Deny First, Resolve Later

One thing that has been increasingly difficult over the years as there has become more focus on metrics for measuring call center success is actually getting help.  Too many companies appear to have a policy of denying responsibility first, pushing the problem off on someone else, and only later doing any work once someone else has definitively proven that the problem is theirs to solve.

In my current job, I deal with a lot of phone companies.  From AT&T all the way down to podunk local cable companies branching out into VOIP.  Our company is an answering service, and whenever someone calls us with a problem, we take ownership of it, work out all the details in an effort to either a) find and resolve the problem, or b) conclusively prove that the problem isn’t our problem and direct our customers to the right place to resolve their issue.  As an answering service, the one thing we fundamentally depend on is calls being forwarded from our customer’s location to our servers.  Once we get the call, we can do our magic and answer the phone properly and perform all the duties they pay us for.  If we are getting the call and something isn’t going right, we work to resolve the problem.  If we aren’t getting the call… well, there is only so much we can do.

What we don’t do is just shove people off, tell them to call someone else, and leave it at that.  No.  Even when we are certain that the problem isn’t ours, we walk the customer through some simple tests and see what results we get.  Ninety-nine times out of a hundred (probably more, but I don’t want to get into large numbers or fractions) the problem is with their phone company.  (Half of the remaining times the problem is with their physical phones and the other half it is with us or our phone service provider.)  Either the phone company isn’t forwarding to us, they are forwarding to the wrong number, or they are forwarding to us but their service lacks the basic call data that most “real” phone companies send us and we are unable to process the call properly.  For the third option, we have a simple solution, takes 5 minutes on our end to resolve and then it’s up to their phone company to change the forwarding number – which should be another 5 minutes, but can often take 3 business days.  The first two options, however, is where the fight begins.

We do our job, then we say, “The problem is [insert exact problem here]. Please call your phone company and tell them [insert solution here]. You can have them conference with us if they don’t understand and we can get it sorted out.”  They thank us and then call their phone company who more often than not tell them, “Our stuff works fine, call your answering service and have them fix it.”  It usually takes about five rounds of this before the customer starts yelling at us.  Why us?  Because for some reason people trust the phone company.  Even when it’s a podunk operation serving the people of Greater Backwater with their fine assortment of tin cans and string, they trust the phone company as a utility and distrust us as some sort of money-grubbing for profit evil business.

Eventually, we get a conference call going and I get to explain to the phone company tech how to do his job.  The worst part is, when I’m doing this, I can hear the contempt in their voice.  They know how to do this, they don’t need me to explain it, but they don’t want to do it.  They want someone else to fix it without involving them.

And the phone companies aren’t alone here.  I run into it everywhere.

It really irritates me because I would never run a business that way.  Never.  Your customers pay for service, you should give them the best service and support you can give.  Of course, the scary though being that perhaps this half-assed responsibility shirking service is the best they can give…

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