At Home with Tech

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Tag: customer service

Make a Friend when Calling Customer Service

You have more power than you think to find a happy resolution during your next call to customer service. Here’s how to access it.

Recently, I had a problem with a streaming app for a pay TV service that suddenly wouldn’t recognize my subscription. The app was tethered to my cell phone account as an added benefit, because I’ve maintained a higher-level data plan. The relationship always seemed a bit complex, but it worked… until it didn’t. And of course I realized my subscription had prematurely ‘expired’ right when I pressed play for a family movie night presentation of Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”

After I wiped egg off my face, I switched apps, and we found something else to stream. Later, I picked up the phone in search of a solution to my misbehaving app.

We all know the proverb that you’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. But it’s also easy to forget when having a frustrating moment with a customer service representative.

Customer Service 1.0
While growing up, I often observed my father apply negative pressure in any number of customer service moments to help mold his desired outcome. I think it was a simpler time when resolutions seemed more achievable, and customers had more power to influence them. But getting angry and threatening to take your business elsewhere is never a sustainable strategy. Even as a kid, I remember feeling that.

Customer Service 2.0
Not to over-generalize, but eventually business trends changed and customer service shifted. We can debate this decline, but I think a key ingredient is added complexity as a result of business efficiencies. Plus, much of the decision-making power has been taken away from the front line of customer service and replaced by the weight of following process.

Your dissatisfaction is likely not the fault of the person on the other end of your phone call. Sure, you may feel a sense of genuine disconnection with the conversation, but there could be other factors you’re not aware of, such as computer systems containing your account info that move much slower than the human mind (how ironic).

Customer Service 3.0
While I’ve been mindful not to practice my father’s bad customer behaviors, that doesn’t mean I’ve succeeded at living on a totally Zen plane when calling customer service. Sure, I get frustrated, just like the rest of us.

But when I made the call to fix my broken streaming app, I had an amazing ‘aha moment’ that changed my entire perspective.

Yes, I ended up speaking to three customer service representatives across two separate phone calls spanning two hours (including waiting on hold for 30 minutes for the first call to begin).

No, it wasn’t a great start. However, the three people I spoke with were all stellar in their positive disposition. They all truly wanted to help me out. Unfortunately, I think none of them had access to all of the information they needed. The third rep had the greatest understanding of the issue, but was still confounded why her technical fixes weren’t working exactly the way they should. Eventually, she moved around a final glitch to MacGyver a solution for me.

It was entirely imperfect, but I appreciated that all three were totally focused on working the problem for me. And, yes my app was reborn.

Throughout this experience, I didn’t see them as adversaries, even though the first two couldn’t solve my tech riddle. Instead, I felt they had joined me on a spontaneous road trip together. And that shifted my attitude.

Together, we needed to locate a hidden variable, and it was buried somewhere in the computer system. No person could totally solve my problem. The machine would need to play nice too.

Make a New Friend
The reality is the computer controls much of the customer service conversation. And if you’re open to this cold truth, that should shift the fundamental relationship between you and the customer service representative. In fact, it should create an alliance. Because it may take both of you to figure the problem out… together.

Your impersonal connection can magically shift. Now, it’s the two of you against the machine. This momentary alliance is powerful, and it can wash away all of the negative impulses you may be feeling.

Because, you can’t get angry at a inscrutable computer system that won’t behave. The only solution is to team up with that other human being on your phone call.

Then, you’ll have a fighting chance to resolve your problem.

Nice is the New Mean
Being civil as a customer is no different than how we should strive to act throughout life. But that’s easy to forget, especially during these pandemic years when patience can be even harder to maintain.

And if you can put aside your past frustrations with customer service, you’ll realize your perceived enemy can be your ally if you actively reach out to create that alliance with the other person.

Your most powerful weapon is simply showing your humanity.

And as we begin another year, remember that this truth applies far beyond customer service interactions.

Treat everyone well. See the big picture. We’re all in this together.

Make a friend.

Happy New Year.

The Intersection of Human Error, Annoying Tech and Great Customer Service

Your power drill is not an option to remove a missed security tag on a new piece of clothing. But the solution in this story is probably not what you’d expect…

This is not my story. But when I heard it, I absolutely had to share it. I still can’t quite believe that it happened, but I was there to witness it.

It speaks to how irritating technology can sometimes be, how some people will knock your socks off by exceeding all expectations and how brick-and-mortar stores are fighting back…

Here’s what happened…

Uncovering a Major Shopping Glitch
My wife bought a Calvin Klein dress at Lord & Taylor in Stamford, CT for an upcoming trip. She asked me to take a look for a second opinion
(Entirely unnecessary. My wife looked fabulous in the dress.)
Just one problem…

I pointed awkwardly to the plastic security tag still bolted to the bottom of the dress in the back.
(Wow, that’s a bummer, right?)

