Personalized Service, Not Personal Slave

January 21, 2009

Most realms of customer support direct you to a support staff. You get one of any number of representatives willing and eager to assist you at any time (during business hours). Another class of customer support representative is the account manager variety. For instance, the company I work for sells websites to (mostly) Realtors. Most requests are handled through customer support. However, I am in the marketing department. For those who pay for the service, I am a personal website marketing representative. That’s search engine marketing, or search engine optimization.

As you can imagine, the extra dough gives you, as the customer, extra privileges. But to what extent, one might ask themselves. I give my clients a run down of what they can and can’t expect from me, but I can’t (unfortunately) give them a run down of what I expect of them. So here are a few pointers.


The services I provide cost my clients an additional $199.95 a month. For most people, that’s a considerable amount., almost a car payment, so I can understand why clients think this amount entitles them to constant attention. However, let’s take the same picture from a different angle. Would anyone take a job that paid them $200 a month? Of course not. Right off the bat you can logically see that you are not entitled to 100% of anyone’s time on the clock, so don’t expect it.

Now, now, be nice!

Now, now, be nice!

Be considerate. Often, account types like these include several meeting times. If you make an appointment be considerate of your representative’s time. They have blocked out a bit of time in their irrefutably busy schedule to talk to you. Believe me, they have a lot of other things they could be doing. Talking to clients is very rarely productive work. I apologize, but it’s the simple truth. If you review your clients, if you have them, you’ll likely agree with me. I do a lot more for my clients when I’m not on the phone with them then when I am.

In that vain, if you have to cancel an appointment, please let us know. In this day and age, I sincerely doubt that your account representative doesn’t have an e-mail address. It takes nothing to type off a quick “Can’t make that appointment, sorry!” Remember your mother’s lessons. Do unto others, etc.

Also, when you call back don’t expect your representative to be ready whenever you are. It’s mind boggling to me how often a client misses an appointment and then calls at their convenience expecting to have their appointment right then. Treat this just like the doctor’s – if you miss an appointment, you have to make, you guessed it, another appointment.

Find out realistic expectations as to how your package works. In my business, managing my customers takes planning, so if one of my clients e-mails me unexpectedly, it might take me a couple of weeks to complete the work. Responding is a different story. In any case, I can only see it as reasonable for you to get a response to an inquiry within 24-48 hours. Completed work on the other hand is not something that can be done immediately – it’s best to know and understand that up front.


Do contact your representative whenever you have a concern related to the package you’ve purchased. Remember that they can’t know there’s a problem unless you tell them there is.

Do not ask “How many clients do you have?” It’s confidential, first of all. Secondly, there is no way the question is useful to you in any way. Most people ask this as a round-a-bout way to figure out if their representative can devote enough time to their account. Judge your representative on the reasonable results of their work, not an idealized list of what you think they should be doing. Speaking of which…

Do not ask “How much time do you spend working on my account?” This is another question without a useful answer. A lot of account management jobs are like my job and the answer is, it varies. Sometimes I take care of my clients in 30 minutes, sometimes in half a day. It depends on what I’m doing. I also know the overall value or weight of what I’m doing. Sometimes a quick maintenance can go a long way. Either way, the time will never sound like enough, so don’t ask. Again, judge based on the results.

Don’t Forget To Use All Your Resources

Do not forget the customer support team just because you have a personal representative. Different departments exist for a reason. Utilize all departments necessary of any company you employ. Asking a representative like me general support questions takes time away from what you’re paying me extra to work on (for instance), so why would you waste your money that way? Additionally, you’re saving yourself the frustration of talking to someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. I can’t answer all the technical questions about my companies’ software. My stumbling over those types of questions potentially leaves my clients wary of my competency. When it comes to marketing, I am perfectly competent – and that’s what you’ve paid me to do. You’ll find that putting uncertainty into the equation often makes you needlessly nervous.

Don’t Put Off For 31 Days What You Can Do In 30

November 16, 2008

Eying the date of my last post, there’s no denying that if there’s one thing that I’m good at, it’s procrastination. So let’s have a chat about one of my very favorite marketing deals – the 30 day trial.

Do what the little yellow post-it says.

Do what the little yellow post-it says.

There are a couple of ways this can work, so your first order of business is to be aware. The first, and probably more common, way is the automatic billing. This means you provide a credit card up front and you’re automatically billed on the 31st day.

Now, I’m going to gloss over those of you who cried “SCAM!” after getting billed after one of these trials (to recap, 1)Keep reading after you see the word free, 2)If you didn’t do step 1, the credit card entry should have tipped you off) and go straight to the literally hundreds of you who groused to me every day about how we should wait until you called us to charge you.

On the surface, I can see what you’re getting at. The idea is we, the company, should do whatever is in our power to make it easy and convenient for you, the customer. This is exactly why you’re charged automatically after the 30 days. After all, the reason I had so many of you grumbling on the other end of my phone is that you had forgotten to cancel on time. It’s reasonable to think, then, that if you had wanted to keep the service you would have been even MORE likely to forget to call and let us know that. So, since we can’t have it both ways, which way do you suppose a company is more likely to lean – making it convenient for the customers that want to give us money, partake in our fine services, or those who aren’t interested?

