugar would have kept me a happy, evangelizing user forever.

Have any similar stories of companies missing just this one critical puzzle piece? What did/would you do?

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