Friday, April 20, 2012

To customer service departments of service providers: do your jobs!

My last two years in IT I worked in first-level customer service, internally, with a GUI package that we called “Customer Service Workbench”, or CSW.  There was a Powerbuilder GUI, a  java data access layer, and replication to a Unix midtier from legacy systems on a conventional OS390 mainframe.  This was an architecture that was popular with big business in the late 90s and early 00s, but might seem passé today.  Java was being used in production as early as 2000, after just four years of major development by Sun.
Working in customer service meant troubleshooting problems that were constantly novel, and often with systems not that well documented.  Over time, one built up a cheat sheat of solutions to common situations.

At one point, the employer handed out customer service T-shirts and stickers and had a customer service party to stir motivation.  We also got into the issue with "Team Handbook" back in the early 1990s. 

As a user, running websites and blogs and getting into film, the shoe is turned, and I find I have to depend on companies for customer service.   Since the buck stops with me, if I can’t do what I need to do because someone at a provider didn’t do the job, I bear the consequences.  So I know what it’s like to be the customer (internal or external) and be the boss.

Many problems with vendors happen with constantly changing interfaces between companies (below).  But I sometimes find with customer service agents that different people have different scripts for the same problem.  Sometimes, my own experience with customer service work leads me to help them.
Companies often overload their help screens and scripts with details that obscure how to do simple things that may not be apparent to new users.

When I was working in a formal salaried position, I was paid ample “wages” to develop and implement and support relatively few and somewhat arcane applications (the most important for the general public might have been NCOA, National Change of Address).  As an “entrepreneurial” self-publisher, I “produce” a lot more for much less direct compensation but also for recognition and public notice and future income.  I’m dependent on business models from service providers that must get much more “output” from what they pay for their customer service (whether by phone or by help forums and chat). I’m much more on my own in practice.  With interfaces between various companies (cable, power grid, broadcasters, social networking companies like Facebook and Twitter, Google,  Apple, Dell, HP printers,  music software like Sibelius, Microsoft (automatic updates of  and service packs for too many things), shared web hosts like Verio,  telecommunications like Verizon, Amazon), it’s inevitable that some things break and I have to work around them. Right now, Microsoft Expression Web stalls, and I don’t have time to fix if for a while; I work around it in simple FTP, Notepad and HTML (which I know well enough from coding days).  Disruption can be a big deal for someone in my situation. 

Update: April 22:

In the Ballston Common Mall, Arlington VA, the Mall software the propagates ads to billboards went down, and left out its dirty laundry Saturday night:

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