Dear Belladonna Rogers,
I’m a tech-savvy guy, but like most of us, I have to call tech support from time to time. When this happens, I get angry.
Do you have any advice for dealing with this? The calls, the waiting time, the computerized voices and endless menus of options are enough to make me want to become a Luddite, but it’s too late to turn back now.
Aggravated in Atlanta
Few statements are more ludicrous, or more insulting to our individual and collective intelligence, than the cloyingly ubiquitous, “Your call is very important to us.”
No, actually, it’s not. If our calls were even remotely important to you, you’d hire more people to answer our very important calls. They aren’t and you don’t.
The phenomenon of call center-induced derangement syndrome has even inspired a web site devoted, as its name states, to providing telephone numbers most likely to connect you to an actual human being at some point in the course of your natural life: GetHuman.com.
The following five rules start with the moment you first realize you have to call for help: a moment in many lives that’s frustration-fraught, rage-filled, and impatience-driven. You’re often as annoyed with yourself as with the glitch — for being unable to solve the problem without turning to a stranger in the night thousands of miles away. That stranger, you fear, will rob you of the most precious commodity there is: your time.
Before you dial the number, remember this: you’re calling from a dark void of 21st century anguish. You need a guide, a Sherpa, who’s resourceful, trustworthy, energetic and has the patience to stick with you until the problem is solved. You won’t be friends for life, but for a brief time, you’ll be zealous partners with a single goal.
Following these five simple rules can make the difference between a long, painful, anger-increasing, and ultimately failed partnership, and a brief, reasonably calm, successful one.
RULE 1: STEP AWAY FROM THE TELEPHONE.
INITIATE YOUR CALL ONLY AFTER YOU CALM DOWN
Your instinct is to begin one of these calls when you’ve reached the end of your rope. Don’t. Just as road rage is dangerous and counter-productive, so is device-malfunction rage.
Before calling that 1-800 number, take a brisk walk, run in place, or listen to this:
Rule 2: DON’T JUST STAND THERE, DO SOMETHING
Before placing the call, make sure you’re prepared: do two things: first, have a household or office task to complete: organizing your sock drawer, filing papers, alphabetizing your spices, reading a book, responding to emails — whatever it is, plan to get something accomplished while on hold.
Second, before initiating the call, find the serial number and model number of the device. You’re going to need them and it’ll save time later if you have this information before you start.
RULE 3: DON’T LET THE OPTION MENU GET YOU DOWN
Option menus are among the banes of modern life, but try to approach them as speed bumps on the road to recovering your hard drive rather than as mortar attacks on all you hold dear. Option menus are, by their very existence, annoying. Ask yourself this: is your irritation at an option menu worth a heart attack?
A. THE SPANISH OPTION
When you hear the inevitable announcement about continuing in Spanish, try not to re-examine the entire political controversy over whether the United States should be a bilingual nation or solely an English-speaking country. Your goal is to focus on getting your technical problem solved. If you want to speak English, that’s still an option. If you prefer to discuss your problem in Spanish, go for it.
B. THEIR OPTIONS HAVE NOT ”RECENTLY CHANGED”; IF YOU REMEMBER THE OPTION YOU USED THE LAST TIME, USE IT AGAIN THIS TIME
Your next source of exasperation will be the warning not to press any numbers you may have pressed as recently as say, an hour ago, because – you know it’s coming – “our options have recently changed.” You’ll be tempted to think, “What if their options really have changed?” It’s the “recently” that will get you every time. How recently?
Wasting even more time, you listen to the same list of options you heard last month, last year, or when Chicago Cubs last won the World Series. You were right in the first place: the “5” you pressed in 2007 is still the number to press today.
C. THE $64,000 QUESTION:
“CAN YOU TELL US IN YOUR OWN WORDS THE REASON FOR YOUR CALL?”
Now comes the greatest challenge, especially for women whose voices are invariably not recognized by the computerized “ears” that have been programmed to “understand” only men’s deeper voices.
I recommend doing an end-run around this question. Just say,
“Twas brillig, and the slithy tove
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.”
These nonsensical words from Lewis Carroll’s 1871 “Jabberwocky” are just the ticket to connect you to another human being. “Sorry,” the computerized voice will respond, “I didn’t understand you.”
You couldn’t get a better response than this, especially if you’re not understood three consecutive times. This will automatically trigger a default mechanism that rewards you with the chance to wait to converse with a fellow member of our species.
“I’ll connect you to an agent,” the computerized woman’s voice says. “You may hear silence until you’re connected.”
You won’t hear silence. Instead, you’ll be treated to the most jarring, brain-jangling jingle ever recorded, played on a sadistically endless loop until you finally do hear a human voice.
D. TIME TO ORGANIZE THE SOCK DRAWER, ALPHABETIZE YOUR SPICE RACK, OR FINISH THAT FILE WORK FROM LAST WEEK OR 1999
The wait begins. This is when you’ll hear how very important your call is. Many companies will also tell you how many minutes you’re likely to wait. If it’s more than one minute, place the call on speaker and apply yourself to whatever task you’ve decided to accomplish: finish the dishes, clean the kitchen counter, read a book, re-arrange your sock drawer. Plot a crime you’ll never commit but would deeply enjoy if you did.
