A Big F***ing Deal in Customer Service (hat tip to Joe Biden)

futurelab default header

I heard a remarkable conversation recently. A woman, whom I pictured to be in her 50s, was talking to a help line to solve a problem she was having with her internet service. The very polite support technician continually misinterpreted her question & asked her which channel on her cable television was acting up. After three go-rounds with no progress being made, in a low, teeth-gritted voice she told the computer she was talking to: “Send me to a person.”

“So, you’re having a problem with your cable television?”

She said louder, “Get me to a person!”

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Could you please repeat what you just said?”


“I’m sorry–”

“F*** YOU!” she screamed into the phone, then hung up.

I have never heard anyone drop the f-bomb as loudly & angrily as this poor lady did.

This anecdote occurred to me while I was reading this article in a recent issue of the Economist: “The World Economy Calls,” in which they make a case that improved telecom services in Africa may open up BPO business opportunities there.

Which it may well do. But hopefully companies there don’t subscribe to this blithe opinion tossed off by the Economist’s correspondent:

As established outsourcing companies take on ever more complex & lucrative work, firms elsewhere spy an opportunity at the lower end of the BPO market, in prosaic jobs such as operating call centres & keying in data.

Call centers are low margin businesses, at least at present. But if customer service were as “prosaic” as the Economist asserts, the computer would have done a much better job understanding that lady’s internet issue.

Customer service is not prosaic. When done well, it’s an art form requiring a careful ear, cultural appreciation, & nuanced dialogue. Witness this other recent call I heard:

Customer service: “Thank you for calling (…). How can I help you today?

Caller (male): My f***ing internet isn’t working & I’m f***ing pissed off.

CS: It can be frustrating when that happens.

Caller: It hasn’t worked for a while & I’m f***ing fed up.

CS: Sir, I’m here to help you. But I have to say, your language is getting in the way of my doing that. Why don’t you tell me how this started, but hold off on the swearing if you can?

Caller (calmer): Okay… (begins story).

The ability of a customer-service rep to set aside a script & deal with a real human situation can be the difference between a positive customer experience & a disaster.

Voice-recognizing computers can’t do that. Human reps far away from customers culturally, linguistically & time-zone-wise also struggle (witness Delta & Dell backshoring their customer service).

In my view, companies would be far better off working hard to provide easy-to-use, delightful apps to take unnecessary calls off their phone systems, & invest more – not less – in their human capability to solve challenging customer problems.

Image source: vlima.com 

Original Post: http://caddellinsightgroup.com/blog2/2010/03/a-big-fing-deal-in-customer-service-hat-tip-to-joe-biden/