The Wrath of Rina (or, Dealing with Customer Service)

In my last job, I trained customer service agents. Which Neil seems to think qualifies me to deal with any customer service issue with any company. (I think it’s just a ploy so he can avoid it!) Although I claim that I’m not enough of an expert to take on all customer service tasks, I don’t win any points in this argument when I display my customer service magic like I did Saturday night.


A family friend I will call Rina is moving, and her phone got shut off a week too soon. Rina is a distinguished English woman with silver hair and a wonderful sense of humor. She said that she had to call “and throw quite a fit” to get the phone fixed. A technician was sent out, and he couldn’t solve her problem. He called his supervisor, and Rina asked to speak with him. The technician didn’t want (or wasn’t allowed) to give her the phone. Rina actually chased him up the stairs to try to speak to the supervisor.

Rina was moving on Tuesday, and her phone got shut off again on Saturday. Although Rina was willing to throw another fit, she did say that she found it exhausting.

Rina’s phone service is through the company that I used to work for. I started to tell her exactly what to say to get the problem fixed, but Rina was confused about the process (probably because of all the wine she’d had with dinner that evening). So I offered to simply call for her.

I suspected that the person who entered the information about the move (and arranged to transfer Rina’s phone number to the new house) simply mistyped the move date. So the system attempted to transfer her phone number too soon, which, of course, shut off her old phone.

You’d think this would be a simple problem, but it’s compounded by the fact that there are three different groups that handle phone problems. When you call into this company, you reach a customer service agent whose job it is to eliminate problems that can be fixed from the office. This includes checking to make sure the modem (for the VOIP phone) is working and that all the wires are connected properly. They can see lots of information about the signal levels, and they can send a reset signal. This is fantastic if the problem is the modem, which it wasn’t in this case.

Usually, the next step is to send a technician like the one Rina terrorized. Technicians will check the wires inside and outside the house, and replace any that need to be replaced. They can also make sure that the customer’s setup is wired correctly, and that all the equipment is working properly. (They travel with extra equipment to swap out broken modems.)

The third group isn’t usually involved until after a technician has checked out all potential physical issues. They are the ones that deal with the software that assigns phone numbers. (At this company, they’re called the “Level Two Telephone Escalations Team.”)

My hope was to save a technician from Rina’s wrath and get the problem solved earlier by going directly to the Level Two team. But first I needed to talk to a telephone troubleshooter.

Cable Modem
Photo by Sh4rp_i

After working in a call center for over two years, I’m always a bit surprised at how these calls feel from the other end. In the call center we have no waits, just angry customers. As soon as one customer is done, another rings through. Part of the problem is that it takes so long to train new agents that we were constantly struggling to keep up with turnover, which can be as high as 50% per year. And agents are encouraged to keep their calls short so more people can be helped, which can do a disservice to those who have complicated problems.

After the automated system told me that I would have a five minute wait, I was told that “my call was important” for nearly ten minutes before an agent got on the line. Of course, the first thing the agent needs to do is to call up the customer’s information on their computer. The woman who answered my call first opened up the information for the new house, not the old one. (Another minute or two taken before we’d even addressed Rina’s issue.)

And then the agent had steps she had to take before she could escalate the problem. I explained several times that she couldn’t solve the problem, but she needed to check all the possibilities first. She even had to call the phone number with a test call to hear what message she would get. I will admit, whoever trained this woman did a good job, because she was consistently pleasant and willing to explain what she was doing.

Of course, since the agents have no access to the information about how quickly the Level Two team can address problems (or even about their priorities), she told me that it would be addressed within 48 hours. Which is when Rina told me the last piece I needed to make sure it was fixed as soon as possible: she has a medical alert system that works through the phone. Legally, when informed of such systems, phone companies need to fix those phone numbers within 24 hours or face fines. The agent added that new information to the notification she was sending, and I got off the phone.

I spent almost half an hour dealing with an issue that I had identified immediately and could be fixed nearly as quickly. And that was only because I knew how this company handled such issues, and could tell the customer service agent exactly what needed to be done. No wonder Rina was feeling frustrated!

Rina, of course, was still eager to fight if there were need, and she asked me who to contact to make sure that the company got fined if they didn’t fix the problem. I told her to call me on Sunday and let me know how things were going, and we’d figure that out together.

To my delight, Rina called around 9AM on Sunday. From her home phone.


One thought on “The Wrath of Rina (or, Dealing with Customer Service)

  1. Go, Martha!
    I myself have found a new height of annoyance with customer service : it’s bad enough when hold music is periodically interrupted by an automated voice telling me my call is important.
    It’s WORSE when the automated voice is interrupted by ANOTHER automated voice telling me my call is important.
    And this keeps repeating.
    Red Top Executive Sedan, Washington, D.C.: Die, die, die.

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