Tuesday, December 3, 2013

5 Things Customer Service Won't Tell You

Because you are part of civilization, most probably you have called customer service at some point. Whether it is your cable connection betraying your trust by acting up (therefore robbing you of Glee’s Brittany-Santana intimate moment), or your Internet bill going into steroids and is getting jacked up ever since, or you struggling to find your phone’s “On” button and you feel waiting on the queue for hours to scream on top your throat to the other guy on the phone is totally worth it.

But, just like the CIA or the Illuminati, hiding in those amusing hospitality and high-pitched selling spiels is a dungeon of covert operations and secrets that keeps customer service’s workings smooth and clockwork, and at the same time minimizing the number or profanity and racial slurs being thrown unto them. And no, they will not tell you those secrets, because they will only make you look outright stupid.

Like Daffy Duck-stupid.

But fuck it, here are five of them.

1. They Are Rushing Your Call 

Customer service, no matter what form it takes, is a matter of speed. If you go to the local McDonald’s, or the nearest grocery store in your area, you can see that the person behind the counter will always take your order or scan your purchases as quickly as possible, unless you are trying to be an asshole and make things take longer because you are high and it definitely makes sense at that time.

"Hi, can I order a Big Mac, but without the cheese, lettuce, 
tomato, buns, and patties and just get a pasta instead?"

And it is only logical; customer service business. Faster service means more customers, and more customers mean more money. If you have been responsible back in your childhood and set up a lemonade stand and/or a monthly garage sale instead of wasting time playing The Legend of Zelda, then it will make sense instantly to you.

If it's the Ocarina of Time, then it's not a waste of time. It's the Casa Blanca of video games.

Customer care over the phone is no different. Each agent has an Average Handling Time (AHT) as part of his/her daily scores to maintain. AHT is the average amount of time an agent takes to solve a caller’s concern. And mind you, not all calls are the same; it can range from a simple inquiry about a device’s aforementioned switch button (“You can find the "On" button on the upper right corner of the phone. Also, ever heard of manuals?”) to an entire explanation of why the bill has gone up so high which is anything but concise (“Mr. Jones, let me explain to you what happened. And please hold on because I will give you a fuckton of information that I am pretty sure you will never instantly  understand”). 

This score will decide whether he/she may or may not stay in the company for long (along with attendance, tardiness, and how many times he/she was caught playing Carrot Fantasy in his/her station). Because of this, Average Handling Time (or AHT) is a big deal for them, it is basically the shit.

A call center representative’s constant job is to balance out the length of these calls and make sure he/she reaches the total calls’ minimum time. And it is not easy. It is a matter of multi-tasking. Each agent navigates gazillions of tools; follow a multitude of policies, and at the same time talk to you, the customer, in a fashion like they are not breaking any sweat at all. It is equivalent to balancing a spreadsheet and playing Call of Duty, all while giving your girlfriend a rhetorical, persuasive, and non-hurtful explanation why that shirt is making her fat.

You're going to break up with me anyway. It's the fat.

And Average Handling Time does not end on the time the customer hung-up (or slammed, depending on how the conversation went), a part of it is the After Call Work, or the length of time a representative is not talking to anyone over the phone. This is being used to document everything that transpired on the call, so that the next agent who will get the call will have an idea what shit happened previously.

Thank you for calling. How can you send me to a crippling depression today?

2. Screaming And Swearing Over The Phone Is Not Going To Help You

In the spirit of altruism and respect for others, you already know the fact that being an asshole over the phone is bad, as long as you are seating on your couch, eating ice cream, watching TV, and everything is going well for you. But the second that number “2” button on the remote goes nuts, or the Internet won’t put Farmville on the monitor, then that shit will instantly go down the drain. Suddenly you will have all the rights to talk down to the representative on the phone like he/she is the most useless and most stinking person on the planet.

I can actually smell here what you had for lunch!

