Although corporations incessantly advocate the importance of first-rate customer service, I'm continually amazed at the poor level of customer service.Recently, I called McDonald's Corp. about the announcement that it was changing the oil that it uses to cook its french fries. I was concerned because my son, Benjamin, is on a strict gluten-free diet, and McDonald's gluten-free fries are Ben's favorite treat.

Many children on the autism spectrum cannot eat food that contains gluten, so parents have learned that McDonald's fries are a "safe" food for their kids. McDonald's, which is based in Oak Brook, Ill., should have anticipated that its call center was going to be inundated with phone calls from consumers, not just concerned parents, about its reformulated cooking oil.

The company's Web site is actually extremely helpful in detailing product information for people who have food allergies or sensitivities. The site lists seven food groups with 12 different categories of allergens and food sensitivities for each product, ranging from burgers, to fries, to salad dressings.

However, on the day that McDonald's announced its initiative to reduce the level of fat in all of its fried foods, the company failed to prepare its call center representatives for questions from consumers. I went to the company's Web site and got a toll-free number to McDonald's "Nutrition Information Center" to get more information.

Although the call center representative was friendly, he had no clue about this major product announcement. "Where did you get that information?" he asked me. I told him I heard it on the news, and that the company had posted the press release on its Web site. He said he wasn't aware of the announcement. I asked him if I could speak to a nutritionist, and he put me on hold.

When he came back on the line, he started reading a prepared statement about how McDonald's is concerned about the food its customers eat. I cut him off at mid-sentence and again asked to speak to a nutritionist. He put me on hold, and after a lengthy pause, he said the company was not commenting on the formula for the new oil.

I don't fault the CSR that I spoke to; I fault his manager, and company executives, for failing to properly train its customer-service employees. Consumers are the lifeblood of all companies, including insurers, and poor customer service will quickly stanch that revenue stream.

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