Wednesday, July 16, 2014

How to treat your customer support representative, and how they should treat you. - an Editorial by Stephanie Cala

Let me start off by saying that I've never had a job that hasn't been in customer service on one level or another.  My first job was a museum docent, my second position was for event staff, my next was an event coordinator, and my current full time job is working customer support for a small tech company in San Francisco (where I have maintained a 95% satisfaction rating since I started, mind you).  My job title is literally "Customer Delight Specialist" - I'm serious!  If my customers aren't delighted, then I'm not doing my job well enough.

My priority at all of my jobs has always been about making people happier after an interaction with me than when they had first reached out.  It's been about identifying a problem and being able to fix it.  And if for whatever reason you cannot fix the problem, you have to act as an advocate for the customer.  It's your job to face the company and say "HEY this thing is broken and people are upset about it, so we should fix it".

With that being said, please understand that when this popped up on my facebook newsfeed, I was absolutely mortified:

Married couple Veronica Belmont and Ryan Block called Comcast customer support and wanted to cancel their service.  Sounds simple enough, right?  Well, the customer support representative makes the experience absolutely horrendous.  And this recording isn't even the whole phone call!  Belmont handed over the phone to Block after about 10 minutes of back-and-forth because she didn't want to deal with the rep anymore.  Who could blame her?  The rep asks over 15 times in the 8 minute recording why Belmont and Block want to cancel, and every time Block replies with something along the lines of "We're not interested in your product anymore".  The rep on the other hand can't seem to take that for an answer.

There are quite a few things (good and bad) worth noting about this recording.

First off, Mr. Block is courteous and knows exactly what he wants.  This is great - in most situations having an objective and being able to define what that objective is for the person on the phone or in a message is a wonderful asset.  He was able to keep a straight and stern tone throughout the interaction and kept repeating what he wanted to achieve.  He is the kind of customer I love to talk to because in most cases it shows that they have had customer support experience before and know what to expect when calling a support line.

And you know what?  When a belligerent customer calls me the best thing that I can do is recall the situation and restate the goal of the transaction.  Yes, I understand that the program isn't functioning properly; in order to help diagnose the problem you're experiencing I need to know what error is occurring in the program.  Could you please describe the error for me? And that's exactly what Mr. Block did.  He stated and restated that he wanted to cancel his service.  He customer-serviced the customer service.

When a customer calls in and is civil I'm more amiable and likely to comply.  Hi there!  How are you?  I'm afraid I forgot my password for the program, is there any chance you could reset it for me?  Let me ask you: if a person were to randomly start yelling questions at you on the street, what would you do?  Chances are you'd either yell back or try and remove yourself from the situation.  If a person were to calmly approach you and ask you a question, you'd probably be more at ease and could help them out.  The same works with customer service.  I'm good, thanks for asking!  I'm so sorry that you've been experiencing trouble logging in.  Let me go ahead and reset that password for you, no need to worry about fumbling around for a password reset email.

Of course, there will be some times when the goal you have in mind isn't achievable.  I want to be able to access the program on my smartphone and tablet.  At the very least the representative will let you know that the goal isn't achievable, and should give an explanation as to why.  Depending on the level of support, the representative may even be able to give you alternate options.  Currently, our product is not supported on smartphones.  This is because many smartphones do not have the support software needed to run the program.  However, we offer a free app version of the product in the app store that you can download for your tablet.  We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.

The only thing that Block could have potentially done that may have cut the shenanigans short would be to ask for the rep's supervisor.  This could have led to a quicker resolution, or it could have led to more badgering about why they wanted to cancel their service.  I think in the end it worked out okay for Block as he was able to keep his cool, and his service with Comcast ended after three weeks like the representative had stated.  Comcast also offered a formal apology to Block and Belmont:

There were, surprisingly, a few things that the representative did correctly (albeit in the worst manner possible).  Just hear me out for a second here - I'm all about positive reinforcement.

The representative was able to verify what the subject of the call was - the customers wanted to cancel their service and he was able to acknowledge that.  The representative was able to cancel the service.  Finally, the representative thanked Block for being a customer.

But...the good notes pretty much stop there.

I don't have to tell you that the repetitive questions were wrong, inappropriate, and unnecessary.  We all know that.  That's why this sound clip is now viral.  But there are other things this rep did wrong.

It's extremely unprofessional to slander other companies, even if they are your competitors.  It's even looked down upon if you so much as make an assumption about the other companies.  I'm glad that you've been doing some research about programs that are available in this field!  Although I cannot speak for X company as I do not work for them, I'd be more than happy to answer any questions you may have about our products.  For the rep to say that there's no way that Block would be able to have better service with Astound was a defensive play.  However, it really revealed to Block (and us) that the only thing Comcast fears more than people unsubscribing from their service is having them switch to a different provider with faster speeds at cheaper rates.

In some companies the customer service representatives sometimes double as sales representatives and get knocked when a sale is lost.  Being in a position where your job may depend on how many accounts are kept from unsubscribing or how many products are ordered is horrible for all involved parties.  This puts pressure on the representative for obvious reasons, and overall it can make the transaction with the customer even more stressful.  To me, it sounded like the rep couldn't take no for an answer because he'd be in trouble if he did.  That sucks for him, and it also sucks for the customer. (This is true - see Ed's note at bottom. -Ed)

Having a customer sales representative double as a salesperson also has the added negative effect of changing the way support services are handled.  I had mentioned earlier that when you become a customer support rep you also become an advocate for the customer.  When there is something wrong with the company or its products according to the customer, it's your job to turn to the company and have them fix the issue.  If you're suddenly in a position where you need to pitch the products to the customer you get the reversal: now you have to be an advocate for the company because now there is clearly something wrong with the customer and WHY DON'T YOU WANT OUR PRODUCT?  And really, that makes me want to tear my hair out more than anything.

