What Are The Most Important Factors Of Good And Bad Customer Service?

We spill a lot of pixels on The Consumerist about good and bad telephone customer service reps (ok, mainly bad), but what really is the nitty gritty of each experience? How do we dissect the exact aspects of what make for a good and for a bad customer service call? To that end, we’ve devised two polls that hope to get to the heart of this issue (with thanks to Peter Leppik at Vocal Labs for letting us borrow the methodology from their own survey about the same). Vent your heart and spleen, in our two polls, after the jump…

(Photo: Getty)

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  1. arsbadmojo says:

    The CEO of every company should anonymously try solving a problem every few months.

    Really it boils down to treat other people like you’d want to be treated.

  2. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    I had the weirdest online chat style customer service call yesterday. Was on the chat with a rep from India named “Elle” who worked for MagicJack. I had just placed an order, the website malfunctioned, the order confirmation showed contradictory information, and I needed to know immediately if I was going to be double charged. I spent fifteen minutes with the rep telling and analyzing the situation, and after we figured out she did not have the computer access to my account that she needed to handle the issue, I spent FIFTY VERIFIABLE MINUTES BY THE CLOCK repeating politely, “I would like to see a supervisor, please. Please put me in contact with a supervisor. Please put me in touch with a supervisor now. Please connect me with your supervisor now. Please connect me with your supervisor immediately. Please tell me why you won’t transfer me to a supervisor.” She never did say she couldn’t actually do it…just kept assuring me that she could handle the problem, the supervisor would say the same thing she did, and why did I need to talk to a supervisor?

    It’s the damndest conversation you ever saw, and I have the screen shots, if you feel like being bored to tears.

  3. JRock says:

    Probably the most annoying thing for me (which isn’t entirely the rep’s fault, but still) is when I have to spell my last name three or more times to somebody. I recently spoke with a technician from the company who makes the helpdesk software we use (a bit ironic) and after the third spelling of my name, slowly, using NATO phonetic letters this time, he repeated it back to me, incorrectly. Had to resort to sending him an email so he could copy my name.

  4. landsnark says:

    The unifying theme among companies with the worst (to me) customer service is a sense that the system is set up to delay or deny giving the consumer what s/he needs.

    Examples of this from the above list: not giving CSRs the authority to fix the consumer’s problem, making consumers repeat problems from the beginning or repeat irrelevant facts each time they talk to a CSR, CSR won’t transfer consumer to a supervisor.

    I am usually very patient with CSR (it must be a crap job) *until* it becomes obvious that the delays and frustrations are intentional.

  5. xrodion says:

    @arsbadmojo: I agree what you said since, it does boil down to treat people the same way you want to be treated.

  6. azzy says:

    What I really want to know… is there any way for a large company that has grown into poor customer service (think, Comcast or Verizon) to ever go back – when it’s that deep into their culture?

    Lots of good small companies fall down this path as they grow, can they recover?

  7. arras says:

    What I don’t notice under the good customer service list is “CSR agents don’t make you repeat your entire story every time you get transferred”

    Nothing is more irritating to me than explaining my problem to a rep, troubleshooting a bit and realizing we need to escalate only to have to repeat the entire story to the new rep. I hear them clacking away on their keyboards, aren’t they typing this stuff out? Making notes? Why is it so difficult for the new tech to read those notes and ask me questions about them?

  8. SaraAB87 says:

    I think the CSR should get right to the problem, and none of this mindless “we are taking it very seriously” crap. Cut the corporate buzzwords and slogans and focus on helping the customer instead of trying to remember to repeat everything in the script so you will get graded properly. Also cut the “your call is VERY important to us” message when on hold, this is stupid, if the call was THAT important, the customers shouldn’t get stuck on hold for 20 min.

    The CSR should be focusing on the customer’s problem, and helping them to get it resolved instead of trying to remember to greet the customer, or to thank them when they are done, and anything else inbetween that the call center makes you do. The customer isn’t going to care if they get greeted or thanked for calling, they just want their problem resolved, and they want it done in a timely manner.

    Basically the CSR’s need to focus on the customer, not remembering their script, not worrying about making their quota’s, time limits or whatever, but helping the customer. The CSR should be allowed to be on the phone for as long as it takes to resolve a customer’s problem, provided they are using that time to help the customer, some problems are more complex than others and will take more time regardless. The CSR should also have reasonable authority to take care of the problems.

