Leadership

10 ways to seriously annoy your customers

Alienating customers is obviously not the way to build a healthy tech career--but understanding what might set them off will help you develop better relationships. IT pro Jeff Dray takes a light-hearted look at behaviors that will put you on the fast track to the unemployment line.

This article is also available as a PDF download.

If you want to irritate your customers and make yourself unpopular with them and with your bosses, try the following suggestions. You'll discover that it's easy to destroy the good will and confidence of your customers, those people who are the lifeblood of your business. Your reputation for good service and reliability that's taken years to build can be irrevocably destroyed by following these few simple steps.

#1: Use an automatic call distribution (ACD) system to answer calls

It was once believed that all customers longed to have their calls answered within three rings, so many shops bought an ACD. It answers the call immediately and proceeds to irritate the hell out of customers by assuring them that their call IS important and will be answered as soon as somebody can be bothered to do so. They compound the felony by destroying the reputation of Antonio Vivaldi through incessant repetition of a snippet of the "Four Seasons" or by playing a series of poorly made midi music files, if the company is really cheap.

#2: Store all your spares in a central location and use the cheapest and most inefficient courier company to send them to sites

Make sure that at least one time out of four, the courier takes a week to deliver the wrong part. Another variation is to avoid testing replacement equipment properly before dispatch, so that you can have it fail out of the box on the customer's premises. This will ensure that it takes a further 24 hours to get the customer up and running. Under no circumstances should you attempt to keep a small stock of the more frequently used parts in your car so that you can fix problems in a single visit. Any kit of parts must have one piece either broken or missing.

#3: Talk down to the customers

Probably the best way to damage relationships is to be patronising, condescending, rude, and offensive. Make it clear to customers that there are things you would rather be doing, like resting at home with the TV remote in one hand and a beer in the other. It might surprise you to learn that they probably think the same thing--only they're too polite to say so. Good opening lines might be: "You wouldn't be expected to understand" or "Well, if you must buy cheap, you must expect to have problems." These lines never fail.

#4: Make customer problems appear as a personal affront to your skills

It should be obvious to customers that such trivial problems are caused by their lack of knowledge, or stupidity, as we techs like to call it, and that their foolishness has severely inconvenienced you. After all, you've never made a mistake at work, unwittingly entered the wrong command, or fiddled about with system settings, such as configuring the graphics settings to a resolution higher than the monitor can support, have you? That would be just plain dumb.

#5: Fail to meet your appointments when you say you will

Forgetting a customer and going to the wrong place can be a great technique and can be aided by not bothering to record appointments properly in a diary. Make sure that when you next speak to that customer, you avoid mentioning the meeting and never, under any circumstances, apologise or attempt to make amends for your actions. Remember, they need you far more than you need them.

#6:Don't switch on your cell phone until at least lunchtime

You don't want calls from customers or your bosses to interfere with that long "working" breakfast in your favourite café or diner. Never reply to your voicemail messages. People only use voicemail to try to irritate you. The messages they leave are symptoms of their malice toward you and should be treated as such. Similar requests are sometimes made by e-mail. This is obviously a mistake, as they should never have got their hands on your address in the first place.

It's up to you to decide whom you speak to and whose jobs you consider to be worthy of your attention. Should you inadvertently answer your phone to a customer, don't forget to answer all their questions with monosyllables. An impatient groan or two won't be out of place either. Make full use of the Hold option on your phone. You may be having a conversation about football with your colleague and you don't want the flow to be interrupted.

#7: Always behave in a boorish and surly manner when you're with a customer

One useful variant of this approach is to treat customers to a host of sexist or racist jokes. This is a 24-carat, gold-plated, surefire technique to get them to lodge a high-level complaint about you. You'll have the satisfaction of being able to nurse a grudge against your bosses, the customers, and the world in general. There is a plethora of off-color jokes that can be employed here, all available in my anthology Get Yourself Fired the Easy Way, available from all good bookstores or Amazon.

#8: When the customer is talking to you, avoid eye contact

Allow your eyes to wander around the room, sizing up the available women (or men). Try to put a value on the cars parked outside. Go ahead and ponder the ending of the movie you watched last night. When the customer finishes speaking, a remark such as "Hmm?" or "Is that all?" will greatly enhance the annoyance factor.

#9: When female customers ask what you're doing, reply, "You wouldn't understand"

Or "Don't trouble your pretty little head about it" or "Don't worry, it's man's work" It's amazing how effective this approach can be. Not only will they never allow you near them again, you could end up with a real injury to brag about in the pub afterward. However, it might be a good idea to pretend that the black eye you're sporting was the result of a bar fight and not an irate female customer losing her temper.

