Tuesday, July 22, 2014

This Call May Be Monitored (In the category of Say What You Mean.)

Last week, a man named Ryan Block tried to cancel his Comcast service, a Herculean task, as the recording he made illustrates. I and my husband listened to the conversation, marveling that Mr. Block had wasted so much precious time arguing with this fool of a customer service representative (CSR). His reasons for enduring the aggressive Comcast employee are his own, and certainly the audio recording, painful as it is to hear, has garnered a good bit of attention to Mr. Block. It has also created the opportunity to begin the dialog on the pitfalls of today's telephone customer service.

I have some knowledge in this area. You see, my husband once endured a brief stint between jobs as an electronics technician (his chosen field) answering customer calls for the #2 satellite television provider in the United States. (We then, and still, use the #1 provider ourselves.) He already had a knack for dealing with CSRs before he took the job. Periodically, if the need arose, he'd call the #1 satellite television provider, or  our credit card company, or the phone company, and ask some question about our service. Nearly always, before the call concluded on a cheerful note, he would have managed to finagle some perk or other -- free HBO for a few months, a lower interest rate, free call forwarding -- you name it.

When my husband went through customer service training from the other side of the phone, his insight into how to manipulate these people began to transcend simple freebies. He learned how to work the system -- the triggers that cause the computer to take you to a human -- the keywords that will convince the human to transfer you to someone who can actually help. The handbook of Crap Customer Service (I assume Comcast and the #2 satellite television provider use the same one) actually has rules that must be obeyed on pain of firing, because, your call is being monitored -- no "may be" about it. Some of those rules are designed to screw you, the customer, who, despite all common sense (as Mr. Block will vouch) is not always right. Other rules, if you know them, can be real timesavers that will spare you from enduring what must have been an excruciating 18+ minutes for Mr. Block. (He didn't begin to record until ten minutes in.)

In the interest of public service, here are a few tricks to employ the next time you have to call any customer service line. These come from a former insider, I've used them all, and they work.

Trick 1: How to get past the automated voice menus and talk to a Real Human Being. (Note: this method does not guarantee the human is located on the same continent or speaks the same language.)

This is surprisingly simple. If the menu is voice-activated, just say "I want to speak to a representative"  over and over and over. You must be more patient than the machine as it will try to tell you that you are inarticulate. It's a stall tactic; don't fall for it. 

You can also just hit the zero (0) button repeatedly, in fast succession on your touchtone telephone. In either case, you will annoy the computer to the point that it makes a human deal with it. 

Trick 2: What to do if you get connected to a thug like the one Mr. Block encountered.

This only happens once you have made your way past the computer, and it can be handled two ways. If you are early into the verbal abuse, you can simply tell your CSR that he is being unhelpful (because your call is being monitored), hang up, and try your luck by calling back. The odds of getting the same CSR are very low. You will, of course, have to re-run the computer's automated menu gauntlet.

A more forward approach is to simply tell the CSR that you wish to speak to his "next in command" ("superior", "boss"... whichever one suits you). If he refuses ask again, two more times, in rapid succession. Some companies actually fire CSRs that fail to meet this customer request three times or more. If Mr. Block had known this, he could have saved himself much time and anonymity.

Trick 3: How to navigate the "hard sell."

Of course, since Mr. Block wished to cancel his service, had his CSR acted properly, he would have immediately transferred Mr. Block to a member of the "win back" team, a group of elite (i.e., have managed to not quit after ~six months) CSRs whose job it is to entice you with trinkets and baubles -- three free months of HBO or Cinemax, ten free pay-per-view movies, 20% off your bill for the next six months. The "win back" team has a tiered structure, so the first one you speak to will only be good for so much bling (assuming they can actually win you back with this). The more of them you speak to, the deeper the discounts you will receive. The last one is grim death. They will finally cancel your service.

Trick 4: Kindness matters.

For my husband, the mean people he encountered were the bad part...the worst part (and there were many bad parts...friends don't let friends work for the #2 satellite television provider...a lesson I learned late). These folks started the conversation angry, didn't actually want help, and just wanted to rant. Sometimes, the rain in Laredo, Texas disrupted satellite television in Illinois. There are reasons that the company thought were good, technical reasons for it, and none of them can be controlled by the CSR. Try telling that to a drunk asshole who is pissed because this week's Duck Dynasty won't tune in. And while he couldn't just tell someone to f*ck off (because your call is being monitored, and it would cost him his shitty-but-much-needed-job) he felt much more inclined to help those who approached this as a human-to-human encounter rather than as servant-to-master. In Mr. Block's case, the CSR seemed deeply confused with who should serve whom. (I believe it cost him his job, and that is probably for the best.)

