Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Gittin'er done (aka Support Secrets)

I had to call Comcast yesterday to clarify a couple of things about my new services. I saw a few things in my notes (read: illegible scribbles on little wads of stuck-together sticky notes) from when I ordered the services that didn't match what the tech told me upon installation. So I girded my loins for battle and called.

Over the years of giving and receiving customer support I've learned some techniques which I feel increase the odds of 1.) getting helped and B.) actually getting the correct help. As most of us know, those can be two completely different things indeed.

As with any endeavor, preparation is crucial. Know what you're asking for and have any information handy that you or they might need. Old statements, order forms, account numbers, bank statements, whatever. Find it before you dial.

Once you are ready to engage, start off nicely. Approach the situation with the best of intentions. Most support folks will respond well if you are polite.

OK, here's the big secret; the Magic Phrase that can at least partially unlock the door to customer service satisfaction:
"I've noticed this problem, I'm not sure what to do about it, and I'm hoping that you [of all the nameless, faceless cogs in your big, clueless organization] can help me".

In most cases, this harmless trick plays to their ego just a wee bit and offers them a chance to show off how clever they are and maybe even be a hero by solving your problem.

Don't be in a hurry. It's going to take as long as it takes to get put through to the right person and have them do whatever they need to do. Be sure you have attended to bathroom needs, pets, and small children. Stock up on beverages and snacks. This is no time for an attack of low blood sugar or puddles of bodily fluids* at your feet.

Oh yeah, and don't forget to take notes**!

If you're dealing with a somewhat responsible organization, these tips will get you most of the way there most of the time.

Anyway, when I talked to the first Comcast rep who recognized that my question was outside of his purview and sent me on to the second rep, who then sent me on to the third rep, I didn't get annoyed. I stayed polite, had my facts (at least those I could read) in order, and after about 15 minutes I was told that my issues were resolved.

Which segues neatly to Follow-through. Watch for that next bill or statement (or two) and verify that it reflects what you were told. No matter how nicely the conversation went or how competent the rep on the other end of the phone sounded, there is a 50/50 chance that whatever they did didn't "work". Or some final critical step was left undone. So you'll have to call again.
Painful personal example: I spent a year wrestling with Qwest. Long story short, there was a billing issue that, I kid you not, took me a whole year to get resolved. Every month or two I would call back and the new rep would tell me that the previous rep, who was obviously not nearly as competent or clever as the current rep, had left some small yet critical detail undone which caused the whole process to unravel. And this process was repeated ad nauseum for a full year. Painful? Extremely. Tedious? Zzzz.... Crazy-making? Oh, yeah. But eventually it was resolved.

But occasionally, even if you've stayed nice and positive and rational, you may need to Swing the Hammer. As you might suspect, there are some tricks to that as well.

When it becomes clear that you are getting jerked around or you have called about the SAME ISSUE A MILLION TIMES, it's appropriate to let that brittle edge of irritation and dissatisfaction creep into your tone.

CAUTION: Whatever you do, don't launch into a rant against the rep or the company. Avoid like the plague the words "always" and "never", as in "You people always..." and "Qwest never..." Because once you tip the conversation over the fence into Crazy-land, you have given them permission to slap the Loony label on your forehead and tune you out.

Trust me, getting slapped with the Loony label will never aid you in your quest to achieve customer service satisfaction.

Probably the best part of my Comcast call was when I had to put the rep on hold to take an incoming support call. I knew I was taking a chance and that I might have to start all over, but I had to answer that call. And even though it just took a minute I was surprised she was still there when I returned. I apologized and explained that I, too, was in tech support and made some lame comment about feeling her pain. We had a brief moment of kinship and she got my issue wrapped up*** shortly thereafter.

I tell you, putting a customer service rep on hold was almost as much fun as making the doctor wait for an appointment. Although that's still just a dream...

*Yours or anyone/thing else's.

**I'm not kidding. Read the Qwest story. Again! Document, document, document, people!

***I hope... I'll find out in about 4 weeks.

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