Just about every job is customer service related in one way or another.  It really just depends on what you do and who you interact with, but almost every job requires some amount of human interaction, be it by phone, email, or in person.  However, this post isn’t about the people working on the CS side of things as much as it is about the people who in some form or fashion use that customer service.  While my particular observations will mainly be based on my work in the IT field (and will be presented as such), many are pretty universal.  So sit back, grab a pen and paper, and take notes ladies and gentlemen.  It’s time to learn how to be a decent human being.

1.  First and foremost, PLEASE do not chew gum or eat while you’re on the phone with us (and I speak for anyone and everyone who answers a phone as any part of their CS job).  The last thing I wanna hear in between sentences (let alone while you’re talking) is you smacking your gum in my ear, or chewing your granola bar.  As a common courtesy, you could wait until you’re off the phone to do that.  If you don’t, we reserve the right to pull up your address and send you a care package with laxative laced snacks.  Enjoy.

2.  The majority of the call centers you call for any kind of assistance have a queue setup where the agent’s phone automatically picks up when your call goes through.  They most likely don’t have a ringing phone that they have to pick up.  The reason I say this is because that also means that when the call is over, they don’t have a receiver to hang up – they’re usually using a headset that’s always on.  The moral of the story?  Please hang up when the call is over.  When the call is over and you just say bye and go back to what you were doing before (this mainly applies to people who call on speakerphone) without hanging up, we have to listen to you talking and rambling in the background, or manually release the call ourselves; and speaking from experiences, some companies don’t look kindly on any force-released calls because it could be construed as them hanging up on the customer.  So do us a favor – when the call is over, hang up.

3.  Depending on what you’re calling about, there’s a good chance that you’re going to be providing us with some specific information in order to help you.  Please don’t give us all that information in the first sentence you speak.  I can’t tell you how many conversations have gone something like this:

Me:  IT Support, may I have your full name please?

Them:  Yeah, this is Mary Johnson and I’m calling from 800-555-0000 in Nowhereville, USA and I have a question about my Dell Optiplex 780 computer running Windows XP SP3 and how it handles this program that I’m trying to use which was given to me by my coworker named David Rodriguez and I can’t seem to get it to install correctly even though his works fine.  What’s wrong with it?

Me:  Umm…so your name is Mary Johnson?

Please don’t flood the rep with information they haven’t asked for.  It’s overkill.  Call centers require information be tracked when people call in, and every ticketing system is different.  We have to move around from screen to screen to put your information in correctly to make sure it all gets handled and notated.  If you throw everything at us in one sentence when we’re not ready, you’re just gonna have to repeat yourself in a few moments and we both know you’re gonna get frustrated with us because you already said it once.  Please, just wait until we ask for the information.  Because if we feel like it, we can ask you for the information 8 times even though we already have it just to frustrate you more.  And we will.  Trust me.

4.  If you’re calling in to tell IT that your printer doesn’t work, the correct answer to our question of what type of printer you have should not be “umm…I don’t know, let me look”.  Prepare yourself.  You’re calling about a printer, chances are we’ll need to know what kind.  If you insist on not being any help at all, I’ll tell you that we also require the teeny tiny serial number on the back of the big printer, as well as the barcode number for the ink.  We don’t really need that.  But you must learn to be prepared.  Better to have more information than we’ll need than to keep us waiting while you look everything up.  There are other people calling for help, and they’re having to wait because you didn’t have any common sense.

5.  Computers can be fickle.  Sometimes, problems resolve themselves without any external influence.  Or sometimes, you might not be the only having the problem and someone else reports it and it’s been fixed.  Please don’t notice a problem, then wait 30 minutes to call and report it.  It might’ve been fixed already.  I can’t even express how many times someone has called to report a problem and in the middle of the call say “oh…well it’s working now” while they’re talking to me.  Please check before you call in.  You’re wasting your time and ours.  And I like my time.  Yours I don’t care about.

6.  Punctuation exists for a reason.  If you see something that has a hyphen or a period in it, it’s almost definitely meant to be there for one reason or another.  A perfect IT example would be what’s known as your IP address, a unique identifier of your computer on a network (or the web as a whole).  A basic example would be which if read without punctuation comes across as 17224143.  That’s not helpful to me, because that could be or or any other number of combinations.  Those periods are there because they need to be.  When you give me the number, place them there.  You don’t get to pick and choose what you think is important – acting like that is probably why you’re needing to call in and report something isn’t working.

7.  Please, for the love of all that is good and decent in this world, do not call IT and read us the error message on your screen word for word with all the reference numbers and program names and so forth.  Unless we ask you to.  Which we won’t.  99 times out of 100, we don’t need to hear the whole message.  Most of the time we can get it by the first few words, or even better – by seeing it.  Send us a screenshot, or tell us what you were doing when it popped up.  It would be rude of us to interrupt you while you read that practically useless error message jargon, but it’s also rude of you to just keep going non-stop without taking a breath long enough for us to interject.  ASK what we need to help you, don’t presume to think you know what’s necessary.  You think you’re being helpful, so you get partial points for that – but you aren’t being helpful, you’re being annoying, so now you have negative points.  Bummer for you.

8.  If you had to wait on hold to talk to someone, I apologize.  Chances are there’s some kind of issue that’s causing a higher than normal call volume, or perhaps someone is out at lunch and there are less people operating the phones, or maybe it’s just a randomly high call volume afternoon.  The first words I hear out of your mouth don’t need to be “gosh it took forever to reach someone!” in an agitated and rude voice.  If you had to wait to reach someone, that means we’ve all been on back-to-back phone calls trying to get through everyone else who is also calling for whatever reason at that moment in time.  We know we’re busy.  We know it more than you do.  Don’t be an ass and get mad at us for it.  One of the nicest things I’ve heard someone say in a similar situation was something to the tune of, “Goodness, you must be busy since I had to wait a few minutes more than normal to reach someone.  I hate to be adding to that, but I do have a question for you.”  That person was awesome.  How hard is that?  How difficult is it to be polite?  From the trend I’ve noticed over the years of working IT and customer service, apparently it’s VERY difficult for people to be polite.  And that’s a sad truth.

