customer service

The Good, the bad and the ugly of Customer Service and Support

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Bless the weather - a question of customer satisfaction

I guess it’s a side effect of my role in the ITSM industry, but whenever I interact with a Help Desk or Service Desk, I can’t help but take mental notes about them. So, I thought I’d spend a little time documenting some of the things that distinguish them – for better or worse (and of course, in my opinion). While this may be very basic for many of you, I’m sure there are still new Service Desk managers who will benefit from this post and experienced, but now jaded managers who could use a little reminder of how important good service is to an organization’s reputation. As you read these, think about the impact if I had used the company’s names.

The Good: a Service Desk at a major Cell Phone Company

I’ve had my service with this company for years and every once in a while I have to flip service over to International or I’m having a problem with my phone, although the latter hasn’t happened in a long while. As a techie, it takes a lot for me to resort to calling for support, so the issues I call in are not typical first level support type issues. This company wins “the Good” for several reasons:

  • Standard service calls like flipping service coverage are well handled, quickly and common answers provided in a manner which leaves me confident they are correct. I’ve never yet been given wrong information.
  • Second or third level support issues are handled even better. If a technician exhausts their “scripted” solutions, they don’t wait for the customer to demand escalation, they immediately identify that they will escalate your call. When they reach someone at the next tier, they not only introduce you, but they also tell the technician what the problem is, what they have tried and the results, making it unnecessary to cover the same ground again, which we all find annoying.

I have worked to emulate these features in Service Desks that I’ve managed as they are so impressive.

Why are they “good”?

  • Their call handling process is consistent. You get the same good experience and your call is handled the same way every time you call.
  • They escalate without being asked.
  • They a warm transfer and help you avoid performing the same troubleshooting steps over and over.

The Bad: Technical Support Desk at a Cable TV Provider

Maybe this one’s bad because when I call them it’s for Internet services….I’ve only had to call this one once and my issue is still not resolved, months later.
The issue I called them about is that we cannot connect to the main local government web site over their network since they provided us with a consolidated gateway for Internet, with VOIP and wireless capabilities built in. We could from the original modem. Here’s a recap of the bad service situation:

  • Tier 1 technician went through all the very basic connectivity troubleshooting, even though I clearly stated that I was connected to the Internet and it was working. They then did the following;
  • Pushed all the latest software
  • Had me reset the equipment, including my devices
  • After about 20 minutes of going through this told me it wasn’t his problem as long as I could get to their website
  • After a complaint about this he pushed me to tier 2, cold transfer with no introduction
  • Tier 2 repeated all of the same steps, for another 20 minutes and then did a factory reset. Although this did not resolve the issue, it forced me to reconfigure my network name and password and reestablish connectivity from every device in my home (2 laptops, a printer, a TV, two iPhones, an iPad…)
  • Not a big deal but it didn’t fix the issue
  • When I raised the issue of a potential issue with routing tables on their end, I was basically told it’s not their problem, I could have the old modem back if I wanted it.
  • Escalation basically got the same message, I could have my old modem back or stop bothering them, I was able to connect to the Internet.

The result? When we need to pay taxes or perform any of the many tasks we need this website for, we use our smart phone’s hot spot capabilities and ride their network which has no problem reaching the site. By the way, I try the site from hotels periodically and have never had an issue…also, it recently worked for a few days, then stopped again. Hmmm

Why are they bad?

  • The customer has to push hard for escalation.
  • Lack of a warm transfer caused the same troubleshooting steps to be done twice, wasting 20 minutes during the second effort.
  • They have never fully addressed the situation. Their attitude is “if you can connect, it’s not our problem.” Thus, no ownership of the Incident.

The Ugly: Cloud Software Provider, a paid service

Some of you may have seen the tweets, but I still won’t mention who, other than to say they’re big, very, very big! I had an issue with an ID (my password stopped working). The product has absolutely no phone support!