When you hear that special click that signals that you’re about to speak to a human, this is when you have to pay particular attention. The agent will introduce him- or herself and will ask how he or she can help you.
RULE 4: DECIDE ASAP IF THIS IS THE AGENT WHO CAN HELP YOU — OR NOT
A. THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT NANO-SECOND OF THE CALL
You have to decide on the spot, based on how the person answers the call, whether you want to spend the next 20-60 minutes of your life with that person. It’s a little like speed dating on speed. With speed dating, you’re offered as many as eight minutes to decide whether someone is for you. With a tech support call, you have eight seconds.
Your decision will determine whether your problem will be solved by an experienced, customer-attentive agent or not solved by an uninterested, unmotivated one. You’ll want both a technical wizard and a person who conveys clarity of expression, patience, persistence, resolve and diligence.
While it’s better to make the decision as quickly as possible, if you’re unable to make it in the first eight seconds, then make it in the first five minutes. If after five minutes you’ve gotten nowhere in solving your problem, say, “Thank you, I have to go now,” and start the wretched process over again, rather than lose even more precious minutes of your one and only life.
How do you make a snap decision based on one sentence at the other end of the line?
B. WHAT TO AVOID
Here’s what you don’t want to hear at the other end: someone who sounds tired or fails to speak up (mumbling rather than stating clearly, “Hi, my name is Sylvia . How can I help you?”) If what you hear is, “himynameissylviahowcanihelpyou,” Sylvia may be insufficiently awake, alert or communicative to be of any assistance. On the other hand, if the agent sounds overdosed on uppers and ready to speed over to a high school football pep rally — “Hey! What’s happenin’ today, dude?” — he or she may be too pumped to address your profoundly tedious issue.
C. WHAT YOU WANT TO HEAR IN THE VOICE AT THE OTHER END
What you do want to hear is someone alert, awake, confident, and focused.
RULE 5: WHAT YOU CAN ACTIVELY DO TO MAKE THE CALL GO BETTER
A. LISTEN FOR AND THEN USE THE PERSON’S NAME
If you miss it the first time, just ask, “Did you say your name was Barry?” Once agents hear you using their names, it tends to instill a higher degree of motivation to do their best.
B. YOUR GOOD MANNERS AND PATIENT ATTITUDE WILL PRODUCE A BETTER RESULT AND WILL DO SO MORE QUICKLY THAN A SOUR OR CRANKY ONE
Try not to begin on the wrong foot. The person you’ve reached did not cause your problem. Someone in his or her company may have done so, by constructing a device in such a way that your problem could all too easily arise (after all, it did arise), but don’t hold that against the agent on the line.
You’ll have far better experience if you begin with a greeting such as, “Hi, Sylvia, How are you?” and then a quick sentence of self-introduction. You could say, “I’m usually good at tech issues but today I’m up against a problem that’s beyond me. I need your help.” Or, in the alternative, “I’m a techno-failure and I really need your help if I’m ever going to talk on my cell phone again.” Things go better if you sound like a real person, not just a problem with an angry voice attached to it.
C. KNOW WHEN TO CUT YOUR LOSSES AND HANG UP
If the agent is reading from a poorly-devised script and keeps repeating the same lines even after you did what you were told, and have clearly stated that the suggested action didn’t work, it’s time to say goodbye. When you ask, “Could we try something else, please?” and the answer is a robotic re-reading from the same script, cut your losses and say, “Thanks. I have to go.”
If you cannot understand what the agent is saying, this is not a shortcoming that’s going to improve in the course of a single phone call, so ring off and call back. It will save time.
D. IF YOU GET GOOD CUSTOMER SERVICE AND GOOD TECH SUPPORT, DO THIS
Take one extra minute and ask to speak to the agent’s supervisor to tell the supervisor what a great job the agent has done. Your words of praise will be added to the agent’s personnel file, and you’ll have made the supervisor’s day: normally, they only hear complaints.
A BLESSING IN DISGUISE
With a modicum of patience, good manners and clear communication you’ll (a) achieve the goal of solving your technical problem, (b) have the best-organized sock drawer in your zip code, and (c) have contributed a positive comment to the agent’s personnel file. Who knew that three such delightful benefits could flow from a single technical glitch?
Why, with enough calls to tech support, by the end of the year you could get your entire home and office whipped into shape — and who says you can’t do thigh lifts and push-ups while waiting to hear the agent’s voice?
Don’t think of your next glitch as an undeserved punishment. It’s a priceless opportunity.
Send your questions about personal, political or cultural matters, or anything else that’s on your mind to Belladonna Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org . All correspondence with her is confidential, and all names, locations, places of employment and ages of the parties will be changed to protect the privacy of the readers who write to contribute questions.