What is Customer Service, really?

I am a painful customer. I’ll admit that right up-front. I’m the kind of customer you don’t want because I can be a bastard when I don’t get what I expect. And my standards are probably ridiculous and I can be rude and unkind, lo, even cruel on occasion. I have made people cry. Let’s just get all that out of the way.

I also deal with a lot of customers in my job – and some of them have almost made me cry. So it’s karma, but in which direction I’m not exactly clear.

In my many, many clashes with an equally large number of call centre agents, support desk engineers, escalation managers, duty managers and other euphemistically anointed, outsourced-to-bangalore personnel, I have learned a few things. I’ve also learned a few things from the horrible experiences I have put our customers through on occasion. So I am writing this in a bizarre state of self-righteousness and contrition, which is more of a suffering than it may seem at first glance.

1.       The humanity!

Listen Amachandirjan (or, “Bob” as you have introduced yourself on this call) I know your manager has told you that you’re supposed to say shit like “How are you today, sir?” and “Is there anything else I can assist you with today, sir?” but guess what, humans (that would be me) do not respond to such patently insincere platitudes. In fact, when I’ve just finished a 45 minute rant about how my software product is failing to do the main thing I purchased it to do, my expectation is that you will at least have the decency to break down a little, whimper, that kind of thing. Reading the “Section VII: Wrapping Up A Call” portion of your cheap, orange, plastic ring binder is  (I think) permission to ignore the Geneva Convention, if you know what I mean.

Amazingly even although I have been as close to suicide bombing as I could probably get whilst dealing with a support agent I would have been pacified by a little humanity.

2.       ….but not too much humanity

If there’s anything I’ve learned in my life in a services business it’s that people don’t want to hear about your problems when they’re paying you good money to solve theirs. The fact that you’ve been on shift a long time, or that your company’s policies are pretty stupid or that you’re as frustrated as I am (sir) is not relevant. Your pain is no comfort to me for the simple reason that it makes me feel even more helpless than I did before I called. If you, who work for the Dark Empire cannot reason with the Dark Lord, what chance do I have?

Your job is to make me feel like you’ve got it under control. At least. Take my problems away, not help me to understand that I’m well and truly fucked.

3.        Call Me Back

And let me know what’s going on. How hard is this? Apparently, very.

I know from my own experiences there are three reasons why someone who says they’re going to call you back doesn’t, in fact, do what they have promised. One, because they’re wankerous bastards who are incompetent and would find it difficult to separate a pile of bricks into two piles of bricks. These are, I think, the smallest group.

Two, because they’re so busy and their support team is so woefully understaffed that they have no time for anything, ever. This is, of course, not exactly their fault, but refer back to point 2: there’s nothing I can do to help them out in this situation. My advice (which I take where I can) is find a way to bypass the call centre in these cases and plead my case to someone with shares in the company, or (at least) a suit made from something other than polyester.

Third, because they don’t want to have to call me back and tell me the horrible news that someone has screwed something up so spectacularly it made the Challenger disaster look like a plate of pink muffins. I personally believe this is the more prevalent of the cases. Who wants to be the messenger that ends up being shot?

No matter what, I want to know what’s going on. I might not be happy about it, I might shout, I might use my expensive post-graduate Arts degree to come up with inventive new insults and creative metaphors which amuse me and the unfortunate souls who sit near my desk, but the truth is I’ll calm down. And I’ll say “Thank you for letting me know”. Because people with problems appreciate an update. They want to know what’s going on, how long their problem is going to be a problem. And that someone is trying to sort it out.

4.       Don’t blame me

It’s so tedious to have to include clichés in this post. I’d far rather write some witty, engaging prose, something to really test my writing muscle. But you’ve forced me into it. So, then. You know that old thing about the customer being right.

Usually the call centre, front-line people know this. Or aren’t smart enough to try something else. When you finally get the “engineer” or the “manager” on the line, though, this sort of thing starts to happen. It’s your fault because you didn’t sign up for the service that actually works. Or you ticked some contractual box that let’s them off the hook. Or we never said our product actually connects you to the Internet, for that it’s extra.

I’m not saying you need to accept abuse from customers, and I should probably get pushed back at from time to time when I’m just being a cantankerous swine. But to a very large extent being RIGHT and giving GOOD SERVICE are not compatible. In service being right is secondary.

That’s hard to accept, but it’s true. I don’t pay you to be right, I pay you to help me.

5.       Stop apologising

..to calm me down. Or for any other reason. A big Telco in South Africa seem to have trained their staff to do nothing other than say they’re sorry. They sound sincere, I’ll grant that. They sound so sorry in fact it makes me want to pat them on the head and feed them a biscuit. But I’m not phoning to be placated. I want IT to be FIXED. Or at least I want you to try and fix it. If you can’t fix it, tell me you know someone who can. If you don’t know someone who can, tell me you’ll try find them. If you have no idea what to do, tell me you’ll think it over and call me back (and then refer to point 3). And then go off and find someone smarter than you are, give them a blowjob or a handjob or whatever or threaten to snip off their ring finger with a pair of garden shears. But your apology means nothing to me. Less than nothing.

I’m sure there are many more tips one could provide, and as I’ve said, I take these as much as I give them. My clients may feel the same way as I do at times. Although I do think I at least TRY..and perhaps that’s the most important piece of advice to any company or employee who is involved in service. Just TRY ok? Sincerely, give it a shot for me, go into battle for me and I’m there. I know it’s tough, and we all made mistakes all the time, but in service you get points for effort. That’s the good news, because putting in effort is not hard, it’s just a bit emotionally draining at times. This I understand. You don’t like?

Who you gonna complain to?

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One thought on “What is Customer Service, really?

  1. Jarred, these are some of the things I have learnt when dealing with call centres (note this may work only some of the time). 1. Write everything about the call down.Who, what, when, etc., 2. Only call twice before you escalate. 3. Refuse absolutely to get off the line until you speak to the next honcho on the ladder. 4. Refuse to accept their sh1t. They have wasted my time and I am going to have my say again and again until I get what I paid for. This has worked twice for me – I got someone to switch my internet back on (I had paid my account but it was the weekend and they could not confirm) and Telkom pushed a 6 week waiting period to a 2 day waiting period to check my modem (Strangely when we took the modem into a Telkom centre they could not check it there!).AND Oh yes, complain on Hellopeter; sometimes helps (I got a refund when MTN Mobile Money messed up) but it does get it off your chest.

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