#10: When your boss makes an appointment to discuss your performance, don't argue or fight your corner--simply don't attend

If you don't talk about it, it can't happen (see The Philosophy of Homer Simpson). This meeting will almost certainly be the result of a customer complaint. You can compound the customer aggravation by confronting the one you believe has lodged the complaint, making a scene at their place of work. Standing in the street roaring abuse might be a nice touch.

Have you followed these handy tips? Congratulations! You will soon be joining the end of the queue at the local social benefit office. The free time you've been craving for so long will finally be yours. In abundance.

17 comments
NickNielsen
NickNielsen

It's not just the "light" classics that get massacreed on ACD. One help desk I deal with seems to have only four songs licensed (probably freebies that came with the system). Their ACD plays Chuck Mangione's "Feels So Good", The Pink Panther Theme, The Harry Gunn Theme, and Autumn Leaves (all by the original artists!) in random rotation, interrupted, of course, at also random intervals by the "Your call is important to us" dialog. I've been on hold there for as long as 15 minutes while they chased down a Level 3 engineer and never heard any other songs. That system is also voice activated, using specified keywords. Maybe it's me, but I usually have to hold the phone directly in front of my mouth and pronounce the keywords "one-syl-la-ble-at-a-time" to get the system to recognize them. Does anybody else have this problem with a voice-recognition system? Edit: If it's not spelling, it's grammar.

Jeff Dray
Jeff Dray

But each example was based (loosely)on a real event. My Gripe with ACDs is that they are not used correctly. I frequently call a company that takes forever to answer, they compound the fault by thanking me for my patience, assuring me that my call is important to them and massacring the classics. If only they would just have enough employees to answer calls in a timely fashion.

gsquared
gsquared

Five years ago, I was hired to replace the point-of-sale software for a small shipping/mailbox company (kind of like a Mailboxes, etc.). They were having to completely upgrade because the company supplying the software suddenly decided, out of the blue, to stop supporting their current product and come up with a brand new product. (No warning to customers, just "hey, what you're using right now works, but it won't in 3 months!") The new product was a pain to install, and the froze completely almost every time it tried to print a UPS shipping label. Sometimes, it would take up to 5 minutes to print a receipt. As you can imaging, the customers standing in line to ship stuff weren't happy with having to reboot computers to get receipts/shipping labels to print, etc. So the owners of the shop weren't happy either. (Fortunately, we had installed this on only 1 machine at the time and had the legacy system still on the other 4. So it was a simple matter to avoid using that register and just use the others.) Dozens of calls to tech support ensued. "Try this ...," they would say, and I would try it, always to no avail. Finally, during one call, I said, "We're trying to get shipping labels to print from your new product," and I was going to continue with, "but we can't seem to make it work consistently", but I was interrupted by the tech, who angrilly said, "which works!" About a month later, I was finally able to get this POS (which stands for other things than just "point-of-sale") to work, but to do so, I had to upgrade all the cash registers to Pentium IV 2GHz, 1 Gig of RAM, Windows XP Pro. Anything less, and it routinely crashed, locked up, refused to print, etc. When I pointed this out to the developers that had built it, it turned out that the whole company producing this software had recently upgraded to very high power workstations and servers, and had never tested the software on anything with lower specs. The gem of the whole thing though, was being interrupted mid-tech-support call, with an angry tech telling me, "which works!", as an accusation that I was wasting his time. Fortunately, I never had to work with that company again. (The people I did the install and setup for, I still do business with. The POS vendor, I will never, try to work with again.) (Unfortunately, the shipping shop needed to use that particular company's software, or they would lose 10 years of customers records stored in a proprietary database. I recommended changing vendors, but they really couldn't without completely changing their business model and losing a lot of repeat business.)

JamesRL
JamesRL

Our corporate customers tell us that getting a prompt pickup on the phone is very important to them. Many of them hang up after 20 seconds of ringing. James

JodyGilbert
JodyGilbert

Have you ever had to deal with support techs who were this cavalier or unreliable? What other negative behaviors would you caution techs about?

tinkerman
tinkerman

I don't mind waiting on hold as long as necessary to talk to the right person. I place the phone on speaker, turn down the volume, and get other work done while I wait for a click or change in the tone to key me to pick up. Nothing anoys me more than being interrupted every 20 or 30 seconds to be "reminded" that my call is on hold!

GSG
GSG

There is a company who shall remain nameless (the number one dication and transcription product in the world), who has had the same stupid music on their ACD for over 15 years. I once was on hold waiting for them to answer the phone for 6 hours. Yes, I said 6 hours. Why did I wait? If you hung up, you lost your place in line. They didn't have anyone answering the phone to triage calls, and their rule was that the tech had to fix the problem with the customer on the phone, so they never hung up until they finished the fix, then they moved on to the next poor sucker in the queue. They had so many customers dropping them, that they had to totally re-vamp their help desk. I must also note that the 6 hour wait was a violation of our terms of contract so we got a whole year of support free.

