Just my thoughts. I'm sure you have your own.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Welcome to the World of Customer Service

[The following post was originally posted in 2007 on the message boards for www.macclenny.com. The events in the following article actually happened and honestly have not been embellished, though it would have been quite funny to do so just a little. I work in the banking industry, if anybody cares...]

We’re all pretty familiar with the concept. We have a problem with something, such as a computer or a service, and so we need to get help from a representative of said service. Already, those of you familiar with the Customer Service routine can see a flaw in the above equation. Representative being that flaw.

Now this is not a complete across-the-board deal, wherein every single CSR we deal with is inept and lacking basic common sense. In fact, working with business-oriented companies (who tend to have a slightly higher degree of competency in their representatives) rarely puts me in insanity’s path. But there have been obvious exceptions, or else I wouldn’t be writing this.

(At this point, I’m going to assume if there are any readers who are, indeed, Customer Service Representatives (CSR) of any kind that they do make up the exception and do not reflect the following descriptions. However, you may very well be such, to wit, please do not work for a company I will eventually call for help. Thank you.)

I’ve also learned, at least in the business world (although I’m sure this is a global rule too), that if a company is either government-run or –funded, then their comprehension abilities would be about two points above a piece of granite. The following will be a classic example, as what happened to me today.

(Names have been removed/changed to protect the stupid.)

Part of my responsibilities where I work involve transferring files to vendors and making sure they not only receive them, but that their services with us ‘work’. The following conversation took place today:

Me: (Makes first call)

Company: Thank you for calling [Company Name]. Our number has recently changed. Please hang up and call 1-800-###-####.

Me: (Kind of weirded out that they actually asked me to “hang up” and call this number, but does so anyhow. Makes second call.)

Company: Thank you for calling [Company Name]. (Normal schpiel about pressing one and two and three, until they get to zero for operator).

Me: (Presses 0).

Company: (an actual person). Thank you for calling [Company]. How can I help you today?

Me: Hi, my name is Daniel with [My company]. Our contract ID is #####. I have a question concerning a file we transfer to you.

Company Rep 1: What was that Contract ID again?

Me: #####

Rep 1: Hmm. That doesn’t seem to fit, what I need is a four digit number, a dash, and another digit.

Me: (Pause. That equals 5 digits… like I’m giving you… Oh well). Oh, well, I don’t have a number that matches that. Can you look us up by name?

Rep 1: (frustrated sigh) Sure, what was that name?

Me: [My company, again…]

Rep 1: Hold on. (The very hated hold music. I’m afraid I’ll never talk to her again. Two minutes later, she surprisingly comes back on) Ok, I have your information here. How can I help you, again?

Me: (sigh) I need to speak to someone in file transmissions that handle (file type), please.

Rep 1: (file type) department? I think that’s handled by (another person).

Me: Oh yeah, I’ve talked to her before.

Rep 1: Great. Do you need her number?

Me: Yes, that would be great.

(Rep 1 proceeds to give me her number. I take it down and thank her, hanging up)

Me: (Makes Third Call to woman who can hopefully help me. Get her voicemail—she’ll be out all week. Her message gives me her department’s number, but says it so fast I have to call back two more times to write it all down. Meanwhile, she has 3 voicemail messages from me that are just the sound of the phone hitting the cradle. Makes Fourth Call to the number she left me! (keep that in mind.) )

Company: Thank you for calling … (Automated Message #3, by the way. I get to press 0 eventually)

Rep 2: Thanks for calling [Company]. My name is [Person]. How can I help you today?

Me: Hi, yes, I was hoping to speak to someone in (type of file) department.

Rep 2: (type of file)? I’ve never heard of that before.

Me: (Isn’t this the number the lady gave me?) [Spells it out, describing the file and the department I need, along with the problem—that their system is not updating their information included on the file].

Rep 2: Could you please hold? I’ll call tech support.

Me: Ooooo-k.

(Fast-Forward: She proceeds to give me the play-by-play, letting me know every 20 seconds [separated by hold music] that she tried ‘this person’ and ‘that person’, but she keeps getting voice mail. [Current running time for project: 8 minutes.] She comes back on.)