  9. @JRock: I have the same problem. It’s shocking how many people can’t follow the NATO phonetic alphabet. :)

    Sometimes when I’m really grouchy about it, I’ll begin with “P as in phonetic ….” I usually get a startled laugh.

    I also like to lead with “P as in pornography ….”

  10. johnva says:

    @landsnark: I agree. Usually when you have customer service that is consistently bad from a company, it’s because their systems or management is structured in a way that is poor at solving customer problems (either due to incompetence, disorganization, or intentionally). I don’t know why some of these companies even have their first-tier customer service people, since they are so incompetent and powerless to do anything to solve your problem (I’m looking at you, Comcast!). I’m not some management guru with an MBA, but it seems like it would be cheaper to just hire a smaller number of GOOD customer service people, give them the tools and authority to actually fix problems that are the company’s fault (like billing errors, technical issues, etc), and fire all the worthless employees.

    It would also seem to me that if you’re hiring someone for a job that is basically talking to your customers on the phone all day, that you would want to hire someone who a) has half a brain, and b) can form coherent sentences and speak intelligible and understandable proper English. Maybe they need to pay more to get and retain that kind of person; I don’t know or care. And I’m not just talking about Indian call center reps…a lot of the Americans big companies hire are this way too. Yet again, it seems like it would save the company money in the long term (call times would go down, etc) if their employees could communicate in a reasonable way on the phone so that there isn’t a lot of repetition just to get the details across. Are these qualities that rare? Or is Corporate America just unwilling to invest the necessary money in customer service?

  11. axiomatic says:

    OK, I’m going to come off as a “know it all” here but I think this is a issue that needs resolving ASAP.

    I’m generally smarter than the person I’m asking help from.

    When I call support, I have already found the exact problem and want it resolved. I don’t want to troubleshoot out of a database. I don’t want to be asked to try some inane test that provides no result. I don’t want you to put me on hold so you can consult with a higher level tech who can come back and say, “Wow you really know your stuff.”

    I just want the “widgit” fixed/replaced quickly and succinctly so YOU the low level tech can get on to the next customer.

    Some of us actually have degrees and “stuff”… ya know?

    So I guess I’m asking for a different support line for the more technically astute.

    Now I can’t reveal who I work for (large PC/server manufacturer), but I have to say, we already do this. We have a customer self repair phone line and “it works” very well.

  12. EllenRose says:

    I just want to be able to understand the CSR. Without that, nothing else helps. Down with foreign accents thick enough to spread like butter!

  13. MagicEightBall says:

    @Eyebrows McGee: Of course they have trouble, there’s no “P” in McGee.

  14. axiomatic says:

    @azzy: generally this is not really the fault of the techs, but the fault of management. Management gets rewarded for “speed of resolution” and not “quality resolution.” This is typical of business grads with no technical experience. The manager gets their fat bonus and YOU the customer gets the shaft.

    the letters for the day are R.O.I. (return on investment) and “quality” is not part of the equation.

  15. @axiomatic:

    you definitely don’t work for IBM/Lenovo technical care. I order replacement parts and mail in laptops to them on a daily basis. their technical support is very welcoming and easy/fast to reach, but the way they read from a script it just dreadful.

    I agree that if you’re fairly well seasoned on how a tech item works (and in this case when it isn’t), diagnosing the issue is rather easy. However, the majority of people calling in for support aren’t as experienced, and that’s where the nightmare begins

  16. EnochGabrys says:

    @arsbadmojo: CEOs Spying Agreed. Let them get a taste of what their customers deal with. The king of
    jordan used to go to the DMV and other places in disguise and just talk to
    people in line to see what the problems were. CEOs should try calling the
    verizon fibre help centre or whatever and see the Assclownery…

  17. Sarcasmo48 says:

    “The CEO of every company should anonymously try solving a problem every few months.”

    @arsbadmojo: Agreed. Let them get a taste of what their customers deal with. The king of jordan used to go to the DMV and other places in disguise and just talk to people in line to see what the problems were. CEOs should try calling the verizon fibre help centre or whatever and see the Assclownery…

  18. Triborough says:

    The first sign of bad customer service is dealing with people in India or elsewhere where they do not speak English understandable to your average North American. That basically means that the company does not care about the consumer, just the bottom line. We aren’t dealing with Amazon or Dell thanks to this.

