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Alan Alda falls victim to McAfee’s dreadful customer experience

A month ago, my mom forwarded me an article from the New York Times that I only got around to reading now (as is known to happen with forwards from Mom).

Turns out she picked a good one: a forehead-slapper about acclaimed actor Alan Alda’s helluva time canceling his McAfee email monitoring:

Theater of the Absurd? No, Just Customer Service in The Haggler column, a collection of customer service woes.

Here’s an excerpt from Alda’s exchange with a McAfee rep in Chennai.

Mr. Alda: This week several e-mails sent to me that were important were quarantined. I didn’t know about it until I got the alert. I would like to stop the quarantining. Not just the e-mails telling me about it.

Rep: I have successfully canceled the auto renewal feature for your McAfee account so you will not receive any renewal notices to your e-mail address.

Mr. Alda: Good. But will that also stop the quarantining?

Rep: You need to contact our technical support. But in order to contact technical support you need to have a valid McAfee account.

Mr. Alda: I am now in the land of Kafka.

Rep: Do you have any valid McAfee product?

Mr. Alda: No, I don’t. I haven’t used McAfee for years. I’m willing to pay for a service I have not used for years, but I don’t like the idea of paying to stop using it.

In the end the rep claimed there was nothing he could do, so Alda turned to The Haggler to get some advice. Surprise, surprise, the New York Times was enough to get McAfee’s attention and resolve the issue quickly. Turns out it was part misunderstanding, part useless policy, and part horrendous resource allocation. In sum, it was all a human problem.

“The confounding part, and what McAfee executives say they find embarrassing, is that the Haggler’s intervention was needed. Referring to the online chat, Jason Grier, who runs the global support team, said: ‘The question is what do you do when you don’t know what to do. The first thing you do is raise your hand and get a supervisor involved. And clearly that didn’t happen here.’

Mr. Grier was also concerned that nobody returned the e-mail that Mr. Alda sent. Mr. Grier said that was because the guy who heads the team that handles such issues was out of town, dealing with a family emergency. The Haggler suggested that any system that grinds to a halt when one person takes a leave is a system badly in need of some tinkering.”

This whole situation begs the age-old question: Should a customer service rep blindly follow a script, or should he be encouraged to act like an empathic human being who yearns to solve the customer’s problem — and is enabled to do so? I think you know where I stand.

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