And it is understandable. You are not actually mad at whomever the unfortunate being that picks up the phone, you are actually upset at the company, or more specifically, to its faulty service. So it is normal that you will vent your anger to the company’s voice on the phone, i.e. the customer service agent.

Hey IBM. I'm an old person and your coffee cup holder keeps drawing in. I don't deserve this.

But let us look at it in a rather different way. Supposed you have this friend asking for your advice because he and his girlfriend are heading up to breakup-ville. And like every understanding and caring friend ready to lend a helping hand, you empatheticaly asked what is going on, and promised that you will never, ever let him down.

But instead of thanking you and sharing what he is going through, he started by going asshole on you, raising his voice, hurling profanities, calling you names, slandering your family, and going through all the ‘yo mama lines you’ve heard since 8 Mile despite the fact that you are completely not part of his problems. He’s not on dope. He’s just upset. 

When you were born, the doctor slapped your mom!

Now, if you are thinking this guy deserves all the attention and sympathy the world can give because you see, he’s really, really sad and upset, then you must be a very good person (also, you don't exist). On the other hand, if you suddenly feel apathetic towards him and think he can go fuck himself all day, then you are facing the daily predicament of a customer care representative. 

And that’s only one asshole ruining your day. In an actual call center setting, representatives will have to deal with a hundred of these hotheads every single freaking day, and that’s for the relaxed days (weekends and holidays). During Mondays, where Murphy’s Law is the strongest, and the probability of a customer to go from “calm, civilized, and understanding” to “Oh God he’s going on Hulk-rage!” is the highest, this number doubles. Add to that those days where the provider’s system is down, then you can count that all callers to be like our proverbial guy. 

All customer service agents are capable and are willing to be on your side and help you as soon as you reasonably tell them the issue at hand. But if you start with a barrage of screams and verbal assaults in the first 30 minutes of the call, then not only you wasted precious 30 minutes over the phone, but the agent will spend also more minutes trying to calm you down like a toddler on an irrational tantrum before heading straight to the solution. 

I understand that you're upset right now. But have you tried turning it off and on?

What’s worse, you might put the agent on the defensive or panic mode, which will heavily impair his/her ability to soundly discern the situation. Remember, they are working on a clockwork analysis on each call here. Just imagine if Tom Cruise in Mission: Impossible is trying desperately to detonate a time bomb while Vhing Rames is repeatedly telling him on top of his lungs that he is a borderline lunatic and a Scientology member, it not only makes Tom fail in frustration (and the bomb explodes), it also makes Vhing look stupid as hell.

Still, this was IMF's worst failure.

But then again, right before they go down the proper solution, most probably than not, they already curbed your anger, that’s because…

3. They Are Using Jedi Mind Tricks On You

Based on the statistics of the types of callers mentioned above, we can surmise that for every 100 people an agent will be talking to over the phone in a day, 70 of those will be angry customers who somehow think that an agent’s accent is the best barometer of his ability to resolve problems, 20 will be people who express their problems in a calm and politically correct way, seven will be asking for credits, and at least three will be drunk guys repeatedly asking how they got there in the first place.

We were taking the last few drops off the bong. And then you were there .

You might be asking, with all these numbers, how come these money transfer/cable/telecom companies are not constantly bleeding of their customers, and most agents are coming out in one piece with the issue resolved?

Because mind-control, that’s why.

No. Not this kind. But we wish it is.
You see, every call is a hostage negotiation. When you, as the customer, phone in, you are demanding for something (help, credits, or adjustments) which cannot be ignored. If this demand will not be met, then no one will stop you from slashing the throat of your hostage which is your loyalty/subscription to the company. And yes, most of these calls are successfully being resolved.

During the entire call flow, every single word, sentence structure, verbal ticks, and tone being used by the representatives is designed to remove your guard and subdue your anger. It starts when the representative fires up the opening spiel. It follows the traditional greeting/company branding/agent’s name/offer of help formula. It sounds like this:

“Thank you for calling Verizon. My name is Joe. How may I help you?”