  19. econobiker says:

    Don’t outsource call centers to India or Phillipines…

  20. johnva says:

    @Triborough: Like I said above, unfortunately this isn’t just a problem with “foreign” CSR’s. Sometimes they also hire undereducated/unprofessional Americans, too.

  21. snowmentality says:

    Language barrier is a genuine problem with phone support. Especially for tech troubleshooting, it’s hard enough to do it over the phone when everyone understands every word the other person is saying. Nothing against the reps themselves — they’re just doing what anyone would do and taking a good job they can get — but companies need to understand this.

    My best experiences with customer service happened when the person on the other end of the phone was genuinely friendly, knew what was going on, and swiftly resolved my issue. I hate the scripted stuff — it shouldn’t be necessary if you properly train your CSRs. But I guess they’d have to pay them more and treat them less like cattle if they actually wanted to provide quality customer service.

    My worst experience was with a rep with whom there was a language barrier, who refused to acknowledge that my laptop had had the same symptoms of hard drive failure three times in three months, which I’d called in each time. I had to fight with him to get him to even authorize sending a new hard drive, rather than making me mail off the laptop to have it wiped and have Windows re-installed a third time (which took well over a week each time).

    Then they tried to sell me extended warranty at the end. Dude, if that’s how you treat your regular warranty, I’m not going to pay for the extended.

    Good customer service would have been, the second time it happened: “I see that you called with the same issue a month ago. It’s happening again? Okay, this looks like a hard drive failure. I’ll go ahead and [ship you a new hard drive/ship you a replacement machine]; ship the defective one back to us at [address].” Or really, to recognize it as a hard drive failure the first time, which they should have done.

  22. KJones says:

    @Eyebrows McGee: I have the same problem. It’s shocking how many people can’t follow the NATO phonetic alphabet. :) Sometimes when I’m really grouchy about it, I’ll begin with “P as in phonetic ….” I usually get a startled laugh.

    I know the feeling. My name is not Keith, but I once did something similar with an idiot who couldn’t do his job and finally asked for my name: K as in kill. E as in emptyheaded, like you. I as in imbecile, like you. T as in twit, like you. H as in halfwit – again, like you. He was so dumb it all went over his head and he did not react. I eventually got the response from the required person.

    What’s not in the questions is the matter of response time. If it’s going to take an hour or three to get back to the customer, a company should say so; customers don’t mind waiting, it’s the lies and false expectations that annoy. If a company doesn’t do what it promises, it should have a guaranteed reaction; I’m not asking for free things, but if they promise “one hour!” and call back the next day, they should give an instant refund, or pay the customer a $20 penalty for wasting his time.

  23. UpsetPanda says:

    @Triborough: I’ve actually had some great customer service from foreign-sounding people. I say foreign-sounding, because I think most CSRs with foreign accents are probably outsourced, but in some cases you are talking to an American. I’ve also called a CSR and have gotten someone with a heavy southern accent, so it really is all kinds of people who pick up the line.

    That said, I really get a sinking feeling when I get someone I can’t understand – I’m generally really good at listening to accents and ascertaining what is being said, but it’s just frustrating for me and the CSR if I can’t understand them.

    I called tech service for my old laptop and I got an Asian man who just didn’t understand what I was trying to say. And I tend to think tech support is harder because you have to understand the machinery to actually solve any kind of problem. I felt a teensy weensy bad about wanting to try again another time because I’m Asian so I know a ton of people who have accents, and I don’t have problems understanding them, but this guy just didn’t understand me.

  24. fluiddruid says:

    Frankly, I think the easy transfer option to a supervisor shows the true problem with customer service. You shouldn’t ever need to get to that point if you’re getting decent service.

    I work as the only tech support and customer service rep for a small company. I’m professional but also honest, and there is no script I must read from. I have no queue – I have voice mail, and answer it promptly if I’m on a different call when someone calls. I have a ton of leeway in resolving problems and I have no beancounter demanding that I answer for each refund. Nobody is bothering me about how long my calls are, whether or not I’m “branding” enough, or any other crap.

