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The two V’s: Verizon and ViewSonic

OK, as I mentioned, I had the technology day from you know where yesterday. Everything around me seemed to break. I narrowed down the problem with my phone’s cable to something that wasn’t the cable, wasn’t the phone, and wasn’t the USB port. It was really quite annoying. So, I called Verizon.

This was my first, somewhat expanded experience with Verizon. I will give more details in a little bit, but the overall grade from me was C-/D+.

I used GetHuman to get the number for Verizon. I entered my phone number, pushed 0 frantically, and got some obnoxious hold music (filled with advertisements). After about 5 minutes, I was transferred to a guy who seemed nice enough. I explained my problem and he said he would have to transfer me to technical support. He tried to get a tech support person on the phone, but said there was a delay in that department and asked if I wanted to wait. I said okay.

More annoying hold music and advertisements, and 10 minutes later, I was connected to a lady who read her script and such. I explained my problem and attempted (and failed) to verify my account. She said she could only provide me with “general information.” I explained my problem, she provided a few suggestions, and I said none of those would work for X reason or Y reason. The lady said that she couldn’t help me much more and would elevate me to a level 3 representative. Throughout the call, she had been fairly rude, but got nicer towards the end. She tried to do the same thing as the last guy. After about 5 minutes, she said there was a delay and asked if I wanted to hold.

I was connected to a level 3 representative in about 30 seconds. He introduced himself, got my personal information, and asked how he could help me. I explained my problem once again (despite being told it was all logged the first time) and he tried to guide me through the steps. He was ruder than the last woman, but knew his stuff. After about forty five minutes with the very impatient representative, I was able to get my problem fixed.

Then, I called ViewSonic about my monitor not wanting to work on my desktop. I found the phone number and called. After one or two simple menus and about 30 seconds on hold, I was transferred to a guy who seemed fairly nice.

I explained my problem, what I had done, and such. He was very honest and very straight forward. He told me that I done a good job so far and from what I described, it is actually hard to tell if it is a problem with the monitor. He said he would be more than happy to authorize sending it in, but that is usually a last resort. I asked him how long it would take to fix it and he said “Quite honestly, 4 weeks.” The call did not seem scripted at all and throughout the entire call, he was very polite and very honest about what the best options would be.

I was told I would be emailed a program that could help fix the problem and I asked if he could stay on the line while I installed it. However, he told me that there were about 5 people waiting to talk to him and that if I had any problems, I could call back. I have yet to get that email, so I have to call back.

I have to give ViewSonic two grades. In terms of customer service experience (how nice everyone was, how long it took to get me to the right person, etc.), they get an A-. In terms of getting the problem fixed, ViewSonic gets an F. In the end, the customer wants the problem to get fixed. A great customer service experience is very important, but so is fixing the problem.

Have you had any technical support experiences lately? If so, how were they?

Look mom, I got a lollipop!

I bought a memory card for my phone through Amazon’s marketplace from a store called thememstore.com. I wasn’t expecting much – it was just a memory card that cost like $30 or something. I wanted the card to get to me in a reasonable amount of time and work. Those were my expectations. They were met when I received the package about 5 days after ordering and it worked fine in my phone.

However, the company went the extra mile through a little thing that ended up making it a fairly notable experience. In the box with my memory card and the packing list were two lollipops. They were the good types of lollipops (my favorite type) and I was impressed. A friend of mine was with me when I opened the box and she noticed there were lollipops in the box and was impressed.

Now how much did that cost The Mem Store? 50 cents? Maximum? Wouldn’t that be cool if Amazon or even a different, smaller retailer like Headsets.com included a lollipop with every order? It is a pretty cool idea and makes a difference. Not everyone will like the lollipop specifically, but it definitely makes the experience less run of the mill.

It is a series of little things like including the lollipop in the package that collectively can make a big difference in a customer service experience. If you can find five or six other “lollipop” things that you can add to your customer service experience, it will make a noticeable difference.

There are lots of opportunities to do things like that. For example, Kayak.com could send a postcard to customers who make travel reservations from the location they are about to go. If it is a major location like Florida, New York, San Diego, etc., it wouldn’t be hard to keep the postcards around and send them out with some text saying “Hi from New York! We look forward to seeing you and thank you for using Kayak.com.” That is just one idea – I am sure there are hundreds of other things that can be done.