Rep 2: Is this file sent to our Wisconsin branch or our Texas Branch?

Me: (The heck should I know?!) I’m not sure. I just upload the file to your website through a secure FTP.

Rep 2: (sigh) Hold on. (The music. I think of screaming. I think of hanging up. I think many other things in the time I listen to an easy jazz version of the Carpenters: “We’ve only just begun to live.” Running time: 12 minutes.) Alright, it looks like this is handled in Texas. I’ve got [Name] from Tech Support here to help you, ok?

Me: (Tech Support? Alright! This is, no doubt, who I need to speak to) Great! Thank you.

Rep 2: (Click for transfer)

Rep 3: Hi, this is [name]. I hear you’re having problems logging on to our site?

Me: (Stunned for about 3 full seconds here. Did this woman pay any attention to me earlier?) Hi. Um, no. I can log on just fine. In fact, I just sent the file successfully yesterday through your [website] FTP upload.

Rep 3: Oh. Hm, ok, then.

Me: Yeah, the problem I was having though is that I think the information on your side isn’t getting updated.

Rep 3: Ok. What was the file again?

Me: [file type and department it goes to and all other relevant information (not playing around this time)].

Rep 3: And that’s updated using the [website] FTP, right?

Me: Yup.

Rep 3: Well, I don’t know anything about that particular file. Let me see if I can find someone in [file type department] who can help you.

Me: Ok, thanks. (Running time: Let’s just say that I started well before lunch, but I’m starting to get a little hungry. More hold music, but not as long this time)

Rep 4: Hi, this is [name], can I help you? (You know, this is a pretty big company, and I’m starting to get to know everyone on a first-name basis.)

Me: Yes, [name], my name is Daniel with [my company]. I’m looking for someone in the [file type] department with an issue we’re having.

Rep 4: Well, I handle the file transfers as they come in for [the file].

Me: (Lights flash down from the sky as I do a little victory dance). Perfect! I just need to know a little bit about how this file gets integrated into your system. I think some information is not getting updated.

We’ll break from our story here. In the process of maybe 2 minutes, he gives me a thorough explanation as far as what happens and where the problem could lie. In the process of over 25 minutes, I spoke with four humans, four machines, and my far-gone sanity. I know not everyone in the company would know every single thing, but I was hoping some basic research and common sense skills could have come into play. Especially with the one Rep who, unless I was routed to another country or something, was in the same department as the lady who had helped me before!

All in all, this is a pretty common occurrence, or so I’ve heard. Horror stories on websites and urban legends tell of much more incompetent CSRs, and I’ve had my share of them, too. Another company I deal with gives me a sales pitch about the product we already have of theirs whenever I need help with something that has nothing to do with it.


Me: I need to know how often this service gets updated?

Rep: Well, the [service] is a state-of-the-art procedure in handling [procedures, jobs, financial capabilities, etc. etc. etc. for about 3 minutes.]

Me: Uh-huh. That’s great. Sooo… it gets updated…when?

I know I could go on and on with examples, situations, flow charts and the like describing how companies in general fall well short of meeting what the end-user (customer) feels would be appropriate CSR competency, but I’ll leave it at this. After all, these are people, and I can’t go on and on to insult them, because the blame is not entirely on their heads. Most of the time, it comes from poor training, companies that want to cut corners and get the employees they are paying right to work. These individuals are just caught in the middle of a fierce battle of wits between the customer and the corporation’s bank account. So, I offer this one paragraph of kindness and peace to the individuals I have so recently and roughly thrashed.

That doesn’t mean I take it all back, because there is something to say about wanting to do better. I just don’t want to seem like an ogre to the people where I work who call me, asking for help. See, I can sympathize.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

5 Reminders for Macclenny Drivers, Part 3

[The following editorial was originally posted on www.macclenny.com forum boards in December of 2006. It was third of a 3-part series about how the increase of population in a small, country town had directly led to an increase of careless driving by many. As the previous posts, the audience was specified to the residents of the town of Macclenny, but any small town, or even a larger town or city, can relate to these irks. This is the last one, I promise.