JamesRL
JamesRL

When I worked for a major telecom equipment manufacturer, they had a request out at one point to help train their system. They were building a voice recognition engine for 411 calls. They provided us a list of names and addresses and instructions on how to call to provide the data to the system. If I recall correctly, they used over 1500 voices from across the country to train the system. Since then, I've never had a problem using VR on my local 411 service. :) James

girligeek
girligeek

I hate voice recognition. One hardware vendor I use has not sent me to the right department once since they started using voice recognition on their phone system..I'd much rather just push a button

JamesRL
JamesRL

ACDs are there to ensure you get to the right person as soon as possible, if of course they are set up correctly. My company writes and supports some pretty complicated software for a particualr vertical, and we have to have specialists in each module. If we didn't have ACD, very few people would get first call resolution. They would all have to wait for call backs, and you know that can be most difficult to arrange. Wordperfect used to have a great system that would tell you what place you had in line and estimate your remaining wait time. Sure we could answer your phone on the first ring. We'd just have to charge you 4 times as much. I get as frustrated as anyone. James

JamesRL
JamesRL

Many moons ago, I worked for a Fortune 100 company which had just signed an agreement with MS to put Office on every computer (back in the days when there was competition). The cost was a staggering number of millions of dollars. We were of course given access to MS tech support for businesses. One day I called to report a bug, only to hear a recording saying that in order to improve customer service, all staff were on training, and I could leave a message. I had a very good idea on how they could improve customer service. Answering the phone would be a good start. I did call our sales rep and told them so. James

Justin James
Justin James

The author completely fails to propose an alternative to an ACD system. What are you going to do? Provide a list of ever extension at the Help Desk, and tell the customer to call all 100 of those numbers until someone picks up? I spent years on a Help Desk; often, I would be the only person there and still manage to juggle three, four calls simultaneously. It is an art, but one that involves paying your people more than $11/hour like most Help Desks do. J.Ja

w2ktechman
w2ktechman

I do agree that it is a good idea to have a ACD. It also leaves an opportunity to leave a message about current issues (new virus, router outage, etc.). This can reduce the number of people to actually need to contact someone, because their question was answered. But, many places seem to go overboard with options. There is nothing like getting a tree menu "press or say 8 now", just to be sent to another tree "press or say 6 now", to go to another tree, etc., etc, etc.,. On these trees, I am secretly plotting the destuction of the phone system for some corps. -- comcast comes to mind, especially since I get 'dropped' one of 3 times that I call, and have to go through the maze again, and again

pjaneski
pjaneski

Order placed Nov 8. Bank processed charge next day. After emails and phone calls and waiting for a week I inquired yesterday about receiving my unlock code. I got this, but no unlock code: From: "DiamondCS Support" To: Sent: Friday, November 17, 2006 2:17 AM Subject: Re: Are you going to provide an unlock code for Order Number 11082006-7xxxxxxxxx? Hi, Due to a problem at our server, all these orders are causing this problem Each day, they are being reprocessed and manually sent out. You should have received yours by now. Best regards, DiamondCS Support www.diamondcs.com.au

murso
murso

please don't call me by name when you haven't said hello first. And while I might be one step away from a tin foil hat, I'd rather you simply say, hello how may I help you and then turn on the mute and yell to your buddies around you, with a "hey it's John Simpleton again from Rhode Island."

Jupiter9
Jupiter9

I was involved in putting the music on hold on the system where I work. I'm also married to a working musician. You cannot just take a CD from the store and put it on your ACD. You have to pay royalty fees, in perpetuity, or buy a royalty-free music CD. These generally cost about $75 for a disc that has maybe 25 different tracks of different lengths. They're not cutting edge, but they tend to be inoffensive. Some companies hook up to a local radio station, but that's not legit, either. What I dislike most on ACD is when you're waiting you have to listen to someone tell you how wonderful some new product is (and maybe it's the one you're having trouble with). Or you get scolded to "go to longassnameofwebsite dot com slash randomsequenceoflettersandnumbers dot html for immediate assistance." Yeah, I wrote all that down. And that buttery condescending voice saying everything slowly. "Menu options have changed, so listen carefully, idiot. If you want to talk to a service representative and you are in Guam, the Virgin Islands, Hawaii, Papua, New Guinea, the Azores, South Africa or Antarctica, press 8. Para escutcheon de la corazon verde, press 9. If you want to speak to a business support level 6 representative, press 5. If you want to speak to a business support level 5 representative, press 6. There is no number 7. If you want to talk to enterprise level business support press 4. If you want to talk to business level enterprise support press 3. If you are calling from a pay phone insert twenty more cents. If you wish to have your call returned by the next available operator, press 1, then enter your phone number in the order of: exchange, number, area code, country code, and prefix. If you press 0 you will be disconnected."

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

that your request for the code might indicate otherwise... :^0 Confucious say "Please remove cranium from inappropriate location."

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