“Thank you for calling customer support”

A couple of days ago, disaster struck.

I reached out for my iPhone to check mail, and found that my inbox was empty. I don’t mean the productive kind – I mean literally empty. Every single mail that had been sent to me since 2011 was missing. I met the same fate when I tried to access my inbox through webmail, on my Mac and on my iPad. Panic set in as I refreshed the screen repeatedly, but the blank inbox continued to stare back.  After a nerve wracking drive to work, I decided this was definitely a problem that I couldn’t solve on my own. So I picked up the phone and dialed the technical support number of our corporate e-mail hosting service.

I prepared myself for the typical ‘customer service’ problems one usually faces while trying to communicate with an executive on the other end of the line. It didn’t help that my own communication skills were heavily – well – disabled by the debilitating thought of permanently losing all my work emails for good! Luckily for me, my experience with the customer service executive was flawless. Here’s why:

  • The executive made a conscious effort to calm me down: I’ve had many phone support conversations where it’s pretty evident that the person on the other end is just reading from a script.Remember Dame Judi Dench’s scene from “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel”? This phone support executive, however, didn’t sound like she was just waiting to get through her spiel. She understood my predicament, and actually listened to what I was saying instead of waiting for me to finish talking. This automatically made me relax a little bit.
  • The executive made sensible and meaningful use of time: As we waited for the technical team to check some settings, the customer support executive on line with me took me by surprise. She said “So tell me about your company – what do you do? Where are you calling from” – and again, it sounded genuine. Now I understand that she’s probably recording this information for their own customer profiling efforts, but I thought it was a nice touch.
  • Typical ‘on-hold’ soundtrack actually made sense: How many times have we wanted to tear our hair out while being put through torturous ‘on-hold’ music?  Apart from compounding irritation, it becomes an earworm for the next couple of hours! Here, as I was put on hold, what I heard instead was brief, recorded descriptions of other services the company provided. And in manner that didn’t grate my nerves – no fake enthusiasm or faux accent. 
  • The executive gave me bonus ‘customer support’ information after resolution: After the problem was fixed (and my 3,000 odd emails started pouring back into my inbox), the customer support executive asked if I had any other questions or concerns. Before the call ended, she told me about some options that hadn’t been enabled on the account, which meant my company was losing out on online visibility. She also gave me heads-up on the fact that one account (without revealing details) was going to expire soon, and told me that I might want to pass on this information to the relevant people in my organization

What started out as a ‘distress call’ ended in me leaving the conversation a happy and satisfied camper.  For any organization offering customer support telephonically, it’s important to remember that communication is key. And this has to be absorbed by every single executive. Don’t assume that by merely saying the pre-scripted words, your job is done. After all, there’s something to be said about ‘human’ interaction – at least until the day the robots take over (completely).