mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

How not to mind control customer service reps...

Last week, Consumerist published an article of how to how to mind-control customer service reps. It was filled with bad advice, much of which was ripped apart in this fatwallet thread.

Now, I've never worked in a customer-service position for a major bank, credit card company, phone company, or the like. However, I have worked for several years at the helpdesk of a small college doing tech support. While I now do desktop/deskside support, I still fill in on phones sometimes. Since my experience is in a smaller and academic environment, and involves more technical troubleshooting than just support, it's different, but there are still a bunch of things in her list that made me wince.

Some of the advice is very good - be calm, especially when you start out. If you start off the phone call looking for a confrontation, most people on the other end of the line can sense it, and they are going to be less helpful, because they figure you are probably the kind of person who is never going to be happy.

Being ready before you call is also a good idea. In my case, if you are calling for tech support, it works better if you are in front of your computer and have it turned on and plugged in before you call, and if you can give me any error messages or information about your computer. Now, I realize that you may not be able to give me, say, your IP address without me walking you through it, but I shouldn't have to wait while you turn your computer on.

Getting the name of the person is actually advice that is probably more useful in a small environment like the one I work in. In a big corporate call center, there are probably so many people named, say, John, that getting their name doesn't mean much. But in a small environment like ours, it can be useful to know who you talked to. In our organization, however, it's even more useful if you get a ticket number - other places may refer to it as a reference number or an incident number or something else. Either way, it shows that something has been entered in our database, so there is a record if you call back. It also makes it easier for us to look up if you call back, and it verifies that there is an electronic paper trail if you have problems down the road.

The piece of advice I really disagree with is insisting on a supervisor. First of all, in our organization, there isn't always a manager on duty at night or on a weekend if you are calling then, and they really are often in meetings or on the phone. More importantly, most of the people we've had as managers are better at management than they are at technology - if you are having a technology issue, there is a much better chance that the front-line person can solve your issue than a manager.

As far as telling the csr/supervisor that they are going to fix the problem, that's useless. If you have a problem I can solve, I'm going to solve it no matter if you tell me that I am or not. If it's something I can't solve, I'm going to put in a work order or transfer you to someone who can fix it. If it's something that we don't do, that is technologically impossible, that is waiting for a part, or otherwise can't be done at the present time, it's not getting done, no matter what Jedi mind tricks you try.

As far as telling your story without pausing, if this is a tech support scenario, you may well be wasting your time and mine. There are plenty of times where someone says a key phrase that instantly tells me what's wrong - either that they are making a common mistake or it's a common problem or a bug in the software or hardware that we run into regularly. Plus, if you tell a long story, there is a good chance the person on the other end will zone out at some point, or miss something, or otherwise stop caring. Letting them ask you questions will actually make the process faster, because they can narrow down the issue, and won't have to ask you to repeat stuff after your monologue .

Much of the other stuff is fine and common sense, or depends on the organization (we are small enough that much of our policy is word of mouth, so we don't always have written stuff we can send you, although we are working on that). But some of the stuff, especially immediately asking for a supervisor, just struck me as so wrongheaded that I wanted to write something.


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