Friday, April 27, 2007

Dealing With Customer Service

I'm in Scottsdale right now. My server is still back in California. In the middle of copying files this morning I lost my VPN link back to my home server. What an immense drag. I'm 750 miles away. The last time this happened I had to wait until I could get home to solve the issue.

The first step I performed in troubleshooting was to connect to my router at home. Un-surprisingly, it wasn't available. This was relatively good news, it meant it was a network issue and not a server issue. The next question, do I call home to California at 6:00 am to tell my wife the network's down or do I just wait until later in the day. My wife is home entertaining her mother and two of her aunts while I carefully look after things in Scottsdale. I'm sure she doesn't want a pro-active call at that time of day so I put it off 'till later.

Of course, I get a call from my wife later in the day asking why her Mac can't connect to the network. As if by magic I explain to her that the network is down and step her through the process of checking things out. Sure enough, Pacbell/SBC/AT&T has, once again, failed in their delivery of DSL services to my home. This is about the 20th time it's gone out in the past 7 years; at least, as far as I'm aware.

While I was having my wife get ready to power-cycle the DSL modem it re-synced and came back up. I'm back to copying my files and life goes on. But then my wife asked what we would have done had it not mysteriously re-appeared.

"That's easy," I replied, "we would have called Pacbell/SBC/AT&T customer service."
"Oh, what a pain that would be," she replied.

Then I explained how to deal with customer service. Given the number of times this has happened I know the routine and I know that it is likely that they will continue their 100% streak of it being their fault. I humor customer service. As they ask me to check things I merrily bang away at the keyboard and reply, "Oooooh, that didn't work, what should I try now." Of course, I'm not actually doing anything. I know the issue is on their end but they won't escalate and accept responsibility until they have me try everything.

So, I bang away, saying, "Yep, tried that and it still doesn't work." Eventually, they say it must be a network issue, they create an internal trouble ticket and I get service back typically by the next morning.

I've tried bypassing this process many times but I always get the same answer, "Sorry, but we need to check everything."

Of course, it's entirely possible that they're on the other end making things up for me to try just so they can appear to be "helpful." What a sad state of affairs customer service has become.


Jamie Welsh said...

The image of you merrily pretending to bang away at your keyboard to humor the customer service process has made my afternoon!

Anonymous said...

Please try to have a little bit of sympathy for the people on the other end of the phone. I did tech support for almost 3 years for one of America's largest ISPs. Those were three of the most miserable years of my life. Far too many companies farm out their tech support work to a call centre; I worked for one of these--not located in the United States.

When I started the job, I was naieve--I actually believed that my years of computer experience could be put to good use helping people. After some time on the job, I was actually told by my supervisor that my computer skills were a liability as opposed to an asset; that I could help maybe one or two people per day. The most common instruction we heard--over and over--was, "Get 'em off the phone!" (I suspect that the call centre was paid per-call, so the more calls you handled, the more money they made.)

Call centre staff were evaluated on average handle time--over the time I was there the average handle time was cut in half, while the number of tasks we were expected to carry out almost doubled. If you didn't make your average handle time targets, you got two warnings, after which you were terminated. Please bear in mind that these centres tend to be located in economically-depressed areas, where job opportunities are scarce; I consider it no accident that a large proportion of the call-centre employees where I worked were single mothers--as they had kids to feed, they couldn't just up and quit--they had to stick it out no matter how badly they were treated.

In the years that I spent there, the customers were not the problem--the problem was management. In particular, there was a real schism between what you were allegedly hired to do (provide technical support), and what you were actually expected to do (Get 'em off the 'phone!). Some of us who took pride in our work and our skills and tried to provide some real customer service were penalized for doing so--I got lousy reviews because my average handle time wasn't low enough. It simply didn't matter that I fixed the customer's problem; eventually the company stopped recording customer commendations--they viewed them as having so little value.

Dave Dargo said...

I have tremendous sympathy for the people on the other side of the phone. I have zero sympathy for the companies that set up the policies and practices that are put in place. Just as you wished to use your skill set in helping people I want the service provider to recognize that not all customers are created equally. I'm sure that there are many people who call in who do interesting things to interupt their own service. I'm particularly bothered by systems that are designed to improve the efficiency of the service provider at the expense of the consumer. This is why I made the statement that customer service should be for the customer and not from the customer. After all, when I call in for my DSL service outages it is I who is providing service to the service provider to help them diagnose why their system has gone down. Thanks for the feedback, I too feel for the individuals who are on the phone forced to follow inane processes ill-suited to please anyone.