Sunday, April 07, 2013

Way too much information

Anyone whose worked in corporate customer service in the last 30 years has probably had to sit through a couple of those Gawd-awful, John Cleese-type training videos featuring starving, D-grade actors who’ve sold their Oscar dreams down the river for a couple of bucks performing two-dimensional skits for brain-dead desk jockeys and call centre clerks.

My introduction to this was straight out of school, when I took a job serving watery pots out of greasy glasses to hardened criminals in one of the Outer East’s more notorious bikie bars.  For me it was just a job; sure, I’d not learn anything useful, but provided I didn’t get glassed, king-hit or have a chair smashed over me in one of the weekly brawls, I would collect a steady, minimum wage pay-check with which to advance my own liver-destructing activities, and as an added bonus, catch front-row views of my topless colleagues between 4 and 6 on a Friday.

But that all changed when, shortly after commencing my employment, the pub was bought-out by a swanky, well-established real estate firm reading the urban expansion auguries and speculating on avant-garde gentrification of the establishment ahead of the arrival of an entirely new, upwardly mobile residential market.

Within days of the takeover, we were being drilled with phone-answering hooks which were so long and grammatically complicated that they would send our regular clientele packing long before they’d had a chance to talk,

“Good morning, welcome to The Astoria!  My name is Donkey and I am your friendly, enthusiastic and ready-to-help customer service agent on this bright, sunny morning.  Please take a moment to press 8# to hear about all of our amazing services and products, or feel free to simply request anything specific from me as soon as you are ready” [CLICK – beep-beep-beep].

Ahead of its time it certainly was!  And so too was another customer service approach which was strongly advocated for in the training videos, and soon adopted and directed by the new management.  This approach dictated that if there was to be even the slightest delay in meeting a customer’s demand, the staff were to communicate directly and often with the customer to update them on the progress of their product or service.

You can just imagine the response this got from ‘Crazy Shit’ McCauley, one of our friendly regulars, during my first shift after customer service training;

Donkey:    “I’m sorry about the delay in delivering your beverage, Sir.  We are having some trouble with the turnover of barrels in the chilling facility below stairs”.

CSMcC:    “Well why the f**k don’t you shut your poncey, pretty-boy d**k-trap and get on with swapping the f**king barrels over so I can get me f**king beer.  Stupid, lazy c**t!”.

As I said, ‘ahead of its time’.  These kinds of responses went on for well over two years, by which time I’d gotten jack of the daily abuse, projectile mucous and physical threats and took up a job sweeping the floor of a gay men’s hair salon (while dressed in red hot pants and with only a dustpan and brush to work with – obviously another story all together, but I can assure you the tips were incredible).

But the point is that while the customer service training videos and executive-level research might suggest that customers want to know the minutiae of why their meal/their bill/their statement is taking too long, my experiences at The Astoria suggest otherwise.  So too does another example which I experienced today, this time as the customer.

This afternoon, I was sitting aboard a jam-packed airliner awaiting take-off, fuming over delays which had us sitting motionless in the sweltering, tropical midday sun as the tarmac around us slowly baked into a sticky black mess.  The delay, we came to understand from the enthusiastic young Captain, was due to a malfunction in the air-conditioning system, which had been blowing-out scorching hot air for the better part of an hour. 

In his best FM radio jock voice, the Captain went into great detail about the debilitated cooling system, and ‘assured’ us that the service crew had all the parts out of the plane and strewn across the baking cement in an effort to isolate and fix the problem.  If the Captain’s intention here had been to make me feel more disposed to forgive the airline for the uncomfortable delay, then blowing the lid off my mistaken beliefs relating to meticulous airline service procedures wasn’t quite getting me there, and my anxiety was soon mirroring the cabin mercury.

About thirty minutes later, we roasting passengers were revived by the initial waft and later firm blast of cool air coming from the vents.  Our Captain then publically thanked John the Engineer for “…coming all the way out here on his day off to single-handedly fix the problem – you may not realise it,” confided the Captain, “but this is a job normally reserved for a team of three”. 

Again, admission of sub-regulatory airline safety protocols wasn’t helping me to excuse the yawning gap in our departure schedule, but the customer service pitch didn’t end there.  A short while later, the Captain again spoke over the intercom, “Sorry for the further delay here, folks; we’ve been having some trouble with the flight computer.  We’ve been trying a few things here and there, and wouldn’t you know?  It seems the best way to fix these things is the ol’ Control-Alt-Delete combination … Ha!  So we’re just re-booting the system and we’ll have the flight plan up in no time, and we should be right for take-off in about two minutes…”.

Are you getting my point here?  And just when one thought that all that might seem just a little unnerving to an anxious passenger, this near-final clanger from our Staff-Member-of-the-Month of a Captain, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I apologise again for that being the longest two minutes of your life; that’s because we had developed a different flight plan when we thought the air conditioner wasn’t going to work, but when it was fixed – thanks again John … that man really is amazing! – we were back onto the old flight plan but we accidentally sent the new one to Air Traffic Control and now we’re trying to sort it out.” 

“Right, that’s it!” screamed every fibre in my body, “I do not want to be here … disarm those bloody doors and get me the hell out of this thing”.  But my desperate attempt at escape proved unnecessary with the Captain’s next words.  By this time, we’d taxied onto the runway, and had been waiting in poll position when the Captain announced, “This seems to be taking too long I’m afraid.  We’ll have to taxi back to the apron now to make room for the Air Solomons plane to depart, and then we’ll have another go.  It won’t take long and we’ll soon be off.”  With that I gave a sigh of relief and looked forward to getting out of this ageing tin can, but at that moment, for the first time all afternoon, the Captain decided to act without passenger consultation, and in a complete contravening of his latest communication we hurtled down the runway and were off into the big blue!

As I clung to my seat for the next four hours, my knuckles getting whiter and shinier with every turbulent bump or shake, I reflected that I reckon the customer service industry R&D teams have got it completely wrong.  No customer really wants to know the whys, the wherefores or the what ifs.  Customers and service users choose to have others pour their drinks, fly their planes or re-insert their haemorrhoids because they are either too lazy, or prefer not to be bothered with the technicalities.  They choose not to be in the driver’s seat, and therefore they simply do not need to be part of the minutiae of decision-making or output progression.  Too much information just puts people on edge, or else highlights the service provider’s incompetence … and there’s no way in the world that either of those two outcomes are going to be good for business.

The only info that we passengers didn’t get was seeing this guy when he boarded the plane and took to the flight deck - all would have been instantly clear.  Pic:

1 comment:

Ms Vanuatu said...

WELCOME to Vanuatu, Bienvenue a Vanuatu! Lol! Nice one! There's the air way traffic for ya!