Also, even though the title is '5 reminders', there are only 4 subheadings. The title is more or less just there to link and make a continuation of the series.]

Special Edition—Driving in Parking Lots

Though it’s been a good eight or so years since I took Driver’s Ed, I seem to recall they focused most of the course on maneuvering through construction cones and, oddly enough, making sure we could turn around in the middle of the road without going off the road. (Is it just me, or was this the most unnecessary skill taught in the whole course? I mean, has anyone used this skill since?) One thing I don’t recall us going over in much detail, if at all, were the parking lot do’s-and-don’ts. This is quite ironic, because the parking lots are the most dangerous places a driver may venture; the ‘elephant graveyards’ of the open road, mind you.

Whether 16 or 60, a person can never be a master of parking lot technique. Much like golf, every single parking lot is different, with its own unique personality. Unlike golf, very impatient and haphazard individuals often frequent parking lots. Because of this uncanny fact, I have dedicated a section of my Driving Reminders series specifically to parking lots.

A World With No Home Field Advantage.
Some sports teams use that phrase for a number of reasons. Playing at ‘home’ means that there will be more fans to cheer for them than the other team. In some sports, it would mean that they’re a little bit more familiar with their environment (see golf illustration above). Mostly, though, this advantage comes from the fact that the team at ‘home’ has practiced at this same location a number of times and the players, no doubt, feel a certain comfort playing there that others wouldn’t feel. Similarly, there are some parking lots we frequent more than others, making them almost like ‘home’ to us (this would most likely include places such as work or, more commonly for some, Wal-Mart). However, when it comes to driving, there’s not much of an advantage to being at ‘home’.

For one, there are drivers who are not at ‘home’ right now, be it tourists, visitors, or the less-frequenters of the establishment. The problem with this situation is that there is no comfort that can be derived from the visitors. You may be able to navigate blindfolded, but the 3 other cars that are in motion behind and to the side of you would rather you not. You may know where all the twists and turns are, how to get to the best spots, or simply the easiest way in or out, but the Volkswagen Beetle from North Carolina may be a little miffed at you if you smoothly cruise right out in front of it, carefree as a kite-flier on… well, kite day.

There’s a corollary to this, also. How often do you go through parking lots in San Diego, California, or even really in Jacksonville for that matter? Are you at ‘home’, here? Not so much as the man who lives down the street and comes here for lunch every single day (including Sundays). If Mr. Penelo decides to non-chalantly get in your way coming in to the parking lot, you might have a few choice words for him (whether you actually say these words or not is a different matter, see below). The point here is, no matter where you are, there’s no guarantee everyone around you has as much driving finesse as you when it comes to parking lots. I sure don’t.

My Car Needs Personal Space, Too.
I went for Chinese food today, you know the place next to the [old] Wal-Mart? Getting in and out was amazingly difficult, mainly because of the Wal-Mart-is-moving-and-is-having-a-sale thing. However, I was deftly surprised how many times I had to stop or maneuver around someone blocking an entire aisle of parking spaces. I basically had to back up at one point to let a huge Ford truck (Dually, I might add) by me. This, as anyone would point out, is uncalled for.

Now, of course, some discretion is needed. For instance, if an unnecessarily long vehicle was a parking place, we may need to extend our ‘allotted half’ of the aisle a little to angle or fit in. It may even mean we’d have to go completely from the right to the left for a second. (By the way, people who drive on the left-hand side of a parking lot aisle should have their license revoked. This is not England. Thank you.) However, to basically fjord the entire lane like the Israelites going through the part in the Red Sea is a little selfish. Not only does it make others have to back up, but you basically have inhibited any other cars in front of you from accessing empty (in some cases, hard-to-find) parking spaces. Finally, you have officially blockaded a perfectly good escape route when you get to the end of the aisle; traffic is now forced to go straight. Please take a moment to make sure you are allowing plenty of room for others. It’s hard enough to find any room in a parking lot anyhow.

