Costly Consequences: A Tale of Two Customer Support Calls

Prologue

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and it was 2:24 PM when the two customer support calls were placed. They made their way through office phone systems, through two headsets and fell on two sets of ears. Two agents picked up, gave their names, and listened to two voices on two other ends exclaim, “I’ve ordered something from your website, but it never came.”

But there, dear reader, is where our two tales diverge.

Cast of characters

Ernest Defarge as Caller #1, hapless victim of a cruel fate.
Charles Darnay as Call Center Agent #1, who tried his best.
Jerry Cruncher as Caller #2, who called the right place at the right time.
Sydney Carton as Call Center Agent #2, a shining beacon of hope.

Book the First: The Worst of Times

The first caller had been waiting for several minutes before getting through, with nothing but a drab ringtone for company, so by the time Charles picks up, they’re off like a shot. The caller explains their issue, but Charles misses most of the details since he’s holding his breath while booting up his CRM. The IT team is understaffed and rarely updates the on-premises software, which often crashes Charles doesn’t cross his fingers and toes just right.

The second the customer draws breath, Charles asks them for their full name and searches for their file. While he browses, the customer, Ernest Defarge, goes over his predicament a second time; Charles learns that Defarge’s latest order was never delivered. How this happened remains a mystery.

The season of darkness

Charles simply doesn’t know what happened. “I don’t know what happened,” he says simply.

Defarge’s frustrated sigh crackles through his headset. “Well, do you have someone over there who might?” he enquires.

“I suppose my supervisor could,” ponders Charles. “Would you like to talk to them?”

“If there’s no way you can help, I don’t see any other option.”

“Right. Let me get them for you. Please hold.”

With the fluid and practiced ease of a sharpshooter drawing double barrels, Charles presses the “hold” button and takes off his headset before Defarge has a chance to reply. He ambles over to his manager’s desk, which he finds unoccupied. Well, there’s a pickle.

“Hi, thanks for holding. My supervisor’s probably in a meeting. Could we call you back in a little while?” Charles jots down Defarge’s number, he’ll manually add it to the customer file later.

Defarge heaves another sigh. People are the worst sometimes, Charles thinks to himself. So impatient.

The age of foolishness

Nevertheless, Charles soldiers on.

“I’m sorry your package got lost. I can’t tell what could have happened to it, unfortunately. It’s probably the delivery people’s fault if you think about it, but there you are. But I can’t really make the call on a refund or anything without my supervisor’s okay.”

The customer squawks and drones on, something about it being unacceptable, about never buying from Charles again, about calling back later for a refund, and about it not being pretty when he does. Charles has largely tuned out since his CRM has crashed again, taking his email client down with it.

“Thank you for your call,” he says, and bids Ernest Defarge a great day. He gets up once more, seeing that his boss is back at his desk. He’s sipping coffee while waiting for his faithful old desktop to turn back on.

“You wouldn’t believe the call I’ve just had,” Charles gripes as he strolls by on his way to the break room. The boss nods sympathetically, Atlas carrying a call center on his slumped shoulders. One last, cursory consideration flits through Charles’ mind before he forgets about Defarge entirely: shame he couldn’t help that poor guy.

Book the Second: The Best of Times

As Defarge cursed and raised a righteous fist to the heavens, the second caller was experiencing a different adventure entirely.

In her own call center, Sydney is forewarned of the call by a pop-up banner in the corner of her laptop screen. She is forearmed with the customer’s name and history as they pull up on her screen automatically. Consequently, she is left with just enough time to wrap up her previous ticket. Sydney utters a silent prayer of thanks to the gods of phone system-CRM integrations. They look down upon her with benevolence.

As the caller’s order history unfolds with every scroll, Sydney sees that indeed, this customer, Jerry Cruncher, was billed but his order isn’t marked as delivered.

“Let me find out what went wrong,” you promise. “I’ll need to put you on hold for a few seconds while I look for answers, is that alright with you?”

Cruncher, says that yes, it is. She presses the “hold” button and proceeds with her investigation.

The season of light

Sydney considers her options. She could turn to the company knowledge base, which is regularly updated and well-stocked with insights from sales, marketing, and support; it’s the mightiest tool in her belt to untangle any number of customer service knots.

She could ask her supervisor for help but, though they always make themselves available in a tight spot, they encourage all agents to trust their own judgment whenever possible.

Sydney decides to examine Cruncher’s file again, taking her time and inspecting every detail. No dice. She checks shipping reports, