One of the most frustrating things I continually experienced from a well-known cable and internet service provider was the fact that they couldn't deviate from their phone script. This is in addition to the poor performance I received from their equipment based on what they advertised.
What frustrated me most about this provider is that I would call, introduce myself, and relay the troubleshooting steps I had completed prior to calling. I knew with certainty exactly what the customer service representative was going to say, after already hearing the things I had tried, and it absolutely infuriated me: “Have you tried unplugging your device for 10 to 15 seconds, and plugging it back in?” Either the analyst was not listening to me or they were unable (and perhaps unwilling) to deviate from their script. It’s maddening.
It’s these types of experiences that will ruin a company's reputation. It doesn’t matter how large you are, you’re not immune to doing the most, and the best for your customers. That includes being aware of and taking care of their needs.
In 2007, a 4.5-minute support call from a large computer company made its rounds online. It’s still out there today and is an absolute playbook for what not to do.
The call starts out with a bit of technical difficulty. The agent is having a hard time hearing the customer, and the customer, already audibly irritated, can’t hear the agent. We don’t know how long the customer waited in the queue prior to this interaction, or who they may have talked to beforehand, but the next two minutes go something like this:
Caller: I’ve got my mom’s computer here and it won’t turn off.
Agent: It won’t turn off?
Caller: No. It says “Windows is shutting down.” I cannot turn it off. Tried turning off the power and everything, it won’t turn off.
Agent: Alright. Can I get the service tag?
Caller: I just gave it to you people!
The caller reluctantly, and frustratingly, provides the needed information to further the call.
Caller: You got it?!
Agent: I couldn’t hear you very well. You were yelling very loud.
Agent recites tag number.
Agent: Is that correct?
Caller: Yeah, it’s close enough. All I need to know is how do you turn this thing off? You know, your automated system sucks, alright! How do you turn this thing off?
I get the frustration. The customer has a low technical aptitude, is trying to help their mother, and feels like they aren’t being heard. He isn’t being heard. The agent goes on about how they need information related to the system to fix the issue (fair point), but then proceeds to ask for information that, based on the customer’s frustration, has already been given.
Agent: Can I get the name on the account?
The caller provides the needed information.
Agent: And the phone number the system was purchased under?
Caller: Why do you need all this? All I need to know is how do you turn this thing off!
The call proceeds in this manner for another two minutes. Part of the problem here that is akin to my own experience, the agent refused to deviate from the script and the process in which they typically operate.
To add further frustration, we know, based on the context clues given by the customer, something about the automated process he went through is difficult to use and is not conducive to positively furthering his experience. Information that was gathered prior to this call was not handed off to the call center analyst, which required the customer to give the same information over again.
Every customer has two needs. This can apply to virtually any industry, but it is particularly important to remember in the technical support field:
The first need is psychological. Knowing a customer’s psychological need is understanding that your customer has intangible, and often unmentioned, requirements that are completely separate from, but not disconnected from the purpose of their call.
This is why soft skills are more important than technical aptitude. I’ll further argue that we should be hiring more for soft skill capabilities as a top competency, with the intent of developing technical skills as a secondary competency, rather than the other way around. It’s far easier to develop someone’s technical understanding and abilities than it is to develop their soft skills in the same amount of time. That’s not to say it’s impossible, but it’s the reason we have the separation between introverts and extroverts.
Most people who feel their psychological needs are met as customers, will associate their experience as a positive one. That’s huge. That means that even if we fail to provide a resolution during the first call, if the customer was handled with respect, and their psychological needs met, they will leave that conversation having had a positive experience.
The second need is technical. What is the purpose of their call? What’s broken or needs to be addressed? If you’re not in IT, the second need might be addressing a product fit/quality issue. Or maybe your industry is ecommerce, and a product was damaged during shipping. Each customer may have a different secondary need, which is the purpose for their call, or interaction, but all have the same primary, psychological need. The secondary need is how we address the purpose of the interaction. Interestingly, soft skills are the only abilities that carry over between supporting both needs.
Knowing and understanding that each of these customers have the exact same two needs will help you navigate supporting each of them expertly.
Luke Keultjes is the Manufacturing IT Solutions Manager, Americas for Danfoss, an industry leader across the world of sustainable smart technologies. Luke works alongside a diverse team of architects and consultants, designing and supporting the delivery of systems and solutions across the United States, Mexico, and Brazil. Over the last twelve years, he has supported organizations as an analyst. engineer, and manager. His goal is to develop and share best-practices focused on industry knowledge, communication habits, technology relevance, and project/people management. Luke has a Bachelor's degree from Bethel University in Organizational Leadership and was the recipient of HDI's 2014 Help Desk Analyst of the Year award.