Doctors Are Saying We Need The Exercise, Anyhow.
I want to come right out and say that I’m guilty of this as well and that I need to work on this point just as much as the next person. Still, it’s something that should be said. Companies that design the parking lots to establishments go through a good amount of painstaking detail to design each one specifically for the business’s needs. For instance, many more people would be in Food Lion or Winn-Dixie than would be expected to be in Superior Cleaners at any given time. Therefore, the two former parking lots are larger than the latter. As we all know, there’s a limited amount of space that can be utilized, and the best way to manage it would be to build the parking spaces out, toward the road (you know, that place where the traffic is coming from). What this eventually means is, especially during busy times, we might have to park far away.

(Allow time for the reader to gasp, disbelieve, and curse the very notion)

“But that would mean we’re becoming like Orange Park, Regency, or any other area that has a mall!” Yes, readers, I know. However, Isaac Newton, among other physicists, helped us to understand that bodies of matter cannot inhabit the same space at the same time without… certain effects (namely, with cars, wrecks). Parking lots are not exempt from the laws of physics. If a store does big business, they can expect to have a lot of individuals there at once. This means they would need to accommodate for this, i.e., have more parking spaces. If there are already 40 customers there, you may need to park a little further away. Now I make these points for a couple of reasons.

One-Don’t look at me impatiently and hover around my car when I’m just walking out of the store. I may want to change the radio or put a CD in before I back out (see Reminder #8). It could be I’m out with my wife and we want to examine more closely what we bought before I get on the road. I know there are a few empty parking places somewhere in the parking lot; a little walking won’t hurt you, or else you’d have a handicap tag and be able to park closer to begin with.

Two-Don’t look at me angrily if I get to the space first. Especially if I was there first to begin with (which, in most cases, is the case). Fingers and swears just make a person look like a 5th grader all over again. What argument does someone win? It’s not like I won a competition by getting to the space first. And it’s also not likely the manager of CVS watched the whole thing and now won’t let you in on account of you “not getting the closer parking space”. In the case of CVS, not getting mad at me will save you 4 bucks on a bottle of aspirin. Just relax. Maybe you need the exercise from a farther away space to work out the anger issues.

(After those last two points, I’d think it prudent to once again mention I’m not pointing fingers at any one person or telling people how to live their lives. These are meant to be friendly suggestions… friendly, just strongly worded.)

In Case I Haven’t Made This Just Clear Enough… Just be nice.
This goes for all aspects of driving, Parking Lots or not. Stress is on the rise today. Doctors are saying it leads to sickness (lowered immune system) and blood and heart problems. I know the road is about as friendly as an old-west train robber (and I probably could draw half-a-dozen similarities off the top of my head). There’s a good chance your day was pretty lousy. Work may have been a pain, or may be a continuous pain. Perhaps you and your girlfriend/boyfriend/spouse/collection agency representative had a fight not 10 minutes before you got in your car. You haven’t eaten all day. It’s only Tuesday. There’re fifty reasons you can think of to be bitter and agonizing. If you let traffic or the idiosyncrasies of other drivers get to you, it’s not going to help your situation any more.

Just think of the positives: First of all, you’re in your own little world again, your car. Away from all of the annoying people you know and the mountains of paperwork you endure every day. You can sing showtunes during the entire trip home (I guess you know who I am driving home now). Jimmy Buffett or Steven Perry can be your traveling companions if you prefer. Especially if you have things to do when you get home, this is your break away from the world. Enjoy it. Heck, if traffic is slow moving, it just means you have more time to yourself. Even if your vehicle is a busted pile of scrap metal (much like mine is right now), it’s a little slice of paradise.

As far as the parking lot is concerned, things are moving pretty slowly, but that’s no reason to be upset. Enjoy the scenery (if available). Relax. If you haven’t gone into the store yet, enjoy the last few moments of having money. If you’re coming out, enjoy the new things that you have. If you went to pay bills, enjoy the electricity and phones that you have. If you’re in the work parking lot, enjoy the look of your place of employment getting smaller and smaller in the rear-view mirror. Just as if in traffic, on the road, or on the interstate, parking lots can be much more manageable if we all just take a breath and calm down.