A tech support supervisor, from what we figure to be Apple, has stepped forward to break down some behind-the-scenes workings with his underlings who sometimes make both his and consumer’s lives difficult. For instance, one of the reasons you might be on hold so long is agents using fake work codes to avoid taking calls. Also, we know that metrics rule the call centers, but, in one of the confessions, he talks about how not only is it important to not go over your average handle time, you also can’t go too far under. Just strive to be perfectly average, and you’ll go far…
“I am a tech support supervisor for a very well known computer company. (If you must know, this company is notoriously secretive. I think that’s a big enough clue.) I felt the need to respond to the “7 Confessions Of A Verizon DSL Tech Support Rep” article you ran with some insights of my own.
I also started near the beginning of a new call center that was supporting three different product lines for said computer company. Customer service was stressed over and over and over again. I’ve been with the call center for about 5 months, but I’ve worked in other non-call center positions with the company since 2002. I thought someone needed to shed light on the fact that the seven confessions are not the exception to the rule — they ARE the rule in most cases when it comes to tech support call centers.
This particular call center is all “Tier” (or Level) one support. Within this center, we have Quality Assurance to monitor the agent calls in-house. If necessary, these Tier 1 agents escalate difficult calls to Tier 2 — which can be anywhere in the world. It will almost never be the same person twice.
You’re not going to speak to someone’s actual supervisor
There is a specific, direct queue line to “Supervisor Requests” for our agents. I don’t know why most people think they will actually speak to the support agent’s actual supervisor. We’re too busy answering technical questions for the agents (regardless of the fact that they have many more resources to find these answers than we do), sitting in worthless status meetings, and reporting to corporate and/or operations about the metrics of our agents. These supervisor requests go to specifically trained Tier 2 agents who spend 90% of their time calming down irritated customers. It is a great perk as a supervisor to know that there are specifically trained agents out there to take the “angry customer” calls so I can actually get work done.
Metrics Rule EVERYTHING
We have very specific goals that we have to enforce as supervisors. 99% of our job (and job security) relies on our ability to keep our statistics within specifications. Handle time is 15 minutes or below at our call center as well, but with a hitch — if it is TOO far below 15 minutes, we also need to be able to reason with our supervisor why we know *for sure* that the agent is not just dropping the calls to keep handle time low. It’s a delicate balance, as I’m sure you can imagine. It’s the same with after call work — it needs to be below 1.5 minutes.. but if it’s TOO low, then we have to be able to answer the questions that arise from that. Moral of the story? Don’t over-perform, and don’t under-perform and your supervisor will love you — because he/she will not have to answer to his/her supervisor. Quality Assurance AND supervisors are required to monitor calls — supervisors must listen to calls twice per shift (which is nearly impossible). Yes, agents hate this, but wouldn’t if they would just do their jobs.
You’re on hold so long because agents are ducking their work
To make metrics (and schedule adherence) agents do terrible things, like dropping calls, and something we refer to as AUX-hopping. This means that agents switch between various auxiliary codes (break, after call work, etc.) to not have to take as many calls. What does this mean to the customer in the queue waiting? You now have to wait longer because some nineteen year old punk doesn’t feel like taking as many calls as the guy next to him. Now everyone else in all the call centers worldwide for this product have reduced time between calls, and calls in the queue back up even further. It’s irritating for everyone involved.
Customer service skills are more important than tech skills, here’s why
The tech support agent was correct. In management, we believe it is easier to teach anyone technical support than it is to teach common courtesy. Sure, we could hire only applicants with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science from an Ivy League school, but call centers typically employ college students, retirees, and those with a less-than-stellar academic background. Bottom line is, it doesn’t matter how well educated you are; we’re going to pay you x amount. “But I have a BS in CS from (enter university here)!” That’s fine, you can take the x amount or find another job. Our agents do not use scripts — we give them between two to three weeks of training (depending on the product) and then they take it from there. The bottom line is that “techie” people do not want to work for so little — so we hire people who will and make do with what we have. Even the “techie” agents can be some of the rudest, or most lacking in common sense (ie: don’t scream at the customer).
Our QA department does not seem as bad as Verizon’s. Mostly, they coach agents on ways to show empathy with the customer, how to obtain information without violating privacy policies, etc. Not one agent here has been let go because they did not use the right “buzzword.” I guess that’s the difference between call centers who use a script, and those who don’t.
Customer Satisfaction Surveys Are GOSPEL
This is the number one way that management can evaluate an agent’s performance. While our agents are not required to use a certain phrase, or even mention the customer survey, each customer receives one via email after a case is completed for them. They are rated from “Very Dissatisfied” to “Very Satisfied,” and as a manager — nothing makes my job easier than telling my boss that all my agents have “Very Satisfied” on all their surveys. I know it is not the usual to fill out the survey or ask the agent to talk to a supervisor when you have received excellent service, but in our call center — that’s our bread and butter. Those surveys help to determine who gets promoted, who gets fired, and who gets special perks (best shifts, days off, etc.).
The Verizon agent was also correct in saying that polite customers, even if upset, are more likely to get helped. Those customers are even more likely to get the above-and-beyond service, so please keep that in mind.