    As a result, I’ve only had two people — in 18 months — ask for a supervisor, and both of them were likely mentally inbalanced (an uninformed opinion admittedly, but I stand by it).

    Companies started this mess by trying to absurdly limit costs — or make a profit — in customer service. I used to work for a call center and they are the most sweatshop-like work environment I’ve been in (even more than McDonalds!). It is all about upsell this, cross sell that, brand the call, read the script, average call time, blah blah blah. Take a bunch of people and pay them $8 an hour and harass them about their 3 minute bathroom break and you won’t get service.

  25. snazzycarrot says:

    When I have to spell my name out via words, I like to say something like ‘P as in psychology, H as in hour, E as in euphemism, …’

    It works every time.

  26. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    Good customer service boils down to people skills and the ability to resolve the issue (or find someone else that can). My least favorite CSR’s are the ones that sound bored and make it obvious they’re reading from a script. And American reps that mumble (or talk lazily) are just as bad as reps from out of country with thick accents. It’s really hard to hear and understand them over the background noise in the call center.

    I don’t mind dealing with Level 1 reps, but they should immediately be able to identify a problem that is out of their realm and transfer me to the right person, rather than read through script after script, and finally realizing they can’t help.

    But honestly, my preferred method of customer service is online. If I just want to update my billing address, or make other updates to my account, I’d rather do it through a website, rather than deal with calling an 800 number and wait in the phone queue.

  27. Amiash says:

    IMO, it doesnt really matter if CSR’s are not americans or from somewhere else. as long as they can speak/understand ENGLISH its fine because its comprehension that matters and resolution comes to that..
    I work as a customer rep before and i know how hard it is to communicate with people who speaks with different accents it gets really frustrating, and with the training we are only given a week to train for basic communication skills and 3 weeks for the product training and all that, managements reason? if we know the product the comm skills would come in handy and i think that’s a lame excuse.

  28. I had good customer service the last three times I called because the call centers were at the corporate HQ, and they were in Iowa, North Dakota, and Minnesota. They were staffed by polite, warm midwesterners speaking easy-to-understand English. You could hear them smiling, and they all sounded like they were really glad I called.

    It was a little dawdlier than most phone customer service, because they made chit-chat, especially while waiting for the computers to do something (“Did you get the snow down there in Peoria?”), but it was just so FRIENDLY.

    Two of these were small specialty companies (Seed Savers and Nordic Needle), who rely on a loyal customer base and probably don’t use “speed of call” as a metric for their call centers (Nordic Needle’s “call center” is probably one woman in Fargo answering six phone calls a day). But the third was Andersen Windows, and while their warranty process is pissing me off, their call center is fantastic.

    In all cases the reps were extremely familiar with the company and its products and procedures (again, not so surprising with Seed Savers or Nordic Needle, but kudos to Andersen), and not once did I have to be escalated; the reps had the knowledge and the power to solve my problems and answer my questions themselves.

    Has anyone else noticed customer service lines that now begin with “Thank you for calling our customer service center in Ohio” (or whatever state)? Some places are getting wise to the fact that a US call center is value-added for a lot of customers.

    The other call center I actually have to give props to is Blue Cross/Blue Shield of IL. Again, reps who speak good English, easy to understand, and not ONCE have I had to be escalated. Everyone I’ve spoken to over the past three years has been fully educated on the company and procedures and able to answer all of my questions very completely and provide me help. Not quite as friendly as the call centers I mentioned above, but definitely polite and helpful and does things on the first try with the first rep. (And, really, they’re probably dealing with 90% stressed, unhappy customers freaking out about insurance and medical problems, so good for them that I never get a rude rep.)

    @MagicEightBall: It’s actually Eyebrows PMcGee, the P is silent. ;)

  29. @Eyebrows McGee: “It’s actually Eyebrows PMcGee, the P is silent. ;)”

    And usually invisible. :D

  30. fluiddruid says:

    @axiomatic: I think your point is well taken that script troubleshooting only gets so far, but not every company is dealing with servers. For consumer-oriented software/hardware, basic troubleshooting IS important.

