Monday, December 29, 2008

How good are most companies at telephone customer service, really?


Even now, I recall the “learning curve” difficulty as I migrated from mainframe programming to client server at the beginning of 2000 and a position in telephone internal customer support. I thought for a while that the problem was somewhat unique to my own personality, as liking to own something, and as to some personal distractions at the time. But since then I’ve learned of others who made transitions and ran into similar difficulties on the job.

It’s hard to learn OOP piecemeal, and the best way to have learned it is to have gotten in on the ground floor with a project and seen it through to implementation and support. What you own, what you are personally responsible for at work, you know and you master.

I’ve seen the same problem with customer support at telecommunications companies (cable television, ISPs and web hosting). Although a variety of business models have existed since the 90s for these companies, for a while the trend has been toward consolidation and merging, and that is even more likely now given the economic climate. But support employees in large call centers often have difficulty reliably diagnosing problems over the phone. Different representatives will have different answers to the same question, and a lot of times I feel I wish I were working there; I could do their job. Of course, that’s partly because I know my own setup at home and the quirks of my own web domains, and how to resolve a certain set of problems in detail.

Add to all of this the fact that many telephone support services are overseas. Whenever I've called Dell, I've gotten someone in India. Perhaps that's old fashioned "extreme capitalism."

I did use the services of Geek Squad recently for a HAL problem with Microsoft XP (that seems to happen to a lot of people these days, with all of Microsoft’s automatic pushes) and what I found was that, to be fluent enough to solve operating system problems in almost any home or small business environment, one has to have started young. It seems that learning systems programming, firmware and operating systems to that level of detail is rather like learning to play a musical instrument, or even becoming very fluent in multiple foreign languages. If you start young (as a tween) and keep up, you’re going to be very good at it by even college years. Older techies never quite had that chance.

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