Remember when they used to give lollypops at the bank? I’m not sure if they do that anymore, but I remember as I got older (even from like 5 to 7), it became harder to get lollipops from the banks. I’m not sure what, if any banks give out lollipops now, but it is a good idea. The cost is low and it makes people happy.

I’ve had back luck with technology today. The USB cord for my phone (which is like a week old) stopped working and the monitor for my desktop (which is like 6 months old) also stopped working. Who knows? There may be two more customer service stories over the next week or two.

Generalists or Specialists?

Tom at QAQNA had a good post about whether it is better for customer service representatives to be generalists or specialists. Tom also linked to an interesting post by Ginger Conlon.

I am a specialist. I believe in cross training (a lot), but I am not against having agents who specialize in one thing or another. A company with two employees working can be at a place where they can efficiently use a specialist system. And it can be a pleasant experience for the customer.

The problem that Tom points out is that as companies become more specialized, more transfers are needed. I agree with him – as both a consumer and as a customer service consultant. Most companies are terrible when it comes to efficiently and effectively transferring a customer to another department (they obviously haven’t read about the T-R-A-N-S-F-E-R method). They don’t know who to transfer the call to and when they figure out who, it is the wrong person anyways and/or they don’t transfer the call properly. However, some companies are quite competent when it comes to transferring, so this problem doesn’t apply as much.

Tom is right when he says that good sales people are good at their jobs for a reason. Good customer service people are good at their jobs for a reason. It is like comparing engineers to marketing people. They have different training, do different things, and even think differently. You can’t have a marketer fix the code and you can’t really have an engineer do a marketing campaign or write ads.

My solution is a mix of generalists and specialists. Overall, each representative should be a specialist. The techy people should do the technical support. The sales people should do the sales calls. However, everyone should be able to answer basic questions about the others’ specialities.

For example, if I asked a sales representative how to login to my account, he or she shouldn’t say “Let me transfer you to technical support.” That doesn’t accomplish much. For a question like that, the sales representative should be able to answer it.

The same thing goes when it is the other way around. Technical support people should know roughly how much the Super Duper Deluxe Package or what it offers in comparison to the Super Deluxe Package.

The best solution that I have found (and one that I preach to everyone who will listen) is using receptionists. Not receptionists in a “how may I direct your call?” sense, but receptionists are actually useful. They can do things like:

  • Answer level 1 questions (how do I login, could you reset my password, could you tell me how much I owe for this month, what does X mean, etc.?)
  • Direct calls to the correct person or department
  • Create new tickets and gather personal information (that way, the customer only has to describe the problem once (to the receptionist who writes it down) and then is given a ticket ID by the receptionist)
  • Direct customers to an FAQ or other self-help resource when appropriate
  • etc.

These receptionists can help a lot and when trained right, work wonders. They seem to add the “missing link” between specialists and generalists.

A mix of things: interviews, customer experience, and more.

First, I’d like to talk a little bit about a fellow customer service blogger, Tom Vander Well. Besides his very good post about whether it is better to be a generalist or specialist (Monday’s topic), Tom was featured in a local newspaper.

The article (which is quote good and informative) talks about Tom’s Geek Squad experience and how important it is for companies to monitor what people are saying about them on the Internet (I have talked about the subject a few times before).

Congratulations to Tom as well as the Geek Squad for handling the situation so well.

Tom’s story also serves as a good introduction for a Service Untitled related announcement. I interviewed Robert Stephens (the founder of the Geek Squad that the article talks about) a few weeks ago and will be publishing my interview with him over the next week or two. It is a fairly long interview, but is extremely interesting. Listening to Robert talk about how Best Buy’s problems are dealt with and what they are doing to improve is quite interesting and the interview has a lot of interesting facts and comments in it.

The second part of my post is about my experience so far with Verizon. I got my new phone (the Samsung i730) and like it a lot. However, if you are going to get a smartphone, I suggest allotting quite a bit of time to trying to get it setup and figuring it all out.

Verizon did an okay job. However, they did mess up. I took my phone out of the box and there was a little sticky note that said “You can upgrade your phone to Windows Mobile 5 by visiting url.com/whatever.” I tried to convince myself that it would be easy, but I seriously doubted that upgrading the operating system on a phone was any easier than upgrading it on a computer. I went to the web site, downloaded the application (and the manuals – plural), and started the upgrade. It took a good two hours from start to finish and I had some initial problems with the software. Definitely an annoying way to start my experience.

