Adventures in Customer Service: The Saga Continues

My friend and mentor D2 believes that “the universe will conspire to tell you what you need to do,” or words to that effect. On that score, this week the universe offered me yet another reason to write something about customer service. Don’t blame me: the universe made me do it!

For reasons unknown to me, my television viewing has been particularly vexing these past four months. The latest problem occurred right in the middle of watching a World War I drama (The Lost Battalion starring Ricky Schroeder, which is quite good, I might add). For no discernable reason, the show stopped running. I was kicked out of Amazon completely and back to my Roku home screen. I tried to restart the Amazon Prime app and was returned to the Roku home screen repeatedly (I am nothing if not persistent). I tried the usual fixes: 1) rebooting the TV, the cable box, the wifi; and 2) uninstalling and reinstalling the Amazon Prime app. No joy.

It was late, so I figured I’d let it go until the next day. I rationalized that it could have been a problem with the cable system. Actually, I let it go for a few days because I usually need some uninterrupted time and calm to think before I call the customer service department. Plus, I’m probably already on Spectrum’s Be On the Lookout list, so there was no reason to be nasty unnecessarily.

On day four of my Amazon Prime drought, I called Spectrum and explained the problem, careful to explain which channels DID work. Much to my surprise, Spectrum referred me to Amazon because maybe the problem was on their end. I called Amazon Prime. They referred me to Roku. Now on my third try, I was getting that familiar ARRRRGH feeling that makes customer service a real pain. When I called Roku, their automated response line informed me that they were only answering calls related to account (money) matters or people who needed help installing new equipment. I appeared to be in check, as they say in the chess world.

I went through another day of growling to myself before I decided to try another round of online shaming. I groused on Twitter to Spectrum, Amazon, and Roku:

Amazon responded first, asking what sort of error message I was getting. I said I wasn’t getting any message, just seeing the Amazon splash screen, then getting returned to the Roku home page. The Twitter people advised me to contact Amazon’s online help*, which I did. It turned out to be automated, but at one point the help ‘bot referred me to a list of customer service contacts for different models of TV. So I would have to restate my case once again to TCL, who manufactured my Roku TV. However, wanting the matter resolved, I called the TCL customer service line.

I again explained my problem, somewhat relieved to speak with a human once again. (First lesson for technical communicators out there: customer service communications work much better when the customer feels they are communicating with another person who can empathize with their situation. Automated responses are often vexing and unhelpful and have the potential to make the situation a lot worse because of that.) I explained to the TCL customer service rep (CSR) what the problem was, what sort of reactions I was getting from the TV, and what DID work. The CSR walked me through a system update, and when that didn’t work, she walked me through a set of commands to try on my Roku remote control I would never have guessed on my own (press Home five times, “rewind” twice, “fast forward” twice, etc.). That process blanked out the screen, but then, miraculously for me, the Amazon Prime app worked again. I thanked the CSR and managed to finally watch the rest of the Ricky Schroeder film. I did give proper credit online and let all concerned know that the matter had been resolved:

Lessons for Technical Writers

Whether you’re running your own business or working in the customer service department of a larger organization, it is entirely possible that you will run into a problem with multiple potential sources. This usually happens whenever there is an “interface” problem. That’s what engineers call a place, product, or situation where two slightly unrelated items owned by different entities connect. In my case, I had a content channel provided by Amazon delivered via a Spectrum cable onto a TCL/Roku television. Who would you call?

As a customer, I went to the people who get my money: the cable company. That might not be fair, and the people getting the money might know perfectly well that the problem wasn’t theirs. However, they are the primary point of contact for the customer. To keep the customer happy, it would have been wiser for them to consider both the content provider and the TV maker. Perhaps that was partially my fault: they might have referred me to the TV maker if I had tried to run the show on my phone before calling (I didn’t even know that was possible until a friend told me). Even so, if you or your organization is not the primary source of a problem, you owe it to the customer to understand their problem as clearly as possible so that when you forward them, the next person in the interface chain is the person who can solve their problem right away.

Yes, we’re all tired. Yes, we’re all overwhelmed and frustrated with the state of the world. But if you’re getting paid to handle customer service, you owe it to your customers–especially if you want to keep them–to do things right as soon as possible. After all, the customer is the one who’s paying and getting tired, overwhelmed, and frustrated when all they wanted was a quality working product. It’s a tough world out there, let’s not make it any tougher.

(*Note: My follow-up survey from Amazon’s online help asked me if their message resolved my issue. I responded no because I refused to give them credit. The Amazon helpline might have referred me to TCL, but TCL fixed the problem. Kicking the can down the road to the next service provider does not equal “resolving” in my book. In case you’re wondering why you get anomalous survey results, Amazon, there’s a good reason right there.)

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About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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