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Business Casual: Community and Connectivity

Like it or not, most of us belong to the community of folks who know that their experiences in customer-service purgatory, however frustrating, are beyond boring – yet simply cannot stop talking about them.

The crucial 24-hour window after being helped, not helped, put on hold, disconnected or passed along to three additional customer reps seems to be the prime griping period before we simply run out of steam or find a new difficulty to distract us.

Just recently, my outraged-whining period happened to coincide with that of a neighbor, which worked out well for both of us. Over a glass of wine, we actually had a contest to see whose recitation of her experience was the more tedious. (It was a draw: I was pretty sure I had won, but she was equally convinced she had.)

But before we finished our wine, we both realized that we had given the various helpers we talked to maybe just a little more information than we should have. At one point, she gave credit card information for an “upgrade” one rep was pushing, before she wisely cancelled the order; I had spewed passcodes and passwords (which I now realize are not necessarily the same thing) and may even have offered my Social Security number to a succession of customer service people. Not smart perhaps, but born of desperation.

Who isn’t worried about cybersecurity and privacy and identity theft these days, but who isn’t willing to override those concerns to access email or get online or just get rid of that weird “thing” that pops up in the middle of the screen and won’t go away?

So, in the spirit of making our technological lives easier and sparing others a few connectivity woes, I offer some observations and a suggestion or two, gleaned from gripe sessions with friends and colleagues:

First of all, many big technology companies are aware of consumer dissatisfaction – especially with grumpy, unresponsive, far-distant or inept support technicians – and seem to have initiated a “Be Sweet” policy. They will nice you to death. No matter how frustrated or angry or discouraged you are, they will not let you give in. They understand. They sympathize. They engage. If you can’t join in the pleasantries, just mumble these responses under your breath:

“OK if I call you Susan?” (You can call me anything you like as long as you get my email up and running.)

“How’s the weather there in Atlanta?” (I wouldn’t know. I’ve been curled up in a corner in the fetal position talking to customer service for two hours.)

“What can we help you with today?” (As I have shared with three other people in your company today, nothing is working …)

If the situation is especially annoying and I’ve been transferred to yet another rep, I’ll apprise them of the fact that I’m normally a nice person but can feel myself inching toward unpleasantness, and I apologize in advance.

Technology does not always bring out the best in us. But your mom was right about the honey vs. vinegar approach. Despair works better than anger. Threatening to cancel your service is ineffective. You probably won’t follow through, and if you do you likely will have as much trouble with your new provider.

Terminology is key in Customer-Service Land. The most helpful folks will offer a little explanation of what the requested word or code or sequence might look like. Or remind you which black box is the modem and which is the other thing. Exquisite detail doesn’t serve you well. It probably doesn’t matter which show you were watching when the cable went out or to whom you were sending a 40-page email when everything went dark.

Be prepared to reset your passwords over and over again. No matter how clever your system of devising passwords is, it won’t hold up. You’ll forget or get them confused. Write them down somewhere besides the back of a receipt.

And be aware that you won’t learn anything truly valuable from your customer service helpline experience. The same thing never goes wrong more than once. It’s always something new. But take heart. You will never be alone. You will always find companionship and community in customer-service complaining, whether you want it or not.

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