I have no idea about the logistics involved with running a cellphone company or distributing the phones, but I don’t think it is too hard to Verizon to pre-install Windows Mobile 5 on the phone instead of Windows Mobile 2003 SE. They already have the software, the rights to it, etc. They have to install an operating system on the phone anyways. How hard is it to install WM5 instead of WM2003? The brochure that came with the box advertised it as a device running WM5. I don’t think it is that hard, but I don’t know everything that is involved with it.

Regardless, if you have a product, it is stupid to ask the customer to make a major change (i. e. upgrading the operating system) right away, especially when it is all already available. I can understand Dell and HP giving customers who buy a computer now the option to upgrade to Vista later – Vista is not available to home consumers yet (as far as I know) and they can’t offer it. However, as soon as it will become available to consumers, the companies will start pre-installing it. This is a much better way to start off the customer experience.

Major upgrades, configurations, etc. to products right out of the box frustrate customers. It is really a negative way to start the customer service experience and does not leave a good first impression.

Does your company do it the right way or do you make people make major changes to their products right after they get them? I hope it is the former.

Have a great weekend!

Be insistent.

Sorry for the late post today. On Thursday, I am not usually around my computer that has Windows Live Writer until later in the day. Today was particularly hectic, so that is why the post is a bit later than usual. Now, to the post.

Do you know what it means to be insistent in customer service? Insistent isn’t really a good word to use in connection with customer service, but it is something that customer service representatives should have be every now and then.

This evening I went out to dinner to a very casual, local restaurant. I ordered a soup something to eat (fried clams – I know they aren’t good for me, but they are quite good to eat) and a little while later the waitress brought the food out to my table. I tried the clams and they weren’t very good – I think they were too greasy, but I’m not sure. I ate my soup and moved the clams over to the side of the table.

When I finished the soup, the waitress came by and saw I hadn’t eaten too much of the clams. She asked me if they were okay and I said I wasn’t that hungry. She assured me that if I didn’t like them, she could take them off the bill. After a few seconds, she managed to get my opinion (too greasy) out of me and again offered to take it off of the bill. I said it was up to her. The bill came and the clams were not on there. I was impressed.

This is where being insistent is important. If you even doubt a customer’s satisfaction, ask some questions and try and find out why they aren’t happy. Then, suggest a solution. If you are confident it is the right solution (i. e. taking the item off the bill), try and insist it. This works well in some situations and not in others, so use your best judgement.

Try and use the words “I insist” and then something like “We want you to be delighted by our food. If you aren’t delighted, I insist on taking the item off the bill.” That makes it a bit more genuine than the operating procedure of “Customer Unhappy w/ Item = Take off the bill.” You want customers to know that you care and you are insisting because your company cares about quality and how it does things.

At dinner today, the waitress was appropriately persistent. There is a fine line between being persistent and rude. That is where you have to use your best judgement (and for managers: to trust your employees’ judgement) in dealing with such situations.

Whatever you do, don’t ignore something you think is wrong. If you think there is a problem, ask the customer. If it seems like there is (even when they aren’t telling you directly), you can ask a few more questions to find out more.

HTML and Plain Text

I am somewhat of a geek. I work in a technical industry, I use a computer all the time, I know how to fix computers, I know how to create and edit fairly good web sites, I can use advanced programs on the computer, and so on.

However, for some things, I very behind. One such thing is email. Let me explain. For my email account where I get a lot of email, I use a normal email program. However, for my personal email (where I get a semi-decent amount of email), I use a very simple web-based email program. It is plain text and does not support HTML email very well.

So what type of emails does your company send? HTML or plain text? Do you give an option? Here are some things you can do to help people like me:

  • On your email preferences page (or signup section), ask: HTML or plain text email?
  • Include a link to the email in HTML version at the top of your emails. This is a popular option for newsletters and things where the content is the same for everyone (i. e. news headlines).
  • Test HTML emails and try to get them to work with as many email programs, formats, etc.
  • Include a few questions related to email preferences in your next survey.

Then, as usual, act on the information you find out and work towards implementing it.

There is a similar thing when it comes to browser and operating system types. Testing for different browsers and operating systems is important. Having different versions for different browsers is sometimes done (if not, there are usually code tweaks).

The point is to make it so everyone can have the best possible experience without having to go out of their way to do something else (like use another browser or email client).

Judge a book by its cover!

No, the title is not a typo.

