Why Do We Keep Buying from Companies that Diss Us?

Last Updated Jul 20, 2011 4:15 PM EDT

As I reviewed a fresh batch of customer service data that arrived yesterday, something hit me: Gee, people really hate social media.

Consider Facebook's bottom-feeding score of 66, which puts it in a league with MySpace.com's pathetic grade of 63, which it received last year before being delisted.

Those numbers come to us, courtesy of the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Sister publication CNET has a rundown of all the scores.

And what's so remarkable to me is that even so, Facebook is about to make untold trillions on an IPO. When it comes to customer service, isn't Facebook hailed as the hero of the customer-service department â€" the very thing that is going to help companies make the connection with Customer 2.0?

How can a company that offers terrible service also improve an entire industry's service in a dramatic way?
My head is hurting from pondering this imponderable question. And it's not the only question. Here are a few others:

How can a "good" company offer bad service? I'm talking about Facebook's archrival, Google, with its gleaming new social media initiative, Google+. But scroll back to its previous social media site, Google Buzz. Didn't Google have to settle with the Federal Trade Commission when it was brought up on charges that it used deceptive tactics and violated its own privacy promises to consumers when it launched Buzz? Yes it did. How can a company that does no evil, do evil?

Why do the companies that frustrate customers the most get high service scores? Check out the latest ACSI scores â€" I'll have more details next week â€" and you'll find PC manufacturers with perfectly respectable scores. Dell and HP, both of which received a 77 out of 100. And yet these companies, with their mind-numbing terms and conditions, call centers that frequently can't help you, and otherwise ridiculous policies, often cause customers the most frustration. Are the people who complain just whiners who don't know how to use a PC, or did ACSI poll only (relatively) happy consumers?

Why do we keep coming back for more from companies that really diss us? Airlines, banks, cable and wireless companies all offers some of the worst customer service on the planet. The latest numbers only underscore that fact. Yet customers come back to those businesses again and again. Granted, they don't always have a choice (cable companies and airlines run virtual monopolies) but still, why inflict more pain on yourself?

These are just some of the questions to which I don't have a good answer. Maybe you do.

Why do we loathe social media but think it will save us? How can a "good" company be evil? Why do awful companies get good scores? And why do customers give their business to the worst of the worst companies?

The comments are open, my friends.

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Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate, syndicated columnist and curator of the On Your Side wiki. He's the author of the upcoming book Scammed: How to Save Your Money and Find Better Service in a World of Schemes, Swindles, and Shady Deals, which critics have called it "eye-opening" and "inspiring." You can follow Elliott on Twitter, Facebook or his personal blog, Elliott.org or email him directly.
Photo: Sean MacEntee/Flickr
  • Christopher Elliott

    Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate and journalist. A columnist for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the Washington Post, Elliott also has a nationally syndicated column and blogs about customer service for the Mint.com. He is at work on a book about customer service issues.