Despite being a complete incognito (you won’t see the representative’s face), it is imperative that he/she gives his/her name over the phone, as this will invite and build trust on you. You will feel assured that you are talking to a human being and not a machine.

Especially NOT this machine.

And after you cried out the issue at hand, the representative will have to follow another pattern called “I EAT” (yes, that’s the actual acronym).

T.A.C.O. has already been taken.

It stands for Initiate, Empathize, Apologize, and Taking ownership of the concern, which doesn’t seem like things that go together in a normal conversation. It goes like this:

(Initiate response) “If that happens to me, I will be frustrated, too (Empathy). I apologize for what happened (Apology). Let me handle this for you (Taking ownership of the concern).”

I EAT guys like you for breakfast!

The representative might sound like a complete pussy, cowering in fear, and ready to give the other cheek. But this response is outlined to absorb your venting. With that response, he/she won’t sound like he/she doesn’t give shit about your concern. The agent’s response will make him/her sound like you are on the same shoes and will go all the way to help you. Because just saying “Meh. Alright” just won’t cut it.

And this verbal manipulation and syntax engineering goes all the way throughout the conversation. For example, if an agent needs to agree or confirm on a question, he/she cannot just plainly say “yes” to affirm you, but he/she needs to use positive words such as ‘’definitely”, “absolutely”, "sure enough" or “Jesus Christ you are brilliant how’d you even know that?” even to the simplest queries. It adds weight to the reply, and creates a strong effect to you that you really, really matter, thus diffusing any trace of anger, frustration, or doubt in you.

It's like "Hmm. Yeah." But on steroids.

An agent normally undergoes from two weeks to two months of language training (that he/she strictly needs to pass) before even proceeding to the basics of the product knowledge. And by “language” we mean what shit he/she will need to respond to the customer that goes ballistic because he couldn’t find the Any Key to boot up his computer. 

Expect to hear from my lawyer about this.

4. Requesting Directly For A Supervisor Does Not Make Any Sense

So you are currently so into blasting Customer Support with your frustration because a game blackout is preventing you from watching the Red Sox and Indians match, spewing a triple combo of popcorn, Colt 45, and verbal threats because you know you don’t deserve it (a game blackout is when a network, cable provider, or the local government decides not to broadcast a local game, so that people will pay and have their asses on the stadium/sports venue to watch the event, because you know, money).

But three minutes into the call, you immediately asked for a supervisor, because you don’t want to waste more time speaking with the Indian/Arabic/Filipino/Chinese representative, and his/her boss must probably have an Intelligence Quotient of above 300 and will resolve your concern in no time, right?

I'm sorry Ma'am, but what do you mean with "can we speak in binocular"?

No. And most probably than not, you are not speaking with a real supervisor. 

You see, a call center is like a sweatshop, but instead of hundreds of sweaty, abused, and stressed children making shoes, it has hundreds of casually-clothed, abused, and stressed grown-ups taking calls. These agents are divided into groups called “teams” which is headed by a supervisor.

On the other hand, if it's Agent Smith, time to take the blue pill. 

Now, each of these agent gives jillions of data like length of call, number of customers waiting, average handling time, number of calls, hold time, and number of profanities endured which the supervisor monitors, reports, and takes actions. That means in any given moment, he/she is constantly occupied and juggling with all this numbers, therefore has no time to give shit about your rants. 

So, who the hell is taking your call, pretending to be a supervisor? Did the agent just handed over his headset to his seat mate and called it a day? Of course not, the Escalations do.

Named such after your blood pressure at that point.