In customer service, people are quick to judge a book by its cover. Callers usually have some sort of opinion about a company, the person they are talking to, and the service experience by the time they have been on the phone for a minute or two. People are very quick to judge how helpful they think someone will be, how quickly their issue should be resolved, etc. It is kind of sad, but it is definitely true and definitely happens, a lot.

The point is to make a good first impression, quickly. Give your customers a reason to think that the customer service experience is going to be a great one as soon as possible. Prevent them from thinking it is going to be a bad experience and that will certainly help. This, of course, is very hard to do. Here are some tips:

  • Test. Analyze the first 30 seconds to 3 or 4 minutes of every possible interaction with your company. Visit your web site, call your company, visit your office, etc.
  • Think. Once you have checked out the first few minutes of your various experiences, think about how they could possibly be better. Ask other employees, ask customers, do some research. How could you make a better first impression?
  • Act. Once you have thought of some solutions, write them down. Then, act.
  • Follow-up. Keep following up to ensure you are constantly refining the first impressions. Work on ensuring the actions get done and that you are giving the best first impression possible.

On a different note, here is a personal first impression story:

When you deal with me on a professional level, I am quite nice, helpful, attentive, etc. I am very optimistic, friendly, and all of that. Secretly, I know what people really mean when they say things (i. e. I can pick up people being mean or rude in a subtle fashion).

On a personal level, I am actually rather cynical, can be rather brutal (in terms of honesty), and so on. I am not really rude, but if people start being rude to me, and I am not biting my tongue (metaphorically), I can be rather mean.

On both levels, though, I am a hard worker and quite motivated. When I want to do something, I will really work towards doing it. If my goal is to make the customer happy (as it often is), I will work very hard to do that. I guess that is the part of my personality that makes me an effective customer service person.

Maybe I have to ask Robert Cameron this, but I wonder if the employee assessment tests can pick people like me up? And if they can, is that necessarily a bad thing? Eternal optimists sometimes aren’t fully in touch with reality. While I can see how that could possibly benefit a customer service representative, is it something that is really a good thing? Personally, I don’t think so. What do you think?

Oh, and I saw this post yesterday about how Second Life handled what could have potentially been a disaster of sorts.

A well handled situation by Amazon

I talk about Amazon fairly often at Service Untitled. As I’ve mentioned, I do a vast majority of my online shopping on Amazon (in fact, I bought an SD card for my new phone from Amazon on Friday) and have had very few problems with them.

I’m not sure if you are aware of it, but Amazon has a 30 day price matching guarantee. It works like this: say you buy item X for $35 on January 1st. Then, on January 9th, item X is marked down to $20. Amazon’s policy would let you get a credit/refund for the difference ($15) as long as the price is lowered within 30 days. I use a free service called Refund Please that watches the price of the items I enter into it (each Amazon item has an easy to find product ID) and notifies me of when the price drops.

A week or so ago, I got an email from Refund Please telling me that an item I had bought for about $40 about two weeks earlier had dropped by about $10 on Amazon. I went to Amazon’s customer service page, gave them the order information, and asked for the credit.

A day or so later, I got a reply from them saying they couldn’t issue the refund because it was from a marketplace seller. I didn’t quite understand why (it said the item was sold by Amazon) and asked if they still had the policy and such. About a day after I sent that email, I got a reply from another representative at Amazon telling me that she looked into the issue and though Amazon does not provide refunds for marketplace items (which apparently it was, though I’m still not 100% sure as to why/how), but since I was a good customer, she would give it to me anyway. The credit was applied to my account and I was set.

Was this a smart move on Amazon’s decision? It sure was. They could have looked at my account in two seconds and see a few things:

  • I frequently shop on Amazon.
  • I spend a fairly good amount of money on Amazon.
  • I buy lots of different things from them (books, DVDs, computer stuff, etc.).
  • I bought a lot of stuff over the holidays from them.
  • I have about 70 items on my wish list of things to get at Amazon.
  • I have bought quite a few books about customer service from them.

Just one of those would probably be enough to convince them to give me the benefit of the doubt and simply give me the credit. Amazon did thing right by empowering their representative to credit me without having to go through some long and drawn out process. It was definitely the right move and made the customer service experience a great one. It is another motivation for me to keep shopping on and referring Amazon.

Amazon is also pretty good about following up. Though their survey is by no means advanced (it asks if your issue is resolved and if you want to provide more information. If you say you want to provide more information, you are taken to a standard email form).

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