Tuesday, January 12, 2016

On telephone customer service

This is in response to a discussion between Chris Hardwick and Jen Kirkman on episode 717 of the Nerdist podcast, 14AUG15.

The first thing you need to understand is that telephone customer service is one of the worst jobs in the world. That is not hyperbole. Employee turnover is ridiculously high. The job is extremely stressful and you're not paid very well, so it's understandable. It's so bad that some companies outsource some of their customer service to prisons. Employees are expected to take as many phone calls as humanly possible, keep them as short as possible, and be friendly, polite, and empathetic - but also firm when needed.

The second thing you need to understand is that "quality" means something very different than you're used to. A "quality" phone call is not a "good" call. It is a *consistent* call. It doesn't matter how the customer feels at the end of the call, at least not where quality is concerned. What makes a quality call? Well, experiences may differ, but here's what I experienced in my two years in telephone customer service. Basically, you're adhering to a script...something like this:

"Thank you for calling customer service. My name is X. May I have your name and account number, please?"
Let's assume for brevity that the customer knows their account number.
"Thank you, Mr./Ms. X. While I'm pulling up your information, how are you doing today?"
Customer says good.
"I'm glad to hear that! I have your account loaded. How may I help you?"
Customer complains about something that the company cannot or will not fix.
"I'm sorry to hear that. Regrettably, I cannot help you. The terms you agreed to when you made this purchase cannot be changed."
Customer starts yelling
"I'm sorry you feel that way, and I wish there was something more I could do for you, but our policies are clearly outlined on our web site. Is there anything else I can do for you today?"
Customer is outraged, demands supervisor
"I can transfer your call to a specialist, but they will most likely advise you in the same way I have. Would you like me to transfer your call?"
Customer demands supervisor, not specialist
"I'm sorry, but our supervisors are here for administrative purposes only. They do not take phone calls. Would you like to speak to a specialist?"
Brevity: customer declines, defeated
"Well, if there's nothing else I can do for you, Mr./Ms. X, I'd like to thank you for calling. Have a good day."

In case it wasn't clear, the script goes like this:
"How are you?"
"How may I help?"
Find appropriate policy in database and relay that information to customer. If issue can be resolved, attempt to resolve. If not, politely inform as such.
Ask if there's anything else customer needs

Please notice some other things, like word choice. It's not "unfortunate" that Acme won't refund Wile E. Coyote for yet another failed roadrunner trap. It's "regrettable." "Unfortunate" implies that luck is involved, which is not the case...Acme's policy is no refunds. Likewise, Mr. Coyote can't speak to a supervisor - only a "specialist." And the agent is not allowed to hang up on Mr. Coyote, no matter how verbally abusive he might be.

Every single call is recorded, and people are paid to listen to them and use a checklist to make sure that the agents are following the script. If you don't ask the customer if there's anything else they need, you get dinged. If you don't ask how they are, you get dinged. If you use the wrong words, you get dinged.

So try to keep that in mind when you call customer service.

Oh...and yes, customer service agents can hear you when they put you on hold.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

So Close...

I probably won't do this often - this is a blog, not a Tumblr (not that there's anything wrong with that) - but this image is very much in keeping with the tone of this blog.

The asteroid missed? There's always next time.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

To Address Climate Change, We Will Have to Cheat

Last evening was the third edition of "Watch John Boehner Squirm," also known as the 2013 State of the Union Address. And among other things, President Obama talked about climate change:
But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change.  (Applause.)  Now, it’s true that no single event makes a trend.  But the fact is the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15.  Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods -- all are now more frequent and more intense.  We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence.  Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science -- and act before it’s too late.  (Applause.) (Source: White House)
Inexplicably, much of the audience - mostly comprised of Members of Congress - applauded instead of the far more rational response: bursting into raucous laughter.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

It's time for the Tiny Toons and Animaniacs to graduate

Hasbro's cable TV network, The Hub, has recently started showing the 1990s cartoon, Animaniacs. And it's still brilliant.

For those who somehow missed out, Animaniacs is an animated series from Warner Bros.  Each episode is a half-hour long and contains cartoons featuring a stable of characters. The primary characters are the Warner Brothers (and Sister), Yakko, Wakko, and Dot, who live in the water tower on the Warner Brothers movie lot. 

In addition, there's:

  • Pinky and the Brain - a pair of laboratory mice who are plotting to take over the world (and who got a spin-off series),
  • Slappy Squirrel - A (for lack of a better word) misanthropic squirrel who lives in a tree and often endures the presence of her sunnier-disposed nephew, Skippy,
  • Buttons and Mindy - Buttons is the protective family dog and Mindy is the reckless toddler who - somehow - gets in and out of scrapes without harm to herself (Buttons is never so lucky), and
  • Goodfeathers - A pigeon parody of Goodfellas
The show also featured dry comedy bits like "Good Idea / Bad Idea" and entertaining songs, like ones listing all the nations of the world. 

Animaniacs, of course, followed from the success of Tiny Toon Adventures, in which the Looney Tunes (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, et al) instructed the next generation of merry melody makers in the art and science of absurd animated antics. And don't get me wrong - Tiny Toon Adventures was great. This is one of my favorite cartoons of all time: "Going Up" featuring Baby Plucky Duck (who, as you might expect, is Daffy Duck's protégé):

That said, Tiny Toon Adventures could be rather didactic at times. And I don't know about you, but there are few things I dislike more on television than feeling like I'm being beaten over the head with some sort of moral or lesson. Insipid tween shows like Degrassi and family sitcoms / dramadies like Full House and Boy Meets World can be so painfully predictable that they make me want to claw my eyes out.

