This is how the world ends-- not with zombies, but with a Bangalore and a wimper

  Fighting the zombie scourge isn't all guts and glory.  Sure, we spend some of our day digging trenches, sharpening crowbars and packing shotgun shells.  However, just as important is our work here on the web keeping you informed about the undead menace.

This means part of our day is consumed scouring the web for zombie news, researching our award-winning, in-depth exposes and keeping the most popular web site for undead news and greeting cards alive.  Although we employ a large IT department to keep things humming, occasionally we need to contact other companies for tech support.  Sometimes, like this week, there is a perfect storm of problems that require us to make almost a dozen support requests from various companies in just a few days. 

This isn't a post complaining about out-sourcing-- we're all big supporters of the free-market economy and even offer zombie tech support at our Bangalore facility.   All our support technicians are highly trained in both superior customer service and have the knowledge to help solve your problems quickly and painlessly.  In the past week though, we've had some poor support from various companies and thought we would offer them some advice:

Continue Reading after the jump

1.  Make sure your customers can understand you.

No, this isn't about strong accents.  Well, not completely.  Out of the ten support calls we've made in the past week, only one person had an accent we couldn't understand and we think it was Canadian. (Seriously, they need to learn how to speak English). 

Although it was obvious that many of the people we spoke with learned English as a second language, ummm, they were speaking a second language!  How cool is that?  Imagine how difficult it is for them to decipher different dialects of English (and Canadian) all day?

Fully half of our support calls were plagued by loud call-center or line noise and one was rendered inaudible by a lack of proper air conditioning.  We won't say which company operates this call-center sweatshop, but it starts with an "A" and rhymes with Adobe.  Here is a relatively accurate transcript of the call:

Non-offensive music lulls us to sleep for 15 minutes before the line clicks over to our support tech.

Call Center: [loud buzzing noise] He--l--0. M---ame--s-Troy. --ow--an- elp -- oo?

IYWAZ:  Hi.  Your overly prohibitive,  ineffective and therefore unnecessary copy protection scheme that you use to punish your paying customers is preventing us from running your-- Sorry, are you on a zeppelin in the 1930's?

Call Center: [loud buzzing noise] No--e--are---n---Bang--ore.  H0w--an--I--elp--oo?

IYWAZ:  OK.  When we start the program it gives a licensing err-- are you at an airport, say, maybe next to a runway in Casablanca?

Call Center: [louder buzzing noise] --ant-- und--rst--nd-- u.  --can--u--all-us--ack?

IYWAZ: No, the noise is on your end.  Your hold music comes in perfectly clear.

Call Center: [even louder buzzing] --OK. -I--ill-- put---u--on--old.

IYWAZ:  No, no, no! Don't put us on...

Listening to perfectly clear hold music for several minutes.

Call Center: [Sound of a Sikorsky S-39 engine throttling  for takeoff from an African lake ] He--l--0. M---ame--s-Troy. --ow--an- elp -- oo?

IYWAZ:  Troy!  Hi!  How have you been?  Say, do you have a fan blowing on you by any chance?

Call Center:  W--t?  Cant-- un--stan--you.

IYWAZ: [yelling] Troy! The Fan!  Turn off the fan!  Yes, the fan!  Turn it in another direction!  Troy, the fan!

Call Center: [perfectly clear]  Yes, I have a fan but it is too hot to keep it off.   Give me your number and I'll call you back.  Maybe your line will sound better.  [buzzing noise]

We shouted our number to Troy but haven't heard back from him.  We imagine he is waiting for the weather to cool down in late December before calling back.  We hope he's OK.


2.  Allow your call center employees to think for themselves.

Our next issue was with a faulty email server that was delaying delivery of messages for more than 24 hours.  Unless you are a superhero it isn't an ideal situation when you can send an email and travel 500 miles to witness the delivery on the other end. 

This is a maddening situation, but it is important to realize that the call center employee is just a conduit for information.  They (usually) didn't cause the problem and are there to help you, the customer, find a solution or to reassure you that the situation is being addressed by people far more competent than either of us.

Unfortunately, this hosting company (an equation that equals two) apparently believes that its employees should answer every question by reading from a marketing script that makes a George Lucas screenplay seem almost conversational.  Imagine if Anakin Skywalker started each sentence with "We understand your concerns and want to assure you we are working to".  Like this:

Anakin (to Padme): I understand your concerns with sand and want to assure you that I don't like sand. I understand that it's coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere. I also want to assure you it is not like here. Here everything is soft and smooth and we are working to ensure that it is soft and smooth where you are in the near future and appreciate your concerns.

Attack of the Clones seems like a masterpiece now, doesn't it?  Just train your people on the common issues and let them speak like real people... or at least like a Jedi.

Oh, and the call center rep should recognize the irony inherent in their script when your problem with not receiving email is addressed with, "We will send you an email when we have an update on the situation."


3. If you have a menu system, keep the number of options down to four or less and make sure that there are options that will actually apply to all your customers.

If you've used the IfYouWereAZombie support line you may remember that it only has four options: 

  • If you or your loved ones are currently being attacked by a zombie, press 1.
  • If you are having difficulty sending a zombie greeting card, press 2.
  • If you need help determining whether someone is a zombie, press 3.
  • For all other items, please stay on the line.

 Simple.  Everyone is covered, the life-in-danger option is presented first, the options are clearly demarcated and everyone is happy.

One company apparently felt that if there are ten numbers on a phone keypad, it will make use of all of them, dammit!  Efficiency!  Oh, and make sure you listen to every option before you choose because "their menu options have changed."  

When you get to number 8 on their list you realize that you should have been writing all this down.   By the third time through we had a meticulously created flow chart of all the options and realized that we still didn't know which button to press.  What exactly is the difference between these options:

  • For Customer Service, press 1
  • For Technical Support for [product redacted] press 3
  • For help with [product redacted] press 7
  • For questions about [product redacted] press 8

A customer needs technical support help answering a  question about their product.  Why are there four options instead of one? 

Just as confusing was an unnamed American Telephone and Telegraph company whose ability to zero in on amazingly specific menu options meant that none of them actually apply to most of their customers.  Fiendishly clever.


So, what's the point of this long rant?  The world today is an extremely complex and fragile place with more technical problems surfacing every day.  Our technology connects us but holds us hostage when it goes wrong.  To avoid disaster, customer service must be improved or we may face a technological collapse from which it will be difficult to recover. 

Well, that and typing this made us feel better. .

Comments (3) Add Comment

Yeah! This is often the very truth. Thanks this made my laugh at my own call instead of being too irreteted.

camila =)

this is too funny! i almost fell out of my chair reading this and it it true!


Save yourself the time and hassle with Adobe: Buy a licensed product so you are legal and then download a pirated copy with the license crap hacked out. I've found my life to be much less stressful this way.

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