My job title and description are conversation stoppers. I tell people what I do, and the listener fights hard to hold back a yawn and they rush to change the subject as quickly as possible.
Yeah, I get it. Customer support isn’t exciting. They make enthralling TV shows and movies about cops and soldiers. They’ve even made powerful screen adaptations of teachers, lawyers, and tech folk. But I have yet to find the movie glorifying the support person.
Picture it right now: SUPPORT. In a world where people are throwing their laptops against the wall and jumping out of office windows in frustration, only one man can stand in between the company and absolute tragedy. The support guy will be there for all your tech needs. The customer calls and Captain Support says, “I have a very particular set of skills, skills I have acquired over a very long career, skills that make me a dream for people like you… now restart your computer!”
Not All Customer Support is the Same
It’s not that I don’t appreciate the importance of my role. I like what I do. And every once in a while I walk away from a shift feeling really good about what I did that day. I stopped a piece of garbage spammer from sending out thousands of phishing emails. I helped a person make their email marketing campaign look awesome. I solved someone’s problem that had been nagging them for days, and now they’re showering me with thanks and praise.
Yeah, it’s all good. And I’m proud of those moments. But nothing made me feel happier about what I do then contrasting it to a support experience I had recently. Because not all support people are built the same, and not all companies have the same attitude.
Support: From the Other Side of the Computer
I have a specific certification and it needs to get renewed every three years. Whether or not these types of certifications are a big fat scam is a story for another time. (But for the short version: Yes. They are.)
The process to renew the certification involved purchasing a course, completing the course, and taking all of its quizzes by a certain date. Now a couple of facts:
- I don’t have the kind of memory to recall the exact date I completed the courses six years ago. I don’t even remember what I had for breakfast yesterday!
- The course requirements were very unclear. In order to complete it, you needed to get 100% on all five quizzes. It’s a ridiculous expectation, and was not communicated very well at all.
I was working through the material and taking the quizzes for a few months. And when I thought I might be nearing the deadline, I tried to figure out the exact requirements. A page in my account indicated that I had another month, which was great. I was able to relax a little. But then I got an email out of nowhere saying my deadline was about to arrive. I didn’t know why the system indicated another month, but I knew I now needed to get into high gear. And I did. I worked my butt off, finished everything. 100% on all five quizzes…
And only four days after the deadline…
Customer Support the Wrong Way
I contacted them to explain what happened, and I was shocked by the response.
They weren’t having any of it. I kept on arguing that the miscommunication was partially their fault. I had been a customer of theirs for six years, paid for three certifications and two renewal courses. And they were about to dump me. Over four days!
I went back and forth with their customer support for several days. I won’t name the company, since ultimately they caved and let me have the certification renewal. But the stress and the struggle of those days was outrageous and completely unnecessary. They had everything to gain from being reasonable, and everything to lose by taking their hardline stance.
Yet they were proud of it. They actually requested I not let anyone know about how they ultimately behaved leniently toward me!
The Heart is Customer Support
And that’s when it hit me.
The customer support agent is the heart of the world.
We stand in between the customer and the company. People will always need stuff, whether it be goods or services. And they will always need help. And how that help is provided can mean the difference between someone’s good day and their God-awful, miserable day.
I still remember shouting at Dell support people for hours once, and never making an iota of progress with my complaint.The customer support agent is the heart of the world. Click To Tweet
The Happy Customer
But I lucked out. I work for a company that actually wants the customers to walk away happy. A company that feels the customers are the reason we do what we do. And every single one, with absolutely no exception, should walk away from their support email with a smile on their face.
And that’s what I spend my day doing. People need help, so they turn to the mighty support staff. Maybe their day was going smoothly until they suddenly found themselves locked out of our system, or they lost data, or their page looks all messed up. They’re panicking. They’re freaking out. They fiddle around, but nothing seems to work. And in desperation, they shoot us an email.
And I stand there, in between where they are now and their day potential returning to relative normality. And it’s a choice. Do I work really hard to return their smile? Or do I twiddle my thumbs and push for inane or outdated policies, all for the sake of making sure I’m right and they’re wrong?
Support, Not Bodyguards
Yes, the company I was contacting ultimately made the right decision. And for that, I am grateful.
But they made a dozen wrong decisions before getting there, and they caused me an inordinate amount of unnecessary stress.
They forgot why they were doing what they were doing.
They’re customer support, not company bodyguards.
Support: The Movie
So I get that it’s unlikely there will ever be a feature film about my time in the support trenches, Liam Neeson tackling the intimidating role of David Jaffe, support specialist extraordinaire.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t feel a little bit like a tiny hero every single day.
I aim to make dozens of people just a little bit calmer and happier every day of my life.
I’m not wowing new people I meet with war stories. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be proud of what I do.