Over the past several years a shift has occurred in the delivery of customer support, and I’m confident you have noticed. This article is for anyone who has purchased something expensive, had a problem, and have been somewhat underwhelmed by the customer service response they’ve received. Today I will identify some approaches to reducing your stress and getting what you need.

Once upon a time, a consumer could go to the appliance store to pick out a new gizmo, then be confident in the warranty that came with the product. If something went wrong, they knew they could call the store or the manufacturer, get prompt service, and things would be made right. Of course, service wasn’t always perfect, and personalities always come into play, but for the most part you got what you needed and were generally left satisfied. What we’ve all noticed is that social contract has been put under enormous stress by globalization over the last 30 years, and is now in my opinion, completely broken. What happened?

The central problem is the practice of aggregating support into enormous call-centers, usually “off shore” by major US corporations, and the subsequent use of rigid troubleshooting scripts that turn support people into robots. It’s all about minimizing expenses and maximizing profits, sometimes to a fault. Some decisions look good on a spreadsheet, but have awful real-world consequences. By tapping into the vast overseas labor force which will cost less than 20% of US labor costs, US companies can “check the box” on saying they provide “24/7 customer support,” which is a must-have for big business. The “spreadsheet decision” comes into play when one measures how many frustrated clients they will lose versus the continuous bottom-line savings of using offshore instead of domestic customer support. After losing the predicted number of frustrated customers they’re still far ahead, and won’t feel the impact. It’s a sad, cynical approach, but if you choose to look at it that way, the numbers support it.

I have nothing but compassion for anyone who performs phone support helping people with technical problems. Phone support is challenging in even the best circumstances. It is my least favorite activity. When you combine complicated technical problems, stressed out customers who are unfamiliar with technology or who won’t follow instructions, unfamiliarity with American colloquialisms, rigid customer service “scripts” that the service reps must follow word for word, and it is no wonder people aren’t happy about it. However, I urge you to put the blame where it belongs: on the company who is designing their support model this way.

I use a lot of technology and I’ve shifted my expectations about receiving support to stay sane. This support trend is unlikely to change. Here is what I recommend:

  1. Before you call any major company for support (Microsoft, Comcast, AT&T, Dell, etc.) contact PCIO or another appropriate professional for a quick opinion to see if your problem is appropriate for calling support. We will tell you truth about whether a call to the manufacturer would be helpful or a waste of your time, or we may help you solve the problem outright. Think of us as a concierge. In our experience, the majority of calls to “support” lines are a waste of time. Also, many large companies don’t actually publish their support telephone numbers. Many numbers you do find on the internet are fake, provided by internet crooks trying to con you. (More on this next month)
  2. “Time-box” the amount of time you are willing to spend on the telephone before calling for support. You should not spend more than 1 hour. If they cannot solve your problem in that time, you are probably wasting your time. If they had a solution, they would have told you in the first 20 minutes. See #1. Get a local pro to help you sort it out, or who can act as your advocate on the telephone in your place.
  3. Ask yourself if it would be cheaper to buy another product, instead of spending the time slogging through their customer support. I recently had this experience with Apple’s telephone support. I was so disappointed. This is a private economic decision.
  4. I know it’s difficult when we get frustrated. Try to remember they’re human too, just trying to do their job. If they could wave a magic wand for you, they certainly would.

PCIO has been helping clients like you solve problems since 2001. Give us the first call, and you can avoid much unnecessary frustration. Reach us at 888-552-7953, or support@pcioit.com.