  • Submitted the web-based support form and received a response committing to respond in 24 hours.
  • Shortly after, I received an ID validation form which I completed. It also committed to a 24 hour response.
  • 24 hours later, no response so I tried finding a way to call them.
  • I found a back door and reached their Tier 1 support team who told me I had failed the account validation, and sent me another copy of the same form to fill out.
  • 24 hours later, no response so I called and refused to hang up until they escalated. The supervisor would not transfer me to the security person working the issue but I would not hang up until I received the email with their response, so I got a response.
  • The response was telling me to fill out the ID validation form again. So I did.
  • Then I got on Twitter and for the next 24 hours filled out about 6 more of these.
  • Finally I started getting some responses, with links. Every link did the same thing as the “forgot your password” link at the products login screen: needless to say, they didn’t work or ended up with the ID validation form.
  • For a few days I did in depth digging and found out what was wrong with the account: I had forgotten that I had used a work email when I signed up and later when I transferred it to my newly created Gmail account, flipped my first/last names and provided a bad email address. All of this happened in 2010! Since I didn’t know I had changed the email to a bad address until I went through years of archived emails, I didn’t know why the ID validation form was getting rejected.
  • I put together a packet of proof validating my ownership of the account. I provided them with the original account creation email, the PayPal email confirmations of my first and most recent payments, the email confirming the change of email address to the one that was wrong and a copy of my on-screen profile demonstrating the account information matched other information I submitted in the account validation forms.
  • I submitted this package to the person who was assisting me as a result of Twitter and every customer support representative who emailed me. I received two answers telling me that there was nothing they could do, the account wasn’t mine, three more that told me to submit the ID validation form again and one, the Twitter contact who fixed the issue after actually reading the backup I submitted.

The issue for the entire week I was down was that the customer service people were not reading the emails I was sending in or looking at the backup I was providing. They were sending standard emails that their script tells them to send, over and over and over again for a full week. Having no ability to speak with them made the issue worse, as did the 24 hour waiting period between each response. The problem was one of my own making, but I still don’t know why my password stopped working and why they have no appeals process or escalation process for cases where the ID validation form doesn’t match. Remember, it took negative Tweets about the company to get support, a potential impact to their reputation.

Why are they ugly?

  • Customer service reps who are only trained in the standard processes that any user can access on-line or through their robust knowledge articles,
  • Customer service reps don’t read the communications being sent to them
  • No escalation processes, the customer really has to work hard to get support
  • No appeals process when there is a security issue, in other words no access to the second tier security team
  • Repeated failure to meet written SLA’s

This is clearly a case where the onus is on the customer to prove they own the account and if there’s an anomaly, there is absolutely no recourse. No customer service here!

The Takeaways – Ten Tips for ensuring service excellence:

  1. You’ve heard it before: observe or experience the service your Service Desk provides!
  2. Repeatable process and procedures are key. Common support calls need to be handled consistently well. Using a knowledge base helps with this.
  3. Have a process for self-escalation. If Tier 1 is unable to handle the issue or if the customer is getting restless, there needs to be a pool of more senior agents who can help.
  4. Use the warm transfer method when escalating a call, doing everything possible to avoid having the customer start the troubleshooting process from scratch.
  5. Leverage problem management for issues that cannot be resolved. It’s not good enough to exhaust common solutions and say “it’s not our problem.”
  6. Own exceptions! You need to have a way of handling scenarios that are uncommon. If your process isn’t working for the customer, analyze why and fix it.
  7. Honor your SLA’s! When you miss them repeatedly without any escalation opportunities, it impacts your customer’s experience.
  8. Implement a three strikes policy: Increment the call count on the ticket each time a customer contacts the Service Desk regarding an incident they’ve logged. When it goes to 2, notify the Service Desk lead, if it goes to 3 notify the Service Desk manager and director. It works.
  9. Understand the impact. It’s important to empathize with the customer by understanding the impact of the issue on them and addressing it appropriately.
  10. Remember to survey customer service and solicit feedback in other ways. A complaint is a gift: consider a complaint or suggestion box in addition to surveys (you can do this using an automated service request that does not track who submitted the request unless the customer enters their name, email address).
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Phyllis Drucker is a business process consultant at Linium. ITIL expert certified with over 20 years' experience in the disciplines and frameworks of IT Service Management as both a practitioner and consultant, she has also served the itSMF since 2004 in a variety of capacities including volunteer, board member and operations director of the US Chapter. She is a frequent contributor of knowledge to the ITSM profession, through numerous presentations, whitepapers and articles. Since 1997, her goal has been to advance the profession of ITSM leaders and practitioners worldwide by providing insight from her experiences on a wide variety of Service Management topics.