9.  People who work in IT are usually big nerds who love gadgets and toys and doing things themselves.  It’s not always the case, but speaking for myself and most of the people I know doing similar things – it’s true.  As such, we enjoy building tools that help to automate the most common issues that come up.  What’s the number one issue in the history of IT?  “Umm…yeah…I…uh…forgot my password.”  We hear this approximately 15 million times a day.  Give or take about 14.99 million, but it’s still a lot.  Most companies have automated tools in place that you can reset your own password, but nobody wants to use them.  The number one excuse people give when we ask why they chose not to use that tool is that they think it’s faster to call IT than to use the tool.  No it isn’t.  You had to pick up the phone, dial, wait to reach someone, give us your information, then we had to pull you up and reset it, then give it to you and wait for you to test.  All you had to do for the automated tool was pull up the site and type in your ID.  How hard is that?  How long did that take?  People use computers daily in this day and age, but they still seem afraid of anything automated.  Embrace the changes people.  Except for robot overlords.  Don’t embrace that change.  No good will come of it.

10.  Be conscious of how you breathe.  Right up there with chewing in my ear, people who breathe heavily straight into the phone are at the top of my pet peeve list.  It’s very frustrating to be trying to talk to someone and all you hear on the other end is deep wheezing because the phone is right up against their mouth and for whatever reason they’re gasping for air.  You’re not Darth Vader.  Breathe normally and quietly.  You sound like you just climbed 5 flights of stairs.  Which you didn’t.  Don’t lie.

11.  If the instructions on screen say to create a password with numbers and letters, don’t call us complaining of an error when you entered “password” and expected it to work.  Probably half of the calls to IT could be solved if the person calling had simply glanced at their screen to look for a clue as to what might’ve gone wrong.  In many cases, the error message itself will tell you exactly what you did wrong or how to fix it, but people will still call IT because they got an error and don’t know what to do.  Stop being afraid of your computer.  It would take you less time to read what’s on the screen to see if it’s something you can fix yourself than to pick up the phone, call us, wait on hold, then reach someone and try to explain it to them.  We’re here to help, obviously, but there are more than enough genuine problems to keep us busy – we’d really like it if half our calls weren’t “it says my password’s expired and needs to be changed, does that mean I have to change it to a new password?”

12.  Speakerphone is one of the worst features ever introduced to a phone.  It has some good uses, yes, but the bad far outweigh the good.  Please please please do not call anyone on speakerphone simply because you’re too lazy to hold the phone to your ear.  On speakerphone everything you do is amplified times 10.  Every key you type, every squeak of your chair, ever drawer you open and shut, and every word you feel the need to shout directly into the speaker – all of this is blaring straight into my ear.  It’s painful and infuriating and I’m not able to concentrate on how I’m going to solve your problem, because all I’m thinking about is where I’m going to hide your lifeless body that was beaten to death with the phone’s base station that you insisted on screaming into.

13.  If you call ANY customer service place and they know you by name alone, that’s not a good thing.  I don’t care how nice you are, if you’re calling often enough that everyone knows you, you’re calling way too much.  I’ve worked in a few different IT positions over the years, and in every one of them the IT department as a whole would discuss the people who called the most often.  Granted, we talked more about the rude people who called all the time and were no fun to talk to, but even if you’re nice – you’re still getting talked about.  Just understand that.  You may call and laugh when we recognize your voice, but we’re not laughing.  At all.

14.  No matter what position you’re in within a company, don’t call IT acting like you’re better than us.  I’m not saying this because I feel that I’m better than anyone else, I’m saying it because I deserve to be talked to like a human being, not a servant who merely exists to reset your password and install software for you.  Being a manager or a VP doesn’t mean you’re a superior human being above the lowly IT helpdesk.  Just remember, better or not, you’re still the one having to call us because you have a problem.  And I can just as easily reset your password to “AssHat1” as anything else.  So be nice.  🙂

15.  Customer service is a mixed field.  You’ll get people who genuinely love what they do, and people who only see it as a job and nothing else.  I can look back on calls I have had to make myself and there were only a few where the rep I spoke with was overly pleasant and extremely helpful, above and beyond what was to be expected by the circumstances I was calling under.  I can also look back and remember many many more times when I spoke to someone rude who wasn’t interested in helping and even occasionally disconnected the call if they didn’t understand what I was asking for.  What’s my point?  Try to focus on the good reps.  I’ve had bad days before where my tone wasn’t what it should’ve been or where I was a little short with someone who frustrated me, and people will jump on any opportunity to demand to speak to a manager and complain.  However, I’ve had far more days where I’m in a good mood and pleasant and helpful, and I can count on one hand the number of times anyone has asked to talk to my manager to compliment me.  Don’t be so quick to complain and hesitant to compliment.  Nothing can make a bad day better like hearing someone tell you that you were really awesome and that they’d like to pass along their satisfaction to your boss.  If you talk a customer service rep of any type that has really helped you, take a minute and make sure their boss knows they’re doing a good job.  It makes all the difference in the world, trust me.

Alright, the list was longer than I thought it would be, and I’ll probably still add to it in the future.  But I feel very strongly about these things.  Maybe you do too.  Maybe you don’t.  The point is, just try to remember some of these when you have to call IT or any other kind of call center.  It makes a world of difference in how you’re treated, believe me.