Customer care or customer, do you care?

This time a professional topic: customer care or should we say support? Who needs the support, the customers or the employee?  Let’s take a look at both sides.

Hotline phone

While working in the customer support area for an international company, I came across different types of customers.  First, the standard customer, the one who knows what to order and who has all the information needed for that purpose. That is a piece of cake!  Sometimes they may be a little grumpy or in a hurry, but it is usually a successful interaction: the customers get what they want and you feel good with a well done job. However, not all customers know what they want. Let’s continue with the undecided customers: they have an idea of what they want, but aren’t really sure. In such a case you, as a customer service agent, have to guide your customers posing the right questions to help them with their choice.

Other type of customers are the ones who really don’t have the information needed to place an order. I had some conversations like this.

– Me:  “ I’m T. and name of the company, …. What can I do for you?”

– Customer: “Hi, have you got those little blue tubes… the ones we always order?”

– Me: “Could you please tell me your name and the name of your company? Even   better, could you maybe tell me your customer number?”

– C. “Number? I thought you knew us, we always place orders with your company…”

– Me: “Yes, sure. However, can you tell me what company is it you’re calling for?”

– C. “Its XY, but have you got the tubes or not…”

– Me. “I imagine that we have, but I need to check your previous orders… (sweating…) Could you give me your customer number?”

– C. “Oh, is it 123456… or maybe 654321… No. wait, there is an other one here…”

– Me. “It should be on top of your Delivery note in the box titled “Customer number”… (me, breathing calmly, but sweating more…)”

– C. “Oh, yes, I see it, it’s 654321…”

– Me. “Thank you, I’ll look up for your older orders in the system.”

(The ERP-system starts working as if it were activated by pedals instead of electricity. in the meanwhile the customer starts breathing heavily… me too…)

– C. “And? Do you know now about the tubes?”

– Me. “Could you maybe tell me the Article number of the tubes you want to order?”

– C. “What? You don’t know your products?”

– Me. “Well, we have about 200 different blue tubes…sir (or madam)”

– C. “Incredible, this takes so long, at least tell me the price…”

– Me. “Err.. you still haven’t told me what article you need… I cannot look up for “blue tubes” in the system…” (my heart has started to pump louder, I hope the customer doesn’t hear it…)

The conversation lasted for about another 10 minutes till together we found out the possible number and the customer ordered the product. Wouldn’t it had been faster if the customer had had the information?

There were other customers who called and after my greeting simply said: “I want to order article number 666555888, 3 boxes “   You’re maybe thinking, wow, finally they know the number… However, without waiting for me to say yes or no, they simply hung up. Who was the mysterious customer? You can guess, I tried and couldn’t. The telephone number on the display only showed the first numbers… so on occasions like this, you cannot simply redial.

Another customer called and wanted to return some products. I told him that we would send a third-party service, such as UPS, to retrieve the package. For that purpose I would need the exact description of the box and the contents, weight and volume to prepare the documentation, and… Have you already guessed? The question I immediately got: “ What? Don’t you know how your products are packed? You should know your own boxes…” You can imagine the conversation that followed. By then my blood pressure had reached top levels…

The funniest one was a customer who was very surprised when I told him that UPS would pick up the returned product. “How come? UPS? Aren’t you coming personally to pick it up?” As I was sitting in the Munich office I told the customer in Switzerland that I would have to take the train or plane to do it personally… But that for sure I would enjoy the views of the Swiss Alps.

I know someone who worked for a big retail company in the customer service area in Berlin. It is a huge online shop and this person was working in the office. In this case, as in my example, you don’t have access to the products that are usually shipped form a very big storehouse somewhere else, that is, in another country. The information you have about the product is in the online catalogue or in the printed info, but there are tons and tons of products. So, this friend got a call. The customer wanted to buy a pair of shoes and was asking about the material, the sole, the exact color, etc. When it came to the size, the customer wanted to know the exact width of the front part of the shoe. My friend, whose blood pressure must have increased with each question, explained that she was sorry, but didn’t have that data. It wasn’t in the description. The customer wanted her to get up, get the box with the shoes and measure the part… If you remember right, yes, it is an office, not a shoe store… The customer couldn’t understand why my friend wasn’t able to take a ruler and give him the information…


Not exactly the width

Good customer service requires maintaining a positive optimistic attitude and having the proper tools, knowledge and abilities to meet a customer’s needs. You need nerves of steel, the patience of a saint, good manners, liters and liters of linden tea, a good sleep, healthy meals and a good transportation system to get relaxed and on time to the job.

What experiences have we made calling a hotline? With the very popular outsourced services, when we call a hotline number we cannot be sure of being in the country we live in. I’ve had calls re-directed to India while trying to get help for a telephone problem. Another time, while having to call the bank in Germany trying to buy a TV in São Paolo I ended up in a world tour. I dialed the main service number in Germany to get the payment approved. I got transferred from Munich to Frankfurt, where I had to wait minutes with the costs of an international call. They transferred me then to Ireland! After almost half an hour, Ireland was my last stop while waiting at the cashier in an electronic shop in Brazil. I can’t complain about my bank, the banking services were international!

Another example was a call from a hospital in France. The administration was having trouble with the IT systems. The call was redirected somewhere else, where the person in charge could hopefully understand French, but the accent was so bad that a conversation was almost impossible not to mention the interlocutor’s name… something Asian, but Asia is very big indeed.

In general, customer service has got a very bad reputation. Maybe because of the difficulties you have to deal with when you have to dial a hotline number or maybe because there are a lot of unqualified people who have to accept a bad paid job in the area.   Therefore, calling a hotline can turn into a horror vision for many of us and working there, too.

I almost forgot mentioning the very first step while calling a hotline. Yes, the famous case description: If you have a problem with… dial x, if you want to check A dial y, etc.”

Three cruel, but good hotline jokes:

If you are obsessive, compulsive, press “1” repeatedly.

If you are paranoid, we know who you are and what you want. Stay on the line, so that we can trace your call.

If you have low self-esteem, please hang up. All operators are too busy to talk to you.

Hotlines can also have a very good use, a social function, these have of course a good reputation. Those are practical numbers with people trained to help in difficult situations, like crisis services, medical emergencies, psychological and religious help hotlines, and many more.

Bye, call me next week 😉