I want you to want to keep using our product.
Why would I want to keep using the product?
Because having you want to want to keep using our product would make my company happy

Overall, I've found that if both parties treat each other with respect that in most cases things don't need to be escalated.  If you find that every customer service representative you've spoken with in the history of ever has somehow ended up being a jackass to you, please take a moment to reflect on those instances.  Did you treat that representative with respect?  Did you address your concerns in a civil manner?  If you flubbed a bit then it's okay to admit that as long as you learn from it.  Consider that you may have been receiving poor service in the past because you were a difficult customer.  You're better than that can can do better in the future.

Then take a moment and ask yourself how the representative handled themselves.  Were they calm and informative?  Were they able to address your concerns and answer your questions?  If after the conversation you felt that not everything was addressed properly it's always okay to ask for further clarification.  If their service wasn't satisfactory, it's okay to either send feedback or ask for their supervisor.  If you truly feel the customer support representative could have handled the case better, let them know!  That way they can learn from the experience as well.  It also signals to the supervisor that there are some areas that they could work on as well - if the rep didn't know how to handle the situation, they may not have been fully trained for the issue at hand.

There's always room to grow.  Just remember that everyone is human.

(Editor's Note: As I was getting this article ready, a perspective from someone who actually worked at Comcast popped up on Reddit, from user txmadison. It's...exactly as horrible as you'd imagine. Here:)

I've been an employee of Comcast for almost the last 9 years, as an SBA in BI, NE&TO, Customer Service and Marketing. I worked for Comcast Corporate (meaning the headquarters in Philly) so I dealt with all of our divisions and regions for the US, because of my position I was frequently in budget/planning meetings and was handling data for subscribers for the same, I've seen down to the penny the monthly earnings for years, I know how much goes to tax, how much is pure profit, I know what the total payroll cost for the company is, etc - I wasn't a high level executive or anything, I'm a data analyst, I analyze shit. I left the company a few months ago, so I'm not really worried about saying anything here (I also never signed anything requiring me not to disclose anything I've said or am about to say.)

When you call into the IVR (the 1800 comcast that makes that annoying clicking noise) and you answer the prompts (1 for cable tv, 2 for high speed internet, etc and then 1 for new service or 2 for a problem etc etc) you get routed to a specific department.

When you call in to disconnect, you get routed to the Retention department, their job is to try to keep you. The guy on the phone is a Retention Specialist (which is just a Customer Account Executive who takes primarily calls from people disconnecting their service.)

If I was reviewing this guys calls I'd agree that this is an example of going a little too hard at it, but here's the deal (and this is not saying they're doing the right thing, this is just how it works). First of all these guys have a low hourly rate. In the states I've worked in they start at about 10.50-12$/hr. The actual money that they make comes from their metrics for the month which depends on the department they're in. In sales this is obvious, the more sales you make the better you do.

In retention, the more products you save per customer the better you do, and the more products you disconect the worst you do (if a customer with a triple play disconnects, you get hit as losing every one of those lines of business, not just losing one customer.) These guys fight tooth and nail to keep every customer because if they don't meet their numbers they don't get paid.

Comcast uses "gates" for their incentive pays, which means that if you fall below a certain threshold (which tend to be stretch goals in the first place) then instead of getting a reduced amount, you get 0$. Let's say that if you retain 85% of your customers or more (this means 85% of the lines of businesses that customers have when they talk to you, they still have after they talk to you), you get 100% of your payout - which might be 5-10$ per line of business. At 80% you might only get 75% of your payout, and at 75% you get nothing.

The CAEs (customer service reps) watch these numbers daily, and will fight tooth and nail to stay above the "I get nothing" number. This guy went too far, you're not supposed to flat out argue with them. But comcast literally provides an incentive for this kind of behavior. It's the same reason peoples bills are always fucked up, people stuffing them with things they don't need or in some cases don't even agree to.

Comcast wasn't always that bad, I watched the steady decline over the years I was there - and the attitude that is pervasive in customer service flowed over into the other departments like a cancer. There is a giant propaganda machine at Comcast focused on the employees, they send out emails and brochures and have the bigwigs come in to talk about things like why net neutrality is bad and encourage the company (via emails to every employee) to speak out against it.

I left because the culture there is disgusting, there is nothing redeemable about the behavior, and it's just headed in a worse direction. The people who try to advocate for customers are liquidated.
I say it as a loyal Comcast employee for almost a decade, if you have Comcast - get out now, you're just wasting your money. They're going to increase your bill 3-5% twice a year, it's part of the annual budgeting process even though our costs actually go down. The internet business (as in, high speed customers) is almost purely profit, and it's turned down on purpose like everyone here already knows. Comcast has DOCSIS 3 capabilities and the infrastructure to support it in most major areas (this means gigabit speeds, by the way) - it can be activated simply by pushing the proper bootfiles out to the modems. This can be evidenced anywhere they have competition, they can respond overnight.
If there's not a serious change in legislation or regulation, I don't see a light at the end of the tunnel.
(take this with a grain of salt, I'm not going to post anything personally identifiable, if you don't believe me - you don't have to. edit: Not that it's really proof, but here's a post a year ago where I respond specifically mentioning that I'm a Comcast employee (at the time) )

TL;DR - Comcast provides heavy incentives for this kind of behavior, it's been on a steady trend heavily towards this for years, the entire corporate culture is toxic and there is a pervasive 'us against them' attitude. Also the profit margin is insanely big. You shouldn't do business with Comcast. 

No comments:

Post a Comment