"If Allen were to do something like that on a case you'd handled, you'd probably go over and kick his butt."

That statement just shows how little my managers know me. So, I shook my head, "No," I said; "I never get upset with anyone who errs on the side of customer satisfaction. I only get angry with people who abuse the customers, or who obstruct issue resolution."

The context is this: a customer was in a situation in which he had come to believe that our hardware is the source of the issue. He was two and a half hours away from that hardware, and so, cannot easily troubleshoot. Sure, he'd been onsite for the initial troubleshooting phase, and felt confident that he had tracked the issue source to my product. He couldn't say exactly what the problem was, but he was sure he had it nailed down, and it was hard for him to get to the site. The network is in production, and his own end-user has some pretty clear service expectations.

The first agent who took the case was justified in saying, "It may not be hardware. I believe you, but what if we can resolve this with a simple firmware upgrade? I'd really like to troubleshoot further before we replace hardware."

Unfortunately, the customer doesn't have remote access to the equipment. When he pressed, stressing his unique restrictions, I believe that the first agent should have relented. The agent did not, so the customer ended the call, and got in touch with his sales representative. This person conferenced him in with us, and the second agent was somewhat less helpful; absolutely refusing to replace hardware without troubleshooting.

Yes, I can see where my colleague was coming from. Sometimes, issues that present as hardware failure are easily resolved with a simple firmware upgrade, or by fine-tuning a feature.

So, when the customer called back a third time, and got to me, I could hear the desperation leaking into his voice. He was 2.5 hours from the equipment, he had no spare stock on hand for testing, and he did not want to show up onsite without hardware, just in case that was the problem -- doing so would have resulted in more lost productivity for the end-user; not to mention unbelievable driving time for this person, who is located in one of the worst areas of the East Coast for long drives.

I could absolutely see where he was coming from. He needed someone to be flexible under the circumstances. So, after stressing to him that the warranty statement does indeed have a troubleshooting caveat, and that he will be expected to work with us in the future, I agreed to ship him some replacement hardware. He agreed to ship the switch back to us if it turns out that the source of the issue rests elsewhere.

There's more to this story -- at the time I took the call, the second agent had not updated the case notes. So, I had nothing to go on. I had no idea that he had spoken to supervisors and service parts resources regarding this case. What's more, none of these people were at their desks when I went by in an effort to talk to someone about it. So, I did what an adult is supposed to do: I made a decision.

I let everyone involved know what I had done. The other particulars in my office are upset with me. According to some, I undermined the agents who handled the case before me, and I taught the customer that he can call in and "cherry pick" agents to get service. That's when one of my supervisors made the statement that started this post, and that's when I stood up for myself.

I thought that I was hired to do customer service, you see. I thought that part of this job entailed employing something called discernment.

I guess I was wrong.

Whenever your immediate supervisors express distrust in your ability to make a decision, it's time to get out.

I'm working on that. My resume is on I have a friend whose wife would like to personally deliver my resume to her HR department. There are options, and I have my hook baited. I'm just waiting on a bite.

In the meantime, how about a little discussion? Y'all put yourselves in the customer's shoes, and tell me what should have happened. Then pretend that you were me, and tell me what you would have decided to do. Sure, it's a bald appeal for validation, but I still think I made the right decision. What do you think?

posted by Linda on October 25, 2004 11:42 PM

Leave indeed. Unless your boss, in chastising you, recommended a prefered solution, boss no good. Until you leave, you may want to bounce the hard ones upstairs and ask to watch while boss resolves problem. Some companies will flip off customers right into bankruptcy.

Posted by: Walter E. Wallis at October 26, 2004 02:34 AM

A friend in IT related this story to me about our rather mercurial CEO. A server went down. A server that ran a main component of our "Enterprise" software. The part needed to fix said server was out of stock. He was told if the server was not up by noon the following day not to come the work the day after.

Several calls up the support food chain he got someone who took action. This guy pulled a part from a server in their office and delivered it personally.

He did the right thing. as did my friend who kept looking for a solution

Posted by: Stephen Macklin at October 26, 2004 02:55 AM

In the heady days of my retail experience, I was taught one very important lesson... the customer is always right... especially if you want repeat business. It shouldn't have taken three phone calls to get a satisfactory resolution to the problem. You did the right thing, and your bosses should know that... and also have a little discussion with the other two that failed to provide a resolution.

It's amazing to notice the difference between what corporate mentality labels as good customer service, compared to retail. Go you sister, and get the hell out of there. :D Best wishes always

Posted by: Ethne at October 26, 2004 04:33 PM

...and if they didn't think enough of you to get a non-compete, ...

Posted by: Walter E. Wallis at October 26, 2004 04:59 PM

I've been in all three places - customer, customer service rep, boss. As boss, I'd have a talk with the folks about flexibility and updating their logs. I'd also acknowlege the fact that some customers *do* cherry pick and such until they get their way. That's part of what customer service is for, trying to figure out what's *really* going on.

Posted by: Ted at October 26, 2004 05:36 PM

-- at the time I took the call, the second agent had not updated the case notes.

You've eviscerated the second agent, right?

(What? Did I reveal a peeve of mine? Sorry.) ;)

I don't see a problem in what you did.

Posted by: Patrick Chester at October 26, 2004 06:41 PM

Linda. You just keep on doing what you do and you will go far in your persuit of happiness.

A former boss of mine (JB) once said, "Make the right decision for the customer now and beg for forgiveness later."

Unfortunately, as time passes, management begins to focus on the bottom dollar as opposed to the top priority, customers. Believe me, if you were exposed to Headquarters as I am day in and day out, you would have been praised for your actions, because it was done for the sake of the customer. (The guys who end up funding our paychecks.) There is a huge advantage of having two managers working down in the the pits with their employess as opposed to managers (like yours) who try to do the same thing, but have more-pressing budget issues to overanalyze. The results always seem to come down to shallow, uninformed response on what you should have done.

On behalf of Headquarters, I would like to send you a big thank you. And... You're forgiven. :-)

Posted by: The Nerdy Conservative at October 26, 2004 09:51 PM

I'm late to this party, but I do have some thoughts:

Make a token effort to improve the processes and culture before you move on. Introduce the idea (or reinforce it, if it's already present) of "first call resolution." Definitely reinforce the need for your cow-orkers to follow existing processes re: updating case notes. Suggest that people be reachable when they're away from their desks. Possibly suggest re-negotiating process entrance criteria (are you familiar with the Deming Workbench?).

If attempts to improve the environment get nowhere, then leave. I don't like that "undermining" meme that's floating around, but maybe they're not hopeless after all.

And, oh, yeah, you definitely did the right thing.

Posted by: Jay Manifold at November 5, 2004 01:15 AM