Baigsaab's Blog

Helping the helpline!

Posted in Rants by baigsaab on March 10, 2006

It is 7:30 in the morning, the developers in “Everyone’s workstation Inc.” has been up all night to deploy a critical patch for a bug that has caused heavy losses for the users. And after 18 hours the patch is finally lined up for deployment, but to the utter disappointment of the tech lead, the internet line is dead. The modem shows the broadband line is connected but somehow the upload is not working. Furious, he calls the ISP to know what’s happening. The phone connects, an instrumental follows, after which the IVR spells out the different options and advised to hold for the operator, he does the latter. Precious minutes ticking away, he has to upload this patch, has to confirm all things are working perfectly, no damage has been done to an existing functionality, and then come back again today after what could be only minutes of sleep. There’s a click, the operator speaks, “Welcome to Your Broadband, how can I help you?” “Yes,” says the developer, “I need to know if there’s a problem in the internet connection.” “May I know your account title sir?” he tells the specifications. “And you say the problem is with the socket connections only?” “To me it seems yes.” “Sir I’ll have to check with our technical support for that, please hold for a moment.” “Listen, can I speak to them myself? This is very urgent and I need to know what the problem is,” the programmer is becoming impatient. “Sorry sir, this is not our policy sir, please wait for a moment and I’ll be right back.” The instrumental continues, he doesn’t want to hear it but that wasn’t a choice. He stares at the clock, 7:50, only and hour before a new day starts, and by the looks of things, it didn’t need extensive guesswork to know what’s in store for him. A new instrumental begins, still no sign of a human voice. Hopelessly, he hangs up the phone, but only to call back after 5 minutes.

The same long IVR message is poured down his ears; he has to wait for the operator. A click and a “hello” are heard, a new voice, he has to grumble the issue again. “So you think the problem is only with your upload?” “Well you should be telling this right? Wake up your neighbor and ask him what he found out from your tech support!” He’s loosing patience, wiping his forehead; he glances at the clock, 8:20. The hustle and bustle on the street starts to break through the quiet of the city center. “Sir our technical support only arrives after 9:00 – Please call later – may I be of any further help –good day sir!” he wished it could be the case. He gets back to his computer, his mind blank, pressed the upload button, and voila! It worked. He can now allow a smile, the helpline operator had no clue what the problem was, and that it had been fixed.

May be this story sounds much too exaggerated to some readers, but many would relate to this story in some ways. In each case, the feeling of helplessness talking to the helpline is a common sight, in situations when you know that the guy at the other end of the conversation is as oblivious to the problem and its solution as you are, and despite the good intentions, he can’t help. The purpose of this write up is not to put the blame of every bad piece of code on the ISP’s, but to show that being a little proactive and candid would do a world of good to all the stakeholders. And it’s not just the ISP’s whose technical support needs improvement, it’s just about every company who deals with customers, it’s a constant process because no system is perfect forever.

Earlier this year, we marked the 10th anniversary of the advent of the internet in our country. Many things associated with it have changed – speed, tariff, technology, application, coverage. But the one thing that remains unchanged is the helpline support. Little innovation, if any, has been applied to this side of the corporate functions. It’s ironic to see that the very people who put a face to the company are not sure what they’re doing at their job. And if a little exaggeration is allowed, helpline staff is treated in the same sarcastic way that Indian civil services used to treat officers on special duty. May be technical support is too expensive to be wasted to be waiting for a potential phone call. But ask a disgruntled customer, if the person on the phone is not the one who’ll solve the problem, then he should not be there. Most users are savvy enough to understand a technical problem and why is it taking too long. What happens when a non-technical person, deals such situation is that in an effort to save the company’s image, they try to sugar coat the problem, misjudge the estimated time of resolution, and eventually, with the best of intentions, misguide the user.

Take some time reading the vision statement of any company, the most emphasis is on customer satisfaction, and rightly so. However, the same fervor and zeal is not reflected when it comes to helping those very customers whose satisfaction is the cornerstone of the business. What is the other way to make customers happy? Good service, maybe? The need is to understand that every company should put its best people available where there is a direct link with the customers, called the touch points.

A few programming gimmicks wouldn’t do much harm either. If a customer is automatically redirected to the same person who attended the last call, a lot of time can be saved in explaining and understanding the problem. Secondly, digital exchanges have a feature called caller id, making use of it by connecting that to the customer databases will also make the conversation more productive. Cellular companies have got this thing right at least, every good company out there should follow suit. Finally, the correct status of the resolution has to be made clear to the customer, a thing will take only so much time to be fixed, and promising an unrealistic timeline on basis of assumptions is a fatal error. And playing music is good, if it’s not long enough.

According to a marketing research, the cost of creating new customers is 10-11 times higher than the cost of retaining old ones. Visionary companies know that each time a customer hangs up on you feeling dissatisfied is a customer lost. And only a few things spread quicker than a negative word of mouth. So why not put the right people on the right place. What makes companies like Amazon, Google, NetFlix, GE, HSBC and so many others so special? Their clientele is insurmountable, their portfolio is huge, still, there’s only a handful of negative customer reviews for these companies. The reason is simple, they listen to the customers. Even though most of them have outsourced their call centers, they still make sure that those call centers are taking the best care of their clients. In the customer support business, Empathy is the virtue, apathy is a vice. So let’s help the helpline, shall we?


One Response

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  1. aXim said, on April 23, 2006 at 10:44

    Well I didn’t read all of them, but read one and got an idea. I hope others are as good as this one. and it is quite a job well done. keep up the good work.

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