The Escalations go with other names like Account Specialists, Call Specialist, and yes, Supervisors. Their job is to take every call that ended with a “Can I speak with a Manager?” And no, they don’t have any other people under them, nor do they directly report to the company president. They are just a group of specialized agents who knows a bit more about the product/service/policy, has a longer handling time limit, and has five bucks more in their credit authority (the amount of credit/adjustment they can provide). And the result is a representative who is friendlier, more confident, and more  knowledgeable; something the front line agent can be if only you just gave him/her more time to resolve your concern.

They're like the A-Team. But with more phone time.

Well, this is the structure in some centers. Sometimes the real supervisors will really take your call, because the agent knows jackshit about what he’s talking about. At least you have the big guns now, because you know, he’s the manager, right?

Again, not necessarily. That supervisor might be the Hannibal Lecter of all the representatives on the floor back then, able to resolve all problems faster than anyone else without raising a single pulse, but those glorious days of taking calls are over. His/her job now is to manage his subordinate’s performance scores and to yell to the representative who keeps mouth-breathing on the phone.

Stop it. Or I'll have you for dinner. 

The agent you are speaking with earlier on the other hand, has already taken that kind of call for God knows how many times already, making him/her the expert for that matter and the perfect person to resolve your concern. But since you seem to have this eschewed notion that a manager does things better, you resort to speak with a guy who has the authority to drop the call (if really needed) and gives less shit about his handling time.

But if the supervisor cannot give what you want, at least threatening to let your subscription fly out the window will give him/her shivers and give in to your demands, right? Well…

5. Threatening To Cancel Your Account Is Not A Threat At All

We all know you, as the customer, deserve the best service possible. Hell, you are paying for it. You are the very reason why the company is still standing and in the course of smooth and prosperous operation. Basically, you are its sustaining lifeblood.

Phil, your ungracious boss, is the putrid vile that runs along the liver.

That means a customer giving up his loyalty to the company/product will be like a significant chomp, if not a death warrant, to the company’s revenue. Definitely, there cannot be only one customer trying to cancel his account each day. And letting go this bunch will create enough aggregates to pull a company down to its knees. Therefore, if a customer blurted out the lines “I would like to cancel my account”, the representative is actually hearing Voltron screaming “Form Blazing Sword!” That means shit just got serious, and the customer is giving his ultimatum.
Let's finish th- wait, guys. Why am I in the damn crotch?

You see, just like in Google and Facebook, where every goddamn thing you search, declare, write, or post will decide which product advertisement will rush in to your face, customer service works the same. Every time you declare to take your business elsewhere, it will have an impact in your customer profile, dragging your ranking from “very loyal and patronizing” to “possible risk factor and therefore should never get hold of a knife”. Given, the retention department might have saved you, but that attempt you made might deprive you of freebies, discounts, credits, and upgrades that you should been enjoying if only you didn’t turn into a lunatic and started screaming over the phone.

OK, you might be asking, why are these providers messing-up with the customers if they are the ones who are giving shitty services and false promises? Well first, not all companies are doing this, and second, because business.

Smart business practice dictates that you make the unhappy customers happy, and more importantly, make the happy ones, well, happier.

You know, like five-days-on-weed-already happy.

Some business models are founded on this tenet. They make more money by keeping hold of satisfied customers and prolonging their stay. After all, the focus is not just to minimize churn rate (the rate at which subscribers go to a different company), but to increase customer lifetime value (or CLV, the value of each intact customer) as well. Because you know, the longer you stay in a company, the more perks, add-ons, or upgrades you take advantage of, and the more you pay. 

The slot machine uses the same business model.

Also, when you threaten to take your business somewhere else, the company interprets this as a negative and unsatisfied reaction to their service or payment terms, meaning it will be riskier for them offering you more promotions, upgrades, or even a new device that you will potentially cancel in the future, resulting loss in revenue for them. Not to mention the process of pursuing you, your bank, or the credit bureau for money you still owe is long and stressful, because you know, you are a jerk and you can’t keep your shit together. 

I'm sorry for what happened. Let me refer you to our competitor.

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