The Trouble With Customer Service

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Computer entrepreneur Marc Perkel came home one day to find four of his five business lines shut off. His business was effectively shut down. He didn't get much customer service when he called MCI.

"It was several hours of pure hell, really," Perkel told CBS News Correspondent Sandra Hughes.

He was so frustrated he decided to start recording his phone conversations.

Perkel: "I need my phone service turned back on immediately. You got my business shut down."

MCI: "It shows that you don't have an account with us."

Perkel: "I have an account with you."

Now he posts those conversations on the web.

MCI: "Can you make local calls to there?"

Perkel: I can't make any calls.

MCI: "You need to contact your local phone company."

Perkel: "You are my local phone company."

MCI: "Hold on one moment."

Carmen Balber has a Capitol One Visa card.

"I would say I'm a very good customer. It's rare if ever, I carry a balance," she said.

But that didn't get her good customer service. When she called Capitol One with a simple question, it took more than 16 minutes before someone finally told her they couldn't answer her question.

"I don't think they treat me very well. It may be because I don't give them a lot of business," Balber said.

She's probably right. It's called "customer tiering" and it's used more and more by companies to decide whether you're a customer worth taking care of. Chances are MCI knew Mark Perkell wasn't a mega-money customer and Capitol One knew Carmen Balber spends very little on her credit card.

"It's a combination of technology and greed," said consumer advocate Harvey Rosenfield.

He says some companies use technology against the consumer.

"There is a database of information available about every single one of us, it contains intricate personal details about our spending and consumption habits. They know more about us as consumers than we know about ourselves."

Airlines have been rewarding top customers for years. Frequent flyers get their own line at the ticket counter and sometimes even at security.

The Avis rental car company is even bold enough to make fun of people who don't get preferred service

MCI admits to treating big dollar customers better, but says overall customer service complaints have declined:

"Sometimes people don't listen until you make a big noise," Perkel said.

Still, after moving across the country, Mark Perkel says he continued to get bills for those disconnected phone lines.