    I know I have been berated by someone for not immediately knowing the answer to their question – despite the fact that it was incredibly obscure and no normal customer would, or has, needed it since I’ve been employed for the company. Too many technical people want to “test” technical support in ridiculous ways. Example: one person randomly started disabling Windows services and then wanted us to tell him how to fix it, and was angry when we wouldn’t (I don’t work for Microsoft).

    Unless you start putting software developers on the phones and hemhorraging money, it makes sense to have a tiered system. Granted, I think that most Tier 1 reps tend to be completely ill-qualified for any type of technical support, but someone who needs to know how to use the Start Menu doesn’t need to go straight to the person who knows everything about everything.

  31. Michael Belisle says:

    @arsbadmojo: This happens frequently in small/medium technical firms:

    Me: “Who am I talking to?”
    CSR: “Oh I’m the CEO.”

    It’s a great practice. “Sales engineers” are another great innovation in those same technical firms. It’s nice to have the same person that sold you your equipment come out to fix it. (Similarly, I think Best Buy should merge the Geek Squad with computer sales and put their blue-shirted employees back behind the register.)

  32. StevieD says:

    @speedwell:

    A the clerk most likely could have done a better job than her supervisor.

    What is the purpose of a supervisor? Managing the employees.

    What is the purpose of the employee? Performing the tasks.

    Don’t like the employee? That is cause for the supervisor.

    Don’t like the skill set of the employee? Then ask for the next level of tech support.

    Asking for a supervisor has little merit and is not to your advantage.

  33. bohemian says:

    I find that the combo that truly makes me stabby is a CSR with an attitude like your bothering them combined with the systematic call center set to purposely not do anything to solve the problem.

    The worst one in recent memory is Medco. They do mail order pharmacy for some Blue Cross plans. Nothing like getting an attitude and a hassle from the people filling your prescriptions.

  34. SkokieGuy says:

    Agree that “transfer to supervisor” issues SHOULD be less important. We all do that as a result of the more basic problems. Well trained CSR’s performing properly would eliminate the need for transfers higher up.

    A huge vote for the language issue. When communication skills is a core competency of the job how can one ever expect employees not fully literate and conversational in English speaking employees to deliver excellent customer service.

    It occurs to me, how many of the outrageous problems we read of on Consumerist are tied to language difficulties with the notes the CSR’s type, which we have no way of reviewing for correctness? They are leaving instructions for actions, corrections, technical specs, for another employee, who probably also has a limited grasp of English.

    Let’s play the telephone game we all played as children, but let’s do it in Swedish! [Note: Those proficient in Swedish not allowed to play].

    Just today, I called my HMO Doctor’s office to straighten out a billing problem. The woman taking the message actually read it back to me to make sure it said everything correctly. We actually changed a few phrases to make it more clear. I was blown away! Why doesn’t this happen more? It could only help increase CSR efficiency when further actions are required.

  35. Ariah says:

    I’m continually amazed that companies are willing to give marketing top dollar, but not customer service. Why not prioritize the customers you ALREADY HAVE?

    On that note, the recorded messages that say “your call is important to us” are infuriating. I can tell how important my call is based on how long it takes for a human to pick up the phone, thanks.

  36. Dancing Milkcarton says:

    The absolute WORST is the new automated computer speech recognition programs you have to navigate before talking to a human. TWC in Cincinnati just started it and I spend 5 minutes continuously hitting ‘0’. I’m sorry, I won’t be talking to your dumb voice recognition system today.

  37. ogman says:

    They must speak English, and speak it well, and they must actually care about solving the problem.

    However, I actually have little problem with customer service anymore, as I have stopped doing business with companies that do not provide it. I buy a lot less stuff and my savings are growing.

  38. tme2nsb says:

    For a CSR – when I transfer to XBM (Exchange by Mail) within ATT Mobility, I hate speaking to a foreign rep, then I hang up, get a foreign rep with the same last name, repeat two more times, then get someone in the US. That’s what I hate :P

  39. amccoll says:

    @SaraAB87: You said it yourself, we’re graded on our openings/closings. My company doesn’t use a script for troubleshooting but if we don’t use your name twice in the call we get docked points. It’s pretty stupid, but it’s what my higher-ups want, and I want to keep my job. I’ll say what I’m supposed to say and it will take a maximum of two minutes out of the call. Not exactly a big deal.