Protagonist does something stupid → Protagonist suffers consequences of their actions → Protagonist is taught a Very Valuable Lesson™ by an authority figure

Thankfully, Animaniacs was better able to avoid this pitfall. It racked up nearly 100 episodes, plus the aforementioned spin-off and a direct-to-video movie. Both series are clearly beloved - check Google, YouTube and IMDB if you don't believe me. And yet...they're gone.

I remember when the first animation / live-action crossover Looney Tunes movie, Space Jam, came out. I fully expected at least a cameo or two - maybe the Warners dashing across the basketball court, chased by Ralph the inept security guard? Nada. Nothing. Everyone made a big deal out of Lola Bunny - a female analogue to Bugs - even though his young pupil Babs Bunny debuted a full six years earlier! And Babs wasn't a token female jammed into the script to avoid charges of anti-feminism or what-have-you - she was a developed character! And does anyone really care about Lola anymore?

The Looney Tunes keep going - presently on the Cartoon Network series The Looney Tunes Show, which I tried and didn't care for - but no Tiny Toons, no Animaniacs...they're still AWOL. And that's just not right. These great characters shouldn't be languishing in obscurity - thank goodness the Hub is introducing the Animaniacs to a new generation! 

But it's past time that they "graduated" to membership in the Looney Tunes cast. 

Bring 'em back, WB. Bring 'em back.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Exploiting Newtown?!

This caught my eye....

Sen. Ted Cruz: Obama Began Exploiting Newtown Tragedy “Within Minutes” 

Money quote:
...within minutes of that horrible tragedy in Newtown the president began trying to exploit that tragedy to push a gun control agenda....
I know that "politics ain't beanbag." I know that politicians are generally considered to be dishonest people. And there's no question that scandals like Watergate, Iran-Contra, and the efforts of the Bush and Blair administrations to push us into war in Iraq have really eroded public faith in government.

But Senator Cruz...I wonder...is it even remotely possible that President Obama is advocating for reform because he thinks it's the right thing to do? The way that some folks talk, I imagine that they think that the minute word came to the president about Newtown, he laughed maniacally, twisted his evil black mustache and rubbed his hands together in villainous glee! 

Skepticism of government is a good, healthy thing. But someone disagreeing with you is not the same thing as that person speaking / acting in bad faith!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Things I Don't Understand #1: Corporate Charity

Y'know, I read things like this:

...and I invariably find myself puzzled - bewildered, even. Am I the only person in the world who recognizes corporate charity for what it is - a marketing effort?

For example, consider the various education programs that major companies have going - the big ones are General Mills' "Box Tops for Education" and the Campbell's Soup Company's "Labels for Education." The only way that you, the consumer, can persuade these mighty corporations to contribute to education funding is to buy their products. Then you have to collect the easily-lost / misplaced pieces of paper or cardboard and give them to your school, who in turn has to keep track of all these scraps. "Gee, I hope they doesn't get lost in the mail, 'cause we really need the money!"

Here's another one: Breast Cancer Awareness. Everything turns pink for about a month. If you buy their product, they'll donate money to cancer advocacy organizations, like the disgraced Susan G. Komen Foundation. Sometimes you need to take additional steps to get the donations sent along, like lids or box tops or codes you enter online. Don't get me wrong - cancer sucks. I'm not a fan. But it's not like these companies are doing this out of the goodness of their collective hearts. It's not like they're forgoing profits or executive salaries to contribute more funds to the cause, either.

If America's conglomerates really wanted to help, they wouldn't bother with all this silliness. It would probably be cheaper just to donate the cash up front - no need to hire people to open envelopes and count small cardboard rectangles for hours on end. In some cases, it would probably be cheaper and more efficient still just to stop avoiding taxes. But these programs are marketing efforts, not philanthropy. It makes them look good. It helps keep customers from buying store brands.

It's marketing

I imagine we'd all be better off if we just ignored these sales pitches. If you bought mostly store brands or generics, you could donate some of the cash you saved to whatever causes you fancy, and it would probably end up putting more funds into your preferred organization's coffers than if you bought a brand name product and turned in the label.

At this point, the corporate apologists will say, "Oh, that's not true! You're so cynical! Big companies DO care!" Give me a break. For-profit corporations care about quarterly earnings statements and dividends - making (and bragging about) donations of art supplies to elementary schools is intended to boost those earnings and dividends first and foremost.

It's marketing!

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Kids Don't Need Recess!

Bad news, America: our nation's pediatricians are freaking out because our children aren't getting enough recess time in school. These PBJ physicians fear that the lack of breathers for our brats is impeding their socialization. They need time to "decompress" and "think" and "imagine." Apparently these munchkin medics didn't get the memo: we don't need kids to learn how to "think" and "imagine." That's why we've been instituting all these educational reforms in the first place! The ultimate goal of public education in the 21st century is obvious: creating good workers. Check any beehive or ant hill you like - drones don't need to "think" or "imagine" - just follow directions or die.

America's ankle-biters need to know how to endure a bad case of the Mondays. They need to study proper flair placement. They need to get the hang of filling out futile forms and pointless reports. Children need to be taught how to work on boring tasks for hours, days, weeks, months, and years without so much as a weekend to rest. We need them to learn how to endure long periods of meaningless drudgery. They should master interacting with idiotic managers and stupid co-workers...not silly things like "socialization." Oh, and recess sounds an awful lot like a "break" to me - and breaks are things that socialists like, and we can't have that! Unions are destroying America as it is!

Last but not least: America's rug rats need to understand how to take orders, follow directions, and - above all - obey authority. They're not going to learn how to submit on the playground!

So I say - cancel recess altogether. Stop with the "arts" and other such nonsense. School should be year-round, and the days should be much, much longer. The ultimate goal of education should be breaking the little buggers' spirits so that when they hit the age of eighteen, they're ready to become fresh cogs in the machine.