Honestly, I hadn’t expected (or wanted) to discuss customer service multiple times this month (here and here), yet here I am again, offering a couple more anecdotes from my personal life to reflect on how customer service affects one’s business.
Office Depot Follow-Up
I posted the second blog regarding my Office Depot experiences and figured the file cabinet story was over. I was wrong. The corporate folks minding the Office Depot Twitter account wanted to take another crack at helping me out, but really there was nothing more they could do because a) I finally have the cabinet I wanted and b) as I noted in my last post on this subject, there’s not much else they can do to win me back as a customer.
To compound the mistake, however, an Office Depot delivery truck tried to drop off yet another file cabinet, which I did not order. I managed to stop the driver from leaving before he left it on my doorstep, but this saga could just as easily have gone on for a couple more days if I hadn’t. Time to let it go. The sad part about this whole customer service letdown is that I’m ridiculously happy to finally have a filing cabinet in my life. I’ll try to say something nice about it in the future.
New Spectrum Problem
This situation was mostly my fault, and while it involves Spectrum, who created a challenge for me previously, they eventually fixed this problem.
Here’s what happened (semi-short version): I decided to switch my mobile phone carrier. Spectrum emailed me to let me know that I needed to activate my phone and install one of their SIM cards into my phone to use their network. I received the SIM card and installed it, but didn’t realize there were more steps involved. I learned this when I was 3.5 miles from home during a brisk distance walk and realized I would not beat the evening thunderstorms home. I decided to hail an Uber vehicle. Here’s where the trouble began.
My phone said it had three bars, indicating decent cell reception in the area, but I had no internet access. When I tried to make a call, instead of getting a ring, I got an automated Verizon operator telling me I needed to purchase a $15 calling PIN to use their network. I did that, then called Spectrum to see what the problem was. They told me I needed to activate my phone and started asking me a lot of details about my account to verify that I was who I said I was. Then they transferred me to the activations department.
Again I got a long list of questions asking me specific information about my current account and my previous (AT&T) account. They wanted to know if I had the AT&T SIM card handy. I did not: I was standing in a McDonald’s parking lot, avoiding the rain. To activate the phone, they wanted me to sign a couple of electronic documents. How was I supposed to do that when my phone was only working courtesy of a Verizon phone card? I kept having to remind the agent on the phone that a) I did not know the answers to the questions they were asking me and b) I was not at home and so did not have access to that information anyhow. Fortunately, the phone did recognize the McDonald’s wifi network, and I was able to access my email using their system. Once I answered enough questions correctly, they started resetting my phone. I had to hold on the line to wait for the agent to confirm that my phone number had been detached from AT&T’s network and shifted to Spectrum’s. Once that was done, I was told that the phone would disconnect and I needed to shut it down and reboot. I did that.
The phone didn’t work, and I was again forced to use the Verizon PIN to reach Spectrum. I went through another round of prove-that-you-are-you and got activations again. I explained the problem, then was told to try to reset my network. Hang up, reboot, rinse, repeat.
The phone still didn’t work. I started walking home because at this rate, fixing the phone and then calling Uber seemed like an all-night project. Once again I called Spectrum, ran through the identity-proving gauntlet, and returned to the activations department. I explained to the operator that I’d tried A and B with no luck, so what was option C? The operator asked me about a couple of settings on the phone, then said, “Wait, that’s wrong.” I paused because there wasn’t much I could do about the ICCID number. He explained that, no, it wasn’t an error on my part, Spectrum’s network just had the wrong SIM card number on their end. So if I understood him correctly, the phone was reaching out to the network, but the network didn’t recognize the phone because it was expecting a different SIM card number. He assured me that he’d fixed the problem on his end; I could shut down, reboot, and it’d work. I was walking home by this point, but I took the chance, hung up, shut down, rebooted, and finally got a signal. I was a little over a mile from home at that point, so Uber was a moot question. I just got a little wet.
Are there any technical writing lessons to be learned here?
If you’re on the customer end of a problem, make sure you tell a help-line person what you’ve tried already so they don’t run through their checklist. (Mind you, some will do that anyhow.) Do this as patiently as you can. Yelling at the person trying to help you is not constructive.
If you’re the one providing help, remember that your customers will call for help in less-than-ideal circumstances, and usually those circumstances are part of the reason they’re calling. As a result, your standard list of questions might not work or be appropriate because they are not in an office, facing the computer, with all of their necessary documentation handy. You might need to be flexible and adapt your assistance to meet the customer where they are. To Spectrum’s credit, their operators did that for me while I was standing outside a McDonald’s with only my less-than-functional phone handy for reference.
The only gripe I might have with Spectrum was that there was no direct line to their activations department, so I had to keep going through a multi-step process to get to the correct operator after I shut down the phone and rebooted. Otherwise, yes: it is possible to have a positive customer service experience…however, it might take a couple of tries.