By V. Berba Velasco Jr., Ph.D.
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month, I experienced the misfortune of having two laptop
computers break down on me within a single week. One laptop
was less than eight months old; the other had failed five
times in less than two years. As you can imagine, I
was extremely displeased. It’s always painful to see
a loved one die.
hear to bitch about flaky computers, though. (Believe me, I’ve done
plenty of that!)
No, I’m here to talk about the very different
experiences that I had with the customer service
representatives that handled each case. These laptops came
from different manufacturers, and the quality of service that
I received seemed to reflect very different customer service
policies on the parts of these companies. In a moment, you’ll
see what I mean.
Study #1: What
were they thinking?
called up one of the manufacturers to explain that my laptop
refused to power up.
I also pointed out that this very same computer had
failed four times before—each time, manifesting the same
preamble, the technical support rep said, “Tell me your e-mail
puzzled by this question and taken aback by his
I asked, “Excuse me, but why do you need this
That’s rather private.”
going to send you a troubleshooting guide,” he
minute,” I interjected.
“My computer is down, and you plan to fix this by
sending me something via e-mail? Did it occur to you
that I might not have any e-mail access? Besides, I know what
the problem is, since it’s happened repeatedly in the
off the bat, this fellow committed three clear mistakes. First, he failed to
show proper respect in dealing with the customer. A properly trained rep
would have asked for one’s e-mail address in more deferential
terms. “Do you
mind if I ask for your e-mail address?” would have been vastly
he failed to immediately let the customer know why he was
asking for an e-mail address. People are naturally
reluctant to share such details, as a matter of privacy (and
as a safeguard against spam!). That’s why it’s very
important to immediately let the customer know why you’re
asking for this information. “Do you mind if I ask
for your e-mail address?
I’d like to send you a troubleshooting guide,” would
have been a perfect way to ask.
importantly though, this rep clearly wasn’t paying close
attention to the customer’s problem. It should have
occurred to the rep that the customer might not have e-mail
access—after all, his computer was down! Once again, this
problem could have been avoided by asking a simple question,
namely, “Do you still have some means of e-mail
suspect that these problems occurred because the customer
service rep had been minimally trained and was following a
fixed script. I
say that because my subsequent questions seemed to catch him
off guard, and so he responded with the same (rather
put me in touch with a manager?” I asked. Instead of answering,
he replied, “Well, if you send your laptop to us, we will fix
it for a fee.”
scenario played itself over and over again. “This computer has
failed me far too many times, and is obviously
you tell me which phone number I should call to provide
customer feedback?” I said. His reply: “If you
send it to us, we will fix it for a fee.” (I rolled my eyes
not what I’m asking,” I said with deliberate tones. “Can you
tell me how I can contact your company to provide feedback on
“If you send it to us, we will fix it for…” By then I had lost
it. “THAT’S NOT
WHAT I’M ASKING!!!!” I yelled back in frustration.
this was not an isolated incident. Indeed, I had similar
experiences with this company’s technical support reps
leads me to believe that the problem lies in part with the
corporate culture of that company.
some would point out that technical support calls are often
outsourced to external call centers—agencies that are not
directly under the computer manufacturer’s control. That is a valid point;
however, I think it’s safe to say that the manufacturer should
have some input into the call center’s training and
practices—after all, these people are representing them to the
public at large.
At the very least, they should be selecting a call
center that does coach its representatives on how to deal
politely and intelligently with Joe Q. Computeruser. Anything less would be
Case Study #2:
Not great, but undeniably better
experience with the second company wasn’t stellar; in fact, it
was downright frustrating. Nevertheless, the
technical support reps who handled my case exhibited a great
deal of class, and they were clearly sensitive to my
Here’s what I mean.
power adapter on my laptop had failed and its battery power
was starting to run low.
My computer was still under warranty, so the technical
support rep assured me that they would ship me a new adapter
that opportunity to express concern about the fact that this
was the second time my laptop had failed in just eight
months. (Its hard
drive crashed just two months earlier.) Obviously, there was
nothing that this rep could do about that, but I could sense
the sympathy in his voice. At the end of my call,
he asked, “Is there anything else I can do for you? I’d really like to
was a class act.
things did turn for the worse. I was assured that the
power adapter would be shipped on Friday, so when that day
came around, I called to ask for a tracking number. After some confusion
on their end, I got the following response from another
“I’m sorry sir, but the part isn’t in stock.”
Me: “It’s not? Then why I was
promised that it would ship today?”
“I’m sorry, sir.
Our ordering system doesn’t tell us if our warehouse
has parts in stock.”
all the vendors that I deal with have that
“Yes, and it would be really nice if our system did that too,
but right now, it doesn’t. I’m
“Well, why was I promised that the part would be shipped
it have been better to tell me that you still need to verify
if the part is in stock?”
“Yes, that would have been better, sir.” I could feel the
regret in his voice.
if it turns out that a part isn’t in stock, shouldn’t you tell
the customer? As
things stand, I might have to spend thousands of dollars on a
new laptop tomorrow morning. I wasn’t notified of
this problem when it occurred, and now it’s too late to make
feel very bad about that, sir. I really do.” And so forth, and so
discussed the matter further, but suffice to say that this
fellow didn’t try to make excuses. He recognized the
problem, and acknowledged that their system had failed. Like the other rep
that I spoke to earlier, he was consummately respectful, and
made his desire to help very clear.
is a situation where the technical support reps spoke to the
customer respectfully, didn’t stick to some cookie-cutter
script, and knew enough to express empathy in a crisis. Those attitudes can go
a long way toward defusing a volatile situation. Despite my frustration
at the company’s screw-up, I couldn’t help but appreciate
the story did not end there. I spoke to someone
from their customer service department a few days later, with
the intent of providing constructive feedback. Unfortunately, while
the aforementioned technical support reps had been empathetic
and responsive, this customer service rep answered my every
comment with “That’s not our policy!” or words to that
effect. That’s a
whole ‘nuther case study though, of which I’ll write about
summary, these case studies show how the proper training of
call center staff can make a huge difference in customer
cookie-cutter, heavily scripted approach to troubleshooting
can be disastrous—especially when the service reps are not
trained in basic relations etiquette and customer
contrast, some basic people skills can go a long way toward
defusing an ugly situation.
About the Author:
Berba Velasco Jr., Ph.D. is the senior electrical and software
engineer at Cellular Technology Limited (http://www.immunospot.com,
http://www.elispot.cn). He regards engineering
as a holistic discipline, and frequently says that there’s a
huge interpersonal aspect to engineering which is seldom
taught in schools.
This article provides an example of what he