Getting the Most Out of a Customer Service Call


Getting the Most Out of a Customer Service Call
James Layton

Customer Support-Oh No!
Do you dread making a tech support call? Does an hour of being bounced between departments make you nauseous? Every year consumer polls show that dealing with any kind of customer or tech support is one of the least-liked experiences. As a former tech support manager and consumer, I have a unique perspective on being on both ends of the telephone. Even today when I call, e-mail or even live chat, I am conscious of what it is like to be the support guy.

Let me share with you some of my experiences as the company rep on the other end of the line. I’ve selected some extreme examples but be assured, they are real and happened several times a week. I’ll use these to make a point about how to have a successful customer service contact and resolve your issue.

Example Number 1: The “I Don’t Read Instructions” Guy

Customer: I used your swimming pool product and it did not work.

Support: I can help. Let’s make sure the correct dose was added. What size is your pool?

Customer: I used the right amount. Are you saying I’m an idiot?

Support: No sir. Overdosing can cause problems. I can calculate the correct dose for you.

Customer: Look, I don’t know what size my pool is. I just dumped your stuff into the water and now it's all #$%!@* up. I’ve had a pool all my life and never had a problem. I know what I'm doing. You people are morons!

While this conversation may seem over the top I assure you we received this call several times a week. The root problem was not following instructions. Since I write instruction manuals for a living I know they contain useful information and explain how to use the product correctly. The answers are in the manual! Yet there have been times when I blamed a product for not working when I failed to carefully follow the instructions. Check and double check the manual before calling the help line. Chances are the support person will guide you through the same steps that are in the manual…because…that is the proper way to use the product. If you do need to call, it helps to have an idea of these steps or procedure before calling. It will be a lot easier for you to follow along with the support person as they tell you how to resolve the problem. Oh yea, never call the tech names. It never helps.

Example Number 2: The Unprepared Guy

Customer: I am having trouble with my pump. Can you help me?

Support: Sure thing! Which model do you have?

Customer: Oh, it's your pump. The blue one with the black power cord. Water squirts out the top thing.

Support: We make seven models. All are blue. Can you tell me the model number? It is stamped on the motor.

Customer: Oh, I can’t see without my glasses and the pump is down in the hole. But it is the blue one you guys make. I bought it from you guys way back.

Yes, this one is real too. When calling, always know exactly what the product is along with a model number. Have the serial number ready too. You may be asked about the purchase date. Please do not be annoyed if the rep asks for this type of information. This data is often recorded as part of the rep's call log. They are required to have this information in order to document the issue. Otherwise you may have to hang up, gather the information, and call again. Your particular model may have a known issue. Be ready with as much information as possible. You did save the manual and serial number along with the receipt-right?

Example Number 3: The Jackass

Customer: You people suck! I wanna know your name!

Support: My name is Rob. How can I help you?

Customer: Well Rob, if that’s your REAL name…you probably don’t care anyway.

Support: How can I help you sir?

Customer: OH! Now you have an attitude. I don’t know why I waste my time calling you people.

Support: Is there something I can help with …

Customer: Why won’t you let me talk? I’m getting nowhere with you. I wanna talk to the president!

Please don’t be The Jackass. The Jackass calls with an attitude and is looking to fight. He makes threats and assumptions even before stating his issue. People who call in like this are impossible to help. They don’t answer diagnostic questions, making it impossible to troubleshoot the problem. They don’t listen and will not answer important questions necessary to obtain a resolution. If you are all "heated up" over a problem, I recommend a cooling down period before calling in. It will make things go a lot smoother! It is much easier to work with the support person when you are calm.

A little courtesy goes a long way!
Customer support staff, in any industry, get abuse all day long. They get yelled at, cursed out and blamed for things that are completely out of their control. The best way to win their full support is to address the person with respect and patience. Help them help you by being calm and having all pertinent information on hand when you call. I always greet them and ask if they can help me with my issue. I never start off with a complaint or accusation. I simply give a brief description of what my problem is. They will ask for more information as the call proceeds. Reps are usually required to go through troubleshooting scripts before they can act or pass you on to a higher tier tech. Once I have established a “non-adversarial relationship” I can press a little more, ask probing questions, and maybe even express frustration. I never accuse them personally! Even if I need to talk to a decision maker (supervisor), I do so respectfully. Asking to speak to a supervisor usually implies the rep is not doing their job. I ask the rep to ask their supervisor for assistance, not to complain about the rep. The idea is to work together with the support person in solving the issue, not make them look bad in front of their boss! When the call is about to end, even if I did not achieve the desired outcome, I thank them for their help. It is the right thing to do. Yes, we all have had lazy ineffective customer support. I have had to make repeated calls over several days to clear up billing problems. Overall, however, most support staff are just like us. They have good days and bad days. I guarantee if you start the conversation on a friendly tone and follow my simple suggestions, calls will go smoother, your blood pressure won’t be so high and you'll have the satisfaction knowing you were probably the nicest person the representative spoke to all day.
Great advice here! Customers should remember that their behavior and approach matters too, and always go into calls in the friendliest and most amenable way possible. We've been royally screwed over by customer service reps on the phone in the past, and we know how to make sure our situation is recognized higher-up-the-chain if necessary, but having done the job too and out of respect for the people doing the job, it's important to judge every call on its content, not your assumptions.