In an angry world full of angry people who either want to take your money or scream at you for taking theirs, it's good to know options exist. Your call is being monitored -- tell them what you need them to hear.

(Got any strategies of your own for dealing with customer service representatives? I'd love to hear them.)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Independence Day in the Land of the "I'm Free, You Are Not." (In the Category of Be Where You Are.)

Ah, Independence Day! This July 4th the United States of America celebrates 238 years as a sovereign nation founded by plucky immigrants looking for opportunities to get rich (they called themselves colonists back then) and Puritans who sought a new world in which their dogmatic, strict religious beliefs could be practiced without retribution from the Church of England, which allowed more pomp and fornication than they deemed prudent. The promise of freedom, tolerance, opportunity, and wealth attracted people from all over the world, and America became a "great melting pot" of diversity. 

"Melting pot" is a terrible way to describe this country. Heaven knows, we didn't all deliquesce into one homogeneous blob -- had we done so, the problems that embroil us today would not exist. I like the salad bowl metaphor myself. But I digress.

Our founding fathers came to America from whatever place they left, for whatever reason they left, and set out to create "a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." Given that the founding fathers were all privileged white men, one should not be surprised at the current state of our union, but the self-evident ideals of equality, liberty and justice for all still tantalize. At some level we believe our nation embodies these ideals as a fervent champion of human rights, but we are delusional. Let's take stock of a few recent events.

1) This week, the current Supreme Court went out of its way to remind women of all races and nationalities that we are second class citizens with lesser standing than men. (Because after all, only men are created equal.) While male forms of birth control remain legally protected medical procedures paid in full by most insurance companies, female forms of birth control have been ruled slutty, murderous aberrations to society that must be purged. Paying for a woman's birth control would signal permissiveness, and then we sluts...er... sexually active women who don't want to get pregnant at the moment, would run amok. Unacceptable! Should a woman choose to end an unwanted pregnancy (even if a rapist is the baby-daddy), she must now run a gauntlet of hateful pseudo-Christians (thank the Puritans) attacking her verbally or physically. Some may even go so far as to murder her (because, pro-life). That, of course, assumes she is able to find a medical facility to perform the procedure. So much for protection from the highest court in our land. 

2) At our Western border, the offspring of long-ago immigrants now stand with recent legal immigrants to block the entrance into their towns of children fleeing horrific violence in their own countries. These "patriotic Americans" hold hateful signage (in addition to Old Glory), hurl epithets at innocents, and consider themselves good people for the deed. Rather than helping these children -- or even trying to empathize -- they block the roads to the "[golden door" that harbors] the homeless, tempest-tost", screaming curses and insults, and demonstrating first hand just how bigoted many of We the People have become. You'd have to be a crazy fool to want to live with a bunch of mean assholes like us, but these children have nowhere else to go. And this is how we greet them.

3) Privileged white men still consider themselves entitled to run the country, even after a majority vote put the first ever man of color in the highest office of the land. In their horror that a diverse, progressive, majority voted for change, the Gents of Privilege (or GOP as they are more commonly known) made a pinky swear to vote against any and all Obama initiatives, no matter the cost to the country. Goaded by a faction of zealots known as the Tea Party, who came to Washington D.C not to fix it but to burn it down, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. All at the expense of middle class America. They have engineered a costly government shutdown, ended unemployment insurance for those still affected by the previous (white male) administration's disastrous economic recession, demonstrated fiscal mismanagement that caused S&P to downgrade the USA's credit rating, denied equal pay to women for equal work, and filibustered gun control (which failed anyway due to bipartisan efforts, because the NRA has deep pockets -- many more will die.) I could go on, but I've made my point. In short, they've acted like a petulant child who didn't get the cookie they wanted, so they smashed the whole cookie jar to the floor.

The land of the free and the home of the brave has become the land of "I'll get richer, you stay poor" and a nation full of cowards too scared of the "other" to show compassion to the gender that birthed them, show tolerance to their neighbors, visualize a mile in the torn sneakers of the children knocking at their door.

I love this country, always have, always will. I'd never leave -- otherwise, how could I be a voice for positive change? But I hate the tone of intolerance and bigotry that dominates our national dialog. The rest of the world has noticed, and we have lost our moral high ground -- mostly in the name of morality.

Were I not convinced that the powerful storms of human-manufactured climate change are about to wipe us all out, I'd worry for this nation.