  40. Corydon says:

    @Eyebrows McGee: I have the same problem. It’s shocking how many people can’t follow the NATO phonetic alphabet. :)

    Funny story…when I was working as a CSR for a large corporation, we’d have to provide customers with a reference for their problem that included numbers and letters. Being an Army vet (among other things I was a platoon and company RTO), I made it a habit to read the letters using the phonetic alphabet for clarity.

    So I’m ready this customer’s reference back to them “Tango Zulu Foxtrot one five four…” and she can’t keep up…turns out she wasn’t writing the letters down but the whole word I was giving her…

    So once in a while that can backfire :)

  41. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @StevieD: What stopped her from telling me I needed the next level of tech support instead of a supervisor, if that was the case? What stopped her from transferring me to someone more responsible, since she outright admitted such a person existed? What made her think her defensive stonewalling was solving my problem?

  42. Corydon says:

    @axiomatic: Some of us actually have degrees and “stuff”… ya know?

    Some more stories from the trenches. People with degrees and stuff tend to be the most obnoxious know-it-alls out there. I personally think they’re obnoxious because they find it degrading to have to go to a lowly CSR for help, but that’s just me being an amateur psychologist.

    Anyways, I was setting up a service call for this one lady and managed to get her an appointment for the next morning. You think she’d be happy (SLA for her problem was to have someone there within 48 hours). No dice. She wanted us to fire up the transporters and beam Scotty over there RIGHT NOW.

    Why? “Because I have a masters degree!” she screamed.

    I was completely speechless. I should have said something snarky about the special dispatch pool for customers with advanced degrees, but I just ended up apologizing and offering a later appointment if the morning one wasn’t good enough.

    Actually, I could have pointed out that, while I may not have a masters degree, I did get my BA Summa cum Laude and I am a member of Phi Beta Kappa, so not all of us on the other end are uneducated hicks either (and yeah my degree’s in history and I needed a job at the time :P)

    So I guess I’m asking for a different support line for the more technically astute.

    Now I can’t reveal who I work for (large PC/server manufacturer), but I have to say, we already do this. We have a customer self repair phone line and “it works” very well.

    No way on God’s green Earth would this work. Not for general residential troubleshooting of internet service. Folks with MCSEs and A+ certs think they are God’s gift to geekdom, when they usually haven’t got a clue.

    Give me the grandma who’ll actually pay attention to what I have to say any day over Mr. PhD in Engineering who’ll talk down to me, argue with me, tell me seven ways to Sunday how I don’t know my job and then finally break down and humor me only to find out I was right all along. And that happened more times than I can count.

    On second thought, maybe we should set up that “techie” support line. That will be the one where we send all the calls to Bangalore.

  43. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    Happy ending… I just went back to the online chat for MagicJack, and talked to a fellow named “Dylan” who was able to access my order immediately and give me exactly the information I needed. He was thoroughly professional and knowledgeable. I was impressed and reassured.

  44. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    @Corydon: “On second thought, maybe we should set up that “techie” support line. That will be the one where we send all the calls to Bangalore.”

    Because the folks with advanced degrees and certifications, being smarter than the average schmo, won’t have any trouble making themselves understood or understanding. Heh.

    I work for a huge (35,000+) energy related company with facilities in every continent (I wonder if “every time zone” would be exaggerating much). I am the front line support for the engineering software I support. Bottom line, I support thousands of engineers, all of whom think they know more than I do about how my program should work. A couple of them are even right about that. Being engineers, they paint themselves into the most awkward corners by trying to solve their own problems. I would complain, but I love them.

    That’s the key, OK? If there is a Golden Rule for customer support, it should be, “Don’t hate your customers.” In the form, “Don’t hate your user base,” it’s my personal work motto. In the form, “Don’t hate your child,” it’s the personal motto of my fiance’s little sister, who is the most successful parent of a toddler I’ve ever seen.

  45. @Corydon: It would be nice, though, if they were allowed to skip parts of the script. I don’t usually call tech support until I’ve TRIED rebooting, unplug/replug, reboot from the wall out, check to see my phone is working (for DSL), etc. I would really appreciate it if Ranesh in Bangalore was allowed to ACCEPT that and move on to step two without spending half an hour going over step one. I don’t care if it’s tech support or my doctor, it makes me NUTS if they won’t listen to the symptoms and what cure I’ve already attempted.

