I called Sympatico tech support, and was connected to someone in their India call centre. After putting me through more identity verification questions than my bank or Revenue Canada does, I had the chance to explain the problem. As he was “reviewing my file” (file? What file?) the tech support guy asked, “how is the weather today?”
“Excuse me? Weather?”
“Yes. How is the weather today?”
“And what does the weather have to do with solving the problem with sending email?”
“It has nothing to do with solving your problem, sir. I am merely making conversation as I review your file.”
“Please don’t. Don’t make small talk conversation. Just get on with fixing my problem.”
Over the next nearly-an-hour, the tech support guy had a great deal of trouble understanding that:
- If email worked two hours prior, and doesn’t now, and there were no changes on my end, the problem is probably at their end;
- If the same problem occurs suddenly on two separate, independent computers, the problem is probably at their end;
- I do not run Outlook or Outlook Express, and have no desire to do so, and that the problem is probably not in the email client I have been using for over ten years (that had not changed in over a year);
- If email works from the web-based email front-end into Sympatico’s system (which is just a different UI slapped on top of MSN Hotmail), it does not mean that client-based SMTP mail is without problems, especially since the webmail interface uses a different SMTP server (smtphm.sympatico.ca, rather than smtp1.sympatico.ca - if I know this, their tech support should know this);
- When a computer that worked fine two hours prior, suddenly has problems with an external server, the problem is likely not with the client-side computer.
And finally, “I’m sorry sir. We do not support Pegasus mail. You should install Outlook or Outlook Express” is not – I repeat, NOT – in any way, shape or form, an acceptable response to a customer. It is not only the epitome of arrogance and the antithesis of customer service, it is just plain stupid in light of not listening to your customer and being able to understand that the symptoms do not suggest a problem with the client’s computer.
Now, I was very patient with the poor lad in the call centre, because I understand his plight. He is given a very fixed script to follow, and he is not allowed to deviate from that script at the risk of losing his relatively well-paying job in Bangalore (or whatever city in India the call centre is located). The problem with Sympatico’s customer service is systemic, and it originates in Canada.
First, the first line call centre scripts are designed with the assumption of a naïve customer/user with initial configuration problems. Although the archetypal naïve customer may comprise the bulk of trouble calls (and the archetype was probably derived from a theoretical use-case scenario analysis which prioritizes preconceptions above perceiving and thinking) it is insulting for Sympatico to treat all callers as - well, let’s call a spade a f*cking shovel – stupid. The script should recognize that sophisticated and technically knowledgeable users might call for support after having done all the preliminary diagnostics, and can alert Sympatico to problems before their technicians realize that there is a problem. In other words, customer service calls can reverse from a costly burden to be dispensed with as quickly as possible, into a no-cost, early warning diagnostic system for their own services.
Second, once the first line support person recognizes that the user knows more than he does, the focus should be on taking all the useful diagnostic information and escalating as quickly as possible. The going-in assumption should not necessarily be that when a user has a problem with the service, that the problem is with the user (see the preceding paragraph). Also, having second-level support available would be a nice (but unfortunately unlikely) change.
Third, it is clear that Sympatico techs were doing some monkeying around with the SMTP server in the period between when sending email was working and when it wasn’t. Is it too much to ask that all such activities should be reported as a potential service alert to the call centre, so that when (not if) a problem arises with service, the customer can be told that there is maintenance occurring, and the techs back in Canada can be notified that they screwed something up.
Ironically, I’ve been having a number of conversations lately about how companies can better listen to their customers, how customer loyalty is achieved, and how to engender trust and advocacy among customers. Sympatico is a perfect example of what not to do in relationship marketing terms.
I have been a loyal Bell customer, since it has been so bloody difficult to change the integration of the many Bell services in my communications life. And besides, my experience with Rogers – the other high-speed ISP in this area – was even worse when I was a Rogers cable customer. According to the traditional relationship marketing curve, I am way up there – I use multiple services, I wouldn’t consider leaving, and I would even “recommend” the service to a friend (“Yeah, it’s the lesser of two evils, since my experience with Rogers was worse, but Bell is only marginally less evil than Rogers, and they are trying really hard to catch up.”).
Message to Bell Sympatico: Don’t ever – EVER – confuse my relative position on the patently wrong relationship marketing curve with any association with trust, true advocacy, or the mistaken idea that you have a clue about how to appropriately listen to, or treat customers. It's not as if this is the first time, either!
[Technorati tags: bell | sympatico | customer service | relationship marketing | call centre]