Friday, August 15, 2008

Nobody "Gets" Customer Service

Customer service in the IT industry seems designed more to frustrate than solve problems these days. Some of this is to be expected: as competition heats up and prices (and margins) fall, it becomes harder to fund really good customer service organizations. When your broadband Internet access runs you $25/month, it's hard to expect white-glove service.

Having said that, there are some things that just make me crazy that should be fixable for little or no cost:

Stop reading from a script. This is like nails on a freaking chalkboard to me. "I do apologize for any inconvenience, Mr. Heer. So I understand that you are having a problem with XXXXXX?" It's not even the words themselves -- though they don't help -- so much as the way they are read with porn-star-quality delivery. It sounds forced and wrong, and it doesn't help. It's meant to make me feel like the person really is sorry and cares about my problem, but we all know that's a bunch of crap so let's drop the pretense. Is it really that hard to hire people with the basic communications skills necessary to ad-lib that response in a natural fashion?

Once I've heard that rote response, I'm on edge. I already know what I'm dealing with: a flunky with a decision tree. The person I'm talking to doesn't have any actual technical knowledge or skill; s/he simply has a list of questions, with instructions on what to say or do based on my responses. The idea is to handle the most common, simple questions, and I get that; I really do. The problem is that the first series of "actions" the flunky says I must do are the same actions that everyone is told to do, no matter what the actual problem might be.

For example, I was having a problem over the weekend trying to change my Internet logon password. I went to the self-service web page and clicked on the link, entered my old pw, entered my new pw, and clicked Change. It sat for a while, and then told me, "Sorry, services currently not available." So I called...and spent 20 minutes running through the usual crap: delete my temporary files, remove my cookies, clear my browser history, etc. Now anyone with half a brain knows that these things have absolutely nothing to do with my problem, but the first-line support personnel don't apply logic -- or, really, any kind of diagnostic thought -- to problems. They have a list of questions, with actions and more questions based upon the customer's response. Yet those 20 minutes were a total waste: not only did my problem not get solved, but the results didn't produce any information helpful in diagnosing the problem. Once we got through all that nonsense, the support person put me on hold for 5 minutes, only to come back and tell me that my ISP's authentication server was down.

This is just dumb.

Look, I've worked in customer support for pretty much my entire career. I've been on the other end of the phone call, and I had multiple occasions where someone would call because his or her PC wouldn't power up. I've asked the question, "Did you check to make sure it's plugged in?" I've heard the response, "Uh, well...ohhhhhhh. Nevermind." So I get it. There are dumb people out there, and there are even non-dumb people who do dumb things out there.

But...I asked the question because, hey, not plugging the computer in can indeed cause the computer to fail to power up. The chances of my temporary files causing a problem with changing my ISP password (I do NOT mean a browser-based logon, here)? Nil. Come to think of it, does that fix anything anymore? I can't remember the last time I solved any problem by deleting temporary files. It's probably been a couple of years, at least.

Yes, engineers with some knowledge cost more. I get that. But I have to wonder how much of the savings is eaten up by wasting time with unnecessary steps? In the time it took that support person to deal with me, a barely-trained engineer could've dispo'd four or five simple calls.

And not annoyed anybody.

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