    I had a period of time where I had REPEATED problems with my DSL that were ALL on the company’s end, and every time I called it took literally FORTY-FIVE MINUTES for them to run through their “boot this, turn off that, unplug this, reset that” script before deciding it was on their end. It was annoying but understandable the first time when they made me repeat the gymnastics I’d already done, but by call number FIVE when it was the SAME PROBLEM it probably should have been clear and in the notes about my account that the same problem had ALREADY OCCURRED FOUR TIMES and been on their end EVERY SINGLE TIME.

    My favorite was when I called the phone company for a different problem — a tornadic storm system partially detached the line from my house. And I’m on the phone to India going, “The line is not attached to my house.” “Do you have a dial tone?” “No, I do not, because the line is NOT ATTACHED TO MY HOUSE.” “Okay, ma’am, i need you to unplug all your telephones.” “I need you to transfer me to local tech support because the line is NOT ATTACHED TO MY HOUSE. We had a massive thunderstorm that took down part of the line.” “I have no record of storm activity or outages in your area.” “!!!!!!!!!!!” Maybe the weather channel is just slow to report central Illinois weather conditions to India? Lines were down all over the city, you couldn’t even shop because nobody’s credit card machines could phone home! But they categorically refused to put in a trouble ticket or transfer me to the local office (where external repairs is located) until I did their 45-minute phone-testing rigamarole. (Or, in this case, lied about it: “Yes, I just did that, still no dial tone!” while paying my bills for the month.)

    And of course since these are PHONE problems, this is all costing me in cell phone minutes while they dick around.

  46. RvLeshrac says:

    @StevieD:

    Very rare that a supervisor has a purpose at all!

    @Corydon:

    Yes, yes, gods yes. I’m so sick of those people. If you know what the problem is and how to fix it, you need to piss off and go fix it yourself, not bug me. If you’re not willing to accept the answer, don’t ask the question.

    —–

    @several:

    Keep in mind that a lot of the “stupid” you have to put up with is intentional. Things like rebooting the PC/router and “switching the ends of the network cable” are carefully crafted.

    I worked in a call center for a short time, and “switch the ends of the ethernet cable” was a time-tested solution. Asking the customer to make sure the cable is plugged in elicits the “I’m not stupid” and “I have an A+/MCSE/etc” responses. Ask them to “switch the ends,” however, and they’re a little bewildered, but compliant – and half the time, they’ve just not jammed the cable in all the way.

    The same thing applies for rebooting the PC. Most problems can simply be solved with a reboot – you’d be surprised how many people don’t try that first.

  47. RvLeshrac says:

    @Eyebrows McGee:

    I’ve had things like that happen to me, too. The easiest thing is just to lie to the CSR. “OK, I’m rebooting…. I’m back up… I’ve restarted the router… My cellphone is my only phone, I don’t have any phones hooked up…”

    As long as you don’t get angry with the CSR, you’re fine. They’re often required to follow the script to the letter – asking them to skip it may be asking them to give up their job.

  48. @RvLeshrac: Well, sure. But GOOD customer service would let them skip part of the script. Plus, you’d think it’d save the company money by creating much shorter calls, even if 1/10 of the time, they shouldn’t have skipped ahead and have to go back and start over.

  49. PermanentStar says:

    @arras:

    That’s all well and good, but if they want to keep their jobs, they have to do the asinine things that the company wants them to do. Granted it sucks that they have to, however, that probably isn’t going to change, and if they don’t do it, even if they handle your problem immediately, they will still be fired.

  50. vrn3b says:

    @axiomatic and corydon re: “knowing more/feeling smarter” than the reps:

    I do encounter this a fair bit, and not necessarily in tech support. And in all fairness, the CR reps may just be lazy, but it comes across as stupid.

    One of my latest encounters was dealing with a checkout process on a website. The FAQ stated that Canadian customers would be able to see the total shipping charges (from the U.S.) before the order was final. Yet, their website takes the customer to a borderfree page for cross border purchases to enter your credit card number with big warnings that this purchase will be charged immediately to continue (before seeing the shipping charges). Refusing to click through before I knew my charges, I emailed customer service.