Give yourself enough time for the cancellation to go through long before a charge even thinks about hitting your credit card. I know I put a lot of culpability on you, the customer’s, shoulders, but that’s because you’re the only one you can actually control. Of course, companies are not perfect. It’s quite possible the company you work with hasn’t ironed out the kinks in their cancellation process, or perhaps they have a sluggish billing team. Just keep in mind that your idea of proficiency is different from Joe Blow down the street so one of you is going to end up disappointed. Keeping track of the 30 day trial and when it ends is no one’s responsibility but yours, and honestly, in most cases the only one who’s going to get a headache over your hooting and hollering about your charge is – you. If a company has been around for any decent amount of time, it’s safe to say that there are more people happy with their service, their trials and the way they do business than are not.

I know you’re a busy person. Pardon me, but we ALL are. No one wants to spend a precious few minutes of our life on the phone. Remember you do have other options. A lot of companies are just as effective, if not more-so, by E-mail, and e-mail has the added benefit of being a hard copy of your request – never a bad thing. In the end, you can usually get a lot of value, absolutely free, out of a 30 day trial. Just be conscious of the date!

Don’t Ask

July 11, 2008

Here’s another big lie that you’ve been fed all your life: there is no such thing as a stupid question. I can assure you, there is. Okay, let’s be a little less harsh and a little more PC. Perhaps there aren’t stupid questions, but there sure are useless ones. When it comes to technical support there is one question that you just don’t want to ask: Why?

Why not ask why? I just told you not to ask! But I digress. There are several important reasons why “Why?” is a useless and counter productive question.

Often, there’s no reason.Technology is a wonderful thing, but random breakdowns, errors and bugs occur frequently. Anyone who’s owned a car, a computer, or even an electrical outlet can tell you things just happen. It sounds like a weak explanation right? Well, in truth, it is. So if you ask your technical support guru why some breakdown occurred, the answer might be vague and disatisfying. You’ve just made that technical support person look dumb in your eyes, making you distrust his or her competency. It’s the first step on a road to disatisfaction that you’ve paved yourself.

If there is a reason, you probably wouldn’t understand. I’m not trying to talk down to anyone here but, let’s be realistic. If you’re calling tech support, it’s likely that you don’t have a full grasp on the product you’re trying to troubleshoot with. The important part about fixing a problem is just that -fixing it. With technology it’s often best to just get on with your life. Do you really want an explanation with words that will make your head explode? “Well, you see what happened is the flux capacitor beta you got here has a .0345% chance to react to a techtspiromatic part romulo in an adverse faction…” Woa! In all of my years as a customer support rep, troubleshooting cell phones, programs, computers and documents, I never once understood WHY a glitch happened – but I sure could fix the problem.

Playing the blame game. I get that having a problem occur with a bit of technology is frustrating, we’ve all been there, but some people’s aims at asking “Why?” is to assign blame. In the midst of the anger produced by frustration, it’s natural to want to blame the company that created the project, it’s just not helpful or logical. First off, it is likely no one’s fault. Consider the following coversation between an irate customer and myself when our program glitched out and caused her to lose an hour or so of work.

Her: WHY!? Why did this happen? Your program is a piece of crap.
Me: I apologize for the inconvenience mam. I can assure you that this type of issue is not normal. It appears to just be a glitch.
Her: Why would a program glitch unless it sucked?
Me: Well, just like any bit of technology, sometimes a part just bugs out. There’s no way to predict when or how it will happen, but it is typically just a one time occurrence.
Her: That never happens with technology. I love technology. It always works, your program just sucks!

Even if it was the fault of the company, no company has a 100% track record. Being run by humans, mistakes are made. If you notice a consistant downgrade in service and product from a company, by all means consider taking your business elsewhere. If the glitches are occasional and the downtime minimal, by logical, not emotional, standards, then just see it as it is: just another day in our technology happy society.

The Curse of Burger King

May 9, 2008

Personally, I blame Burger King for starting the “Have it Your Way” trend. It gave people the idea that not onlyBurger King Logo should their hamburgers be customized, but all their services should receive the same treatment. It’s not that I think that they should refuse to take the onions off my burger, but the concept of customizing service has gone too far.

It’s a sad, but typically accepted, fact of life that you’re not going to please 100% of the people you come in contact with. Businesses are no exception. Whenever you get in bed with a company, there’s no guarantee that they’re going to provide exactly what you need. But that’s the beauty of our consumer centered society – you have a choice. Believe me, no company is going to fault you for saying, “You know, I tried, but there’s just something missing in our relationship”.