Of course, the theft deterrent was supposed to come off before she left the store. Perhaps some technology breakdown failed to detect the device on her way out.

Suffice it to say, the store’s check-out system didn’t operate the way it was designed.
But accidents happen.

It’s not the end of the world, even though these security tags are always annoying. But it’s much worse when they come home with you.

The standard solution would be to bring the dress back to extract the security tag. Except there was a problem… She couldn’t get back to Lord & Taylor in time before the trip.

So what would you do?

Exploring the Forgotten Edge of Customer Service
Well, my wife simply picked up the phone and called the store to explain the situation.
I watched from across the room, entirely skeptical. I was certain there would be no magical solution. What kind of out-of-the-box thinking could customer service possibly offer?

Get this…

The store’s employee offered to drive to our house at the end of the day to remove the tag.

What?!!!

“That’s impossible,” I thought. Even though Lord & Taylor clearly messed up by leaving the security tag on the dress, what store would offer this level of response? Maybe a service call with a four-hour window could be set up in a week or two.

But a house call later that day?

Entering Another Dimension?
I simmered with a not insignificant level of cognitive dissonance, trying to identify some rationale to explain this alternate-universe solution.

And then the doorbell rang.
It was the flesh-and-blood employee from Lord & Taylor.
(I needed to see this for myself.)

And, it was all true. The tag was quickly removed, and the whole episode was over within moments.

My wife smiled and moved on the next part of the evening.

I still felt disoriented.
(Had I entered “The Twilight Zone?”)

Deconstructing the Human Factor
What did this all mean? I couldn’t wrap my mind around an employee from the oldest department store chain driving by our house on her way home from work to remove the security tag.

It’s like a story my maternal grandmother would have told me. (I never met my grandmother, but through old photos, I’ve got a sense she would have also initiated this kind of clever solution.)

But this is 2018!
Huge companies can’t offer this level of personal service!
…but Lord & Taylor just did.

It’s hard to know if this moment of outstanding customer service came from a customer-first DNA in the store’s culture. Perhaps it simply pointed to the problem-solving skill of an exceptional employee.

But in this age of brick-and-mortar stores under constant attack by more efficient digital shopping solutions, you can’t deny this momentary resurgence of the human factor.

Until Amazon drones are approved to fly to every doorstep and are outfitted with the capability to remove a security tag, I’d say this is a big win for brick-and-mortar shopping.

It’s also worth pointing out the value of the human spirit in a world rushing towards the promise of AI.

One Customer’s Opinion
Thank you, Lord & Taylor. I know that times are tough for you these days. And I’m sad you’re closing your flagship Fifth Avenue store in New York City that my mother always loved frequenting.

But you have exceeded this customer’s expectations.

Please Give the Computer on the Phone a Moment to Act More Human

When a computer on the other end of your phone call can’t move fast enough, is that good customer service? Well, it depends…

Customer service call centers are dominated by automated voice response systems, voice recognition, computer-generated voices, and growing AI capabilities. These non-human IVR interfaces are the first line of defense before you can talk with a human being. It’s been that way for years.

And granted, more sophisticated technologies have vastly improved the user experience these days. But it’s still not the same as talking to a real person. Not even close.

So why do voice recordings and computer generated voices pretend like they’re actual people? Do the human designers feel like their cyber creations are somehow totally pulling it off?

Open the Pod Bay Doors, HAL
When I hear the computer “typing” in the background… now that’s just silly.

“Please give me a moment while I submit this.”
Really?
(That’s what the computer lady said when I called the New York Times to set up a vacation suspension before we travelled to Massachusetts to see family over the holidays.)

Is there some laptop computer running down the hallway to get my order into the in-box ahead of a hulking iMac that can’t turn the corner quite as fast?
(That would be fun to watch.)

Seriously, though…
Is there a pause in our ‘conversation,’ because the technology requires the delay?
Or is the delay inserted there just to make me feel more comfortable?
(Because an actual person wouldn’t be able to move any faster)

In a future world ruled by AI, I certainly hope sentient computers aren’t going make us wait around for answers, because they think we’ll like it better that way.

Or maybe they will… just to annoy us.
Because we all know they’ll be able to figure out any question instantaneously.
(Including the fate of humanity… but that’s another conversation.)

Can We Speed it Up, Please?
Look, I certainly understand that the goal is to make this kind of tech feel more approachable to today’s human population.

When I hear a computer’s interactive voice like Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home or Apple’s Siri, and these smart assistants are sounding so real… that’s already amazing, right?

When the day comes where I can’t tell the difference between a computer and a person’s voice on the phone, it’s going to be pretty wild. And that’s a whole other conversation.

If that computer voice wants to throw in some extraneous sounds to lock in the whole reality, I say go for it!

But until then, please don’t do silly things to try to appear human.
That’s what humans do.

Please just be a computer and get the job done better and faster than a person can.
That’s how you’re going to make people happy.

Wait… what?

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