    I explained in detail what I had done, and how I was confused because the FAQ clearly states that I’ll be able to see these charges before continuing. I said that I really did need to see the shipping charges to Canada before continuing, and if they told me I needed to order over the phone to do so, I’d gladly do that. I asked for the best way to proceed, and whether I’d missed something.

    The email response I received back was simply, “Yes, you’ll be able to see shipping charges before checking out,” and a cut and paste of the FAQ item (that I had explained I’d read, hence my confusion.)

    I feel like I go to great efforts to clearly explain my problem, that I’ve attempted to look up/troubleshoot my own situation, that I’ve gotten this far in the process and am now stuck at exactly this step. In return, I often get completely useless responses like the one above.

  51. bben46 says:

    I am the second tier of support for a small company. I retired 2 years ago and agreed to do this part time. When one of our techs (they actually take time away from repairing equipment to answer the phone) sends a customer to me it is either a serious problem or a difficult customer. I have no scrips and must rely on my experience alone. It is not unusual to be on the phone for over an hour and for a customer to call multiple times. My biggest complaint with customers is those who will not shut up long enough for me to tell them what to do. Then after I finally manage to get in a few words, ignore what I just said and continue with their spiel. If a problem is fixed by one of my suggestions I rarely hear back so I don’t know if it is fixed or not. I have lost count of the number of times a customer has told me “Of course I checked that.” only to later find that what they had “of course” checked was the problem.

  52. Corydon says:

    @Eyebrows McGee: Yeah, I would have been driven crazy if I were forced to stick to a script no matter what happened. Fortunately, my call center encouraged employees to know the system and do all the basic troubleshooting on their own before jumping into the script you had to click through to create the ticket. So it was easy for us to ignore the stuff that was obviously wrong.

    It got even easier when I moved up into escalations (working with people whose problem wasn’t fixed the first time around). I’d normally mention the script items on the first call just to make sure the original rep had covered all the bases, but I almost framed it as confirming that they covered everything and I never sent customers poking around with wiring and stuff. Mostly I kept at the repair supervisors and managers in the customer’s area until they actually figured out the problem.

    @sarah11918: The rep on the other end of the line probably had just never run into your particular problem before. Your email probably caused a good deal of head scratching at the other end (anything dealing with cross border business is pretty much always going to be complicated in unexpected ways. Your rep probably didn’t have access to any more information than that FAQ.

    The fault in this case doesn’t lie with the rep (most likely), but with whoever is doing the internal documentation. This is a more difficult job than it sounds like because you have to cover all the different things customers can do with your service AND you have to make it quick and easy for the rep to find the problem they’re looking for AND the explanation has to be easy enough for the rep to grasp in about 30 seconds while the customer is waiting on hold.

    @speedwell: If there is a Golden Rule for customer support, it should be, “Don’t hate your customers.”

    I agree 100%, and I have to say that the overwhelming majority of customers I worked with were very polite. Many were friendly and genuinely appreciated my efforts on their behalf. Some were clearly frazzled by their experience but took the time to make it clear they were upset with the company, not me personally, which I appreciated.

    Helping out the nice customers really was a satisfying part of the job. I had no trouble with going well above and beyond “standard” services for the people I thought deserved it. I got into that line of work in the first place because I like fixing things and solving problems and I like helping people out.

    The <1% who were real pricks, however, were usually the best sources for the memorable stories.

  53. Sarcasmo48 says:

    “I’m continually amazed that companies are willing to give marketing top dollar, but not customer service. Why not prioritize the customers you ALREADY HAVE?”

    @Ariah: Outstanding point, but you see it’s a numbers game. Look how many people verizon signed up with their FIOS Free TV thing? They’re well over a million subscribers now. They subbed out the gift redemption to a contractor who can’t handle it and now a LOT of people are pissed. But who cares?! Look how many new subscribers they added! Betcha direcTV will be shaking in their boots!

    And that’s what it boils down to. Get as many customers as possible. If 10-15% of them are pissed at CSRs, so what? The other 85-90% are happy with the service and most of them never even need to call tech/CS.

    Bottom line? Bottom line.

  54. topeka says:

    Ask Sprint about bad customer service. They’re the leaders.

  55. Nylo says:

    How about starting with a brain… Oops! Did I offend anyone?