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  • Please Be Nice to Customer Support People

    August 13th, 2007

    In my younger years, I spent a few months working for a small software vendor, doing tech support. Indeed, it was a thankless job, as I had to figure out precisely what users on both the Mac and Windows platforms were doing to mess up the product and help get them up and rolling once again.

    This was before you had software that could take over a computer’s desktop and allow you to actually see what was going on, so I sometimes fervently wished for a functioning crystal ball to assist me in deciphering a customer’s imperfect technical and sometimes conversation abilities.

    Indeed, while I’m apt to complain about bad support as much as anyone, I developed a new-found respect for the people on the front lines as a result of that job. When you get a knowledgeable and friendly support person on the phone, it’s as good as gold in helping you solve your problems.

    So let me say this up front. Don’t call a company’s support line expecting inferior service, because you may just be creating the climate to fulfill your wishes.

    While I realize you might be under severe pressure if your Mac is constantly crashing, your printer insists on remaining offline, or you keep getting dropped calls on your cell phone, voicing too much of that frustration will not always help you get the assistance you need to set things right. It might be a good idea to try the proverbial count to ten, take a swig of water or your favorite lubricating beverage, and get yourself prepared for the encounter.

    Part of that preparation is not to get yourself falling down drunk, of course, but to assemble the information you need to properly convey your problem. If it’s your Mac, you’ll want to have the model, serial number, Mac OS version, memory configuration and similar information handy. You need to also be very specific in explaining the steps needed for someone to duplicate your problem, and this may require writing a few notes to prompt yourself should the need arise.

    Basically, you can’t have too much information, because it may not always be possible to predict what someone needs to get at the source of your troubles.

    If you find yourself repeating the same thing over and over again, and there’s a total lack of understanding on the other end of the line, you may want to insist on being connected to a supervisor or senior support person. I can’t say who might be at fault — and it could be the company for not delivering the support you deserve — but your goal here is to find a solution, and having an argument won’t get you past the starting gate.

    In the end, of course, having a pleasant attitude may not make a difference. You still may end up thoroughly disappointed with a company. The choice then is whether to stick it out, choose a third party support person, if one is available, or take your business elsewhere.

    Of course, support people also have their own horror stories to tell! Just the other day Denis, our friendly, neighborhood Web host, told me about spending five hours trying to help a new but unruly customer fix a mangled WordPress installation.

    Now in case you aren’t familiar with that application, WordPress is an open source blogging tool that powers this site and even the online commentaries from the likes of The New York Times. It’s powerful, but also fairly simple to install and configure. While the basic setup process involves manual copying of files to your site, this is a trivial process, and getting your blog up and running shouldn’t take a lot of work; that is, unless you want to reinvent the wheel. Yes, we’ve done some of that, but carefully, very carefully.

    As some people tell me, I know enough about such things to get into trouble, but also enough to stop short of that point.

    In any case, this particular customer apparently harangued Denis to a fare-thee-well. Denis, you see, is a proper Englishman, and thus it takes an awful lot of verbal abuse before he gets hot under the collar. In this case, he eventually realized that this was one client he’d never be able to please, and hence he suggested that person would be happier taking his business to another company.

    Indeed, it’s unfortunately true that there are both bad support people and bad customers. You definitely don’t want to be considered one of the latter. So be firm when you have to, but also try to be nice. You’ll be amazed how far a little sugar and spice can take you in this crazy world of ours.



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    9 Responses to “Please Be Nice to Customer Support People”

    1. Dana Sutton says:

      I assume you are talking about support people who work for somebody other than Apple. When I bought a refurb. G-5 a while back, it arrived with a jammed optical drive door, so I called Apple support expecting to be given a handy tip how I might get it open. Instead, I got a gentleman with a thick Hindi accent who was able to give me the address of my nearest Apple service center. That was the extent of his knowledgeability and helpfulness. Period.

    2. I assume you are talking about support people who work for somebody other than Apple. When I bought a refurb. G-5 a while back, it arrived with a jammed optical drive door, so I called Apple support expecting to be given a handy tip how I might get it open. Instead, I got a gentleman with a thick Hindi accent who was able to give me the address of my nearest Apple service center. That was the extent of his knowledgeability and helpfulness. Period.

      Indeed, forgetting the accent, he may have felt it better to let a dealer perform the task, so nothing broke, for which they might feel they had to take responsibility if they guided you through the steps. Not all people who call Apple are power users like you and I. This might be part of their training in such circumstances.