Also keep in mind that no company is going to have 100% of what you want. Honestly, if I could combine McDonald’s fries, with Burger King’s Whopper and a Mr. Pibb from Chipotle (don’t ask me why it’s better there, it just is), I would have the perfect fast food meal. What’s the likelihood that I’m ever going to be able to get that meal from one place? Barring The Fast Food Wars predicted in “Demolition Man,” it’s not going to happen, not even at Burger King. So why, with different companies, would you expect a scenario like this?

When you’re told no, you can’t have it that way, here are a few options you have:

  • Analyze. What is your current company giving you that other companies, who might have the feature you’re looking for, doesn’t? Would you be happier without the services that you’re currently receiving for the service that you’ve, thus far, gone without? If you would be happier elsewhere, go elsewhere.
  • Find out your options. The better customer support representatives know the power of negative wording. Instead of saying “No, we can’t.” They should have said, “What we CAN do is…” But we both know that not every representative we come in contact with is going to be good at their job, so if they’re not forthcoming with any solution, probe. Ask, “What can I get instead of what I want?”
  • Fill out a suggestion form. Believe it or not companies do listen to their customers a vast majority of the time. Your suggestion may be something that can easily be added to their list of services, just no one thought about it before. Or, you could be one of many customers that are interested in the same service. Chances are, if your request is reasonable, you may eventually get it, but only if the right people see it. Make sure your request is directed at the right people. If a suggestion form is not available, write to the president of the company.

What you don’t want to do is insist that the product or service you are being provided absolutely, without a doubt SHOULD be the way you think it should. In the end, this will only save you from unnecessary frustration.

I had a friend that had signed up with a particular Internet Service Provider, ISP, who he thought should provide him with more e-mail space than they were providing. He argued with them, literally, for well over an hour about why this made sense, and how many people he was sure wanted the same service. In the end, he ended up canceling his service, extremely irate and upset about how poorly he had been treated, and signed up with another ISP who provided the space he wanted. To this day, he struggles with the other ISP’s constant technical difficulties, something he never experienced with his first ISP. He refuses to go back though, because they could not see the logic behind giving him what he wanted.

Here’s the fallacy in his thinking. First of all, when a service is set up it’s fairly rare that, with the snap of their fingers, a customer support representative can change the internal structure of the service to provide you with something no one else is getting. Even if it was the most logical change in the world, it has to get approval from the higher ups in the company, it has to be programmed, it has to go through any one of hundreds of steps to happen. If a representative tells you it’s not a change that’s going to happen over the phone right then, it’s best to accept that answer, even if you take one of the above steps to rectify the situation.

Secondly, think about the outcome of my friend’s plight. In a fit of self-righteous fury, he created more work for himself. He had to find and set up a new service. Now, he has to deal with the frustration of technical difficulties on an almost weekly basis. Was insisting on having it his way worth it?

The 4-1-1

April 10, 2008

Do you ever feel like you and your customer service rep are speaking a different language? It sounds like English, but it just doesn’t make sense, and problems aren’t being solved.

Believe me, we feel the same way.

In general, customers have two styles with which they bring a problem to our attention. The first is a monologue with what they think the problem is, what might have caused it, things they’ve already done, the breakfast they ate this morning and the last representative they spoke to a year ago who just wasn’t that friendly. By the time they’re done talking, my eyes are typically glazed over and my only question is, “okay, so exactly what is the problem?”

Be brief, be cool - like Rusty.Take a lesson from Brad Pitt’s Rusty in Ocean’s Eleven, “Don’t use seven words when four will do.” In most cases, there’s no reason to tell your CSR that your great aunt sally had the same problem with her cell phone 2 years go and this is what they did. Instead, identify the problem in one quick sentence and take the call as it flows from there. Of course, with troubleshooting you’re probably going to have to provide more information eventually, but the issue should be introduced in as simple a statement as possible. Here are some examples: “I can’t get my phone off vibrate.” “My bill hasn’t come.” “There seems to be a mysterious charge of $79.95 on my statement from your company.”

This starting point gives you two immediate advantages. First, it allows your CSR to grasp the basics of what the problem is. Think of it this way. When you were in school was it easier to interpret the meaning of one sentence or Shakesphere’s “Hamlet”? Believe me, sometimes I thought interpreting “Hamlet” was easier.

Secondly, there is always the chance that the problem you’re having is global, or at least affecting a wide range of customers, and so your CSR already knows about it. You save yourself a lot of time by identifying the problem up front and then letting your CSR tell you what they already know. Either way, you’re saving yourself a great deal of frustration and time you might have to spend clarifying.

On the other side of the coin, you also don’t want to be too vague. I can’t tell you how many times my, “How can I help you today?” was met with, “My e-mail isn’t working.” Okay. It’s not as if e-mail is a one function program. “I keep getting an error when I try to send an e-mail” , “My buddy’s e-mails to me are being bounced” or “My spam blocker isn’t catching all those erectile dysfunction e-mails!” are all infinitely better descriptions to an e-mail problem.

Before you call, take a moment to figure out the root of your issue. State your case and let the CSR tell you what he or she needs from there.