Customer support representatives: the job, not-so-easy
Earlier this summer, Jason Daley wrote in Popular Science (June 2007 issues) about the Worst Jobs in Science 2007, noting that worst job #6 was that of a Microsoft Security Grunt.
"Teams of Microsoft Security Response Center employees toil 365 days a year to fix the kinks in Windows, Internet Explorer, Office and all the behemoth’s other products. It’s tedious work. Each product can have multiple versions in multiple languages, and each needs its own repairs (by one estimate, Explorer alone has 300 different configurations). Plus, to most hackers, crippling Microsoft is the geek equivalent of taking down the Death Star, so the assault is relentless."
I imagine that the Security team loves that -- it's a badge of honour and I'm sure that it doesn't hurt around review time. ;) (For more info, see the Microsoft security site.) Let me say that the folks in security are incredible, dedicated and tireless. They rock.
I'll submit that there are a few more jobs that are right up there, jobs that are often as tough as an oceanographer (where there's "nothing but bad news, day in and day out"), as harrowing as hazmat divers and as dirty as a whale-feces researcher. Under appreciated jobs that I salute and couldn't be successful at work without include field technical account managers, software build and test teams, escalation engineers and most of all...
Customer service at Microsoft is often a thankless job: imagine being on the front line representative for Microsoft's products and services quality. As noted on our site, customer service "is our primary line of assistance, where our customers first turn for troubleshooting help and answers to questions."
Whether by e-mail, telephone or regular snail mail (we still receive letters from customers, believe it or not), Microsoft CSR's as they're called are our first line representatives of the company, handling everything from every day issues ("where's my control panel?") to complex network configurations requiring a well-orchestrated connection across multiple support professionals and product engineers. There are reams of data, details, product information, procedures and processes that these people execute day after day, solving problems of nearly 50 million people over the phone (not to mention 600 million people a year via our online services).
So you can imagine that the calls are not always glowing love-fests. I mean, c'mon: when was the last time you took the time to send an email, write a letter or call a company to applaud their customer service or product quality?
For example: today in a meeting, I relayed how the last time I contacted a company (this morning, in fact) was to complain about the product I received in the mail. (To their credit, Photoworks, the photo finishing company has been very responsive and quickly accommodated my requests for a refund.) In fact, most of my interaction with companies related to their products is around a defect, limitation, incompatibility or something that's just plain silly.
A disclaimer here: responding to one of the popular "how's my driving?" stickers on the rear of many large trucks these days, I recently placed a call to our local recycling company. I reported that their driver was following the speed limit and waited cautiously whilst children crossed the road at a sidewalk.
In the times I have called Microsoft customer service, I have had good responses, CSRs have been patient, attentive and helpful. Only two out of the I-don't-know-how-many-times I've called incidents where the agent wasn't able to resolve the issue or solve the problem I was calling about.
Funny how I can clearly recall the negative experiences with our CSRs and have a difficult time remembering the positive ones. Psychology Today notes that there is a five-to-one ratio in positive to negative experiences in personal relationships...
"Due to the brain's "negativity bias"; it is simply built with a greater sensitivity to unpleasant news. The bias is so automatic that it can be detected at the earliest stage of the brain's information processing."
That would mean that I've called our normal customer service lines for help about ten times or so. ;)
In any event, here's to the CSRs: the next time you think that you've got a tough job, think about the dedicated folks who take the calls, do the research and work hard to solve your service and technical problems (sometimes risking life an limb in the process, as reported by Jessica Marszalek down in Oz).
Also of interest...
- How to complain (and get results)
- For more on our CSS org, see this Channel9 interview with Kathleen Hogan, VP of Customer Service & Support.
- BusinessWeek on "How To Make A Microserf Smile"
- Make your customers feel like they are your top priority
- Link- Guy Kawasaki on Customer Service
- Good Customer Service is Sooooo Easy... Not