      Peace,
      Gene

    3. gopher says:

      In my 7 years of experience on Apple Discussions board, I’ve seen enough trolls to make even the Sauromon happy in Lord of Rings. People who come in to complain that Apple did this or that wrong, or that their machine was killed by an update and people expecting Apple to respond to their support request on the board. I’ve had to constantly remind people it is a hospital ward, and not to expect too many happy people to be posting to that board. I’ve had to remind people not to question Apple’s policy as they don’t like it there. But where does this enter support? I agree with Gene, entering this thing with a positive and open mind helps a lot. Try not to personalize your computers guts falling apart. Lemons occur, as well as people who don’t know how to operate a computer. Try also to remember, if you backup your data, your repair options grow, because repair utilities can actually cause more damage than good as the same symptoms that exist for dying hard drives, also exist for those that the repair utility can fix. Also remember AppleCare is warranty, not Insurance. There is Safeware, homeowners insurance, and credit cards which offer insurance on items purchased through them. As such any user caused accident is not covered by AppleCare. So if you dropped the machine, forget it, it won’t be covered by Apple. They can tell it was dropped no matter how hard you tried to cover it up. And remember http://www.pebkac.net/ (Problem exists between keyboard and chair). That’s the way many service technicians think the world exists. So don’t give them an excuse to believe that by being rough with them. Anytime you are rough with someone else, they have no reason not to believe that you aren’t more friendly with a computer. Usually inanimate devices get more of our wrath than people. So be kind to your fellow support technician. Invite them out to coffee. “You gather more flies with honey than vinegar.”

    4. Dana Sutton says:

      I’m not sure we can skid over the accent issue so easily. It means that Apple is (or at least, to be fair, was at the time this incident occurred) outsourcing its tech support. The point I was trying to make, and I do think it is a valid one, is that the chances that a guy in a boiler room halfway around the world was in any way, shape or form Mac-savvy, was far lower than if he was at Cupertino. Had he been, he would have said something like, “sir, that’s a problem you can’t fix for yourself, you need to take your Mac into the shop.” He didn’t say anything remotely like that. I have a strong hunch that the total extent of his “tech support” expertise was to ask the customer for a zip code, punch it into a data base, and read the results off his screen. I bet I’m not the only Mac user who thinks that Apple purchasers deserve better.

    5. I’m not sure we can skid over the accent issue so easily. It means that Apple is (or at least, to be fair, was at the time this incident occurred) outsourcing its tech support. The point I was trying to make, and I do think it is a valid one, is that the chances that a guy in a boiler room halfway around the world was in any way, shape or form Mac-savvy, was far lower than if he was at Cupertino. Had he been, he would have said something like, “sir, that’s a problem you can’t fix for yourself, you need to take your Mac into the shop.” He didn’t say anything remotely like that. I have a strong hunch that the total extent of his “tech support” expertise was to ask the customer for a zip code, punch it into a data base, and read the results off his screen. I bet I’m not the only Mac user who thinks that Apple purchasers deserve better.

      And maybe this particular person is working elsewhere, having flunked out. You never know.

      Peace,
      Gene

    6. Tony says:

      I assume you are talking about support people who work for somebody other than Apple. When I bought a refurb. G-5 a while back, it arrived with a jammed optical drive door, so I called Apple support expecting to be given a handy tip how I might get it open. Instead, I got a gentleman with a thick Hindi accent who was able to give me the address of my nearest Apple service center. That was the extent of his knowledgeability and helpfulness. Period.

      Not sure if I believe “Dana”, Apple does not use foreign tech support people in north america. (unless you consider Canada foreign)

      But if you call Apple support from a north american phone, you are going to get an english speaker, not someone with a thick Hindi accent, Apple does not use “off shore” tech support personnel.

      And no, he would have given you more information, like rebooting, then hold down the mouse button, etc. That, and you spelled G5, as G-5. No Mac user would do that, it’s a G5, so I suspect “Dana” is really an angry Windows or Linux user.

      Period.

    7. General Gist says:

      just some comments from working in apple tech support over the years… the customer that calls in angry, will reflect that energy in the wrong direction, just call in and be polite and you’ll get A LOT more accomplished with whomever you talk with… it’s human nature that we “mimic” the other person we are speaking to, and apple reps have been trained about this natural even primitive response. angry equals angry // calm equals calm, etc…

      he/she on the other end is quite willing to help, but be calm and explain the situation. a good rep will listen for awhile to your issue, ask a few simple questions to guide you, but wait until you’ve finished before he/she jumps to the solution. i’ve answered 10’s thousands of calls, and 80%+ are user related, just something over looked, or goofed up… 15% are mainly software update related, but only 5% are “true” hardware problems.

      anyway, that’s my 2 pence… yes, be nice to tech support people, it’s actually a kinda entertaining job, but if you don’t mesh well with the rep you get on the line, politely end the call, and call back… some reps won’t know their stuff, but the comment by “Dana” is “fake”, no Apple rep would act or not attempt some troubleshooting before suggesting to take it into an Apple Service Center.

    8. Dana Sutton says:

      Tony, ever since I bought a 512k Fat Mac in 1985 I’ve used Macs, nothing but, I know zero about peecees and want to keep it that way And the deal went down exactly as described. I know it sounds amazing, but it’s the damn truth.

    9. Good advice for being friendly towards customer support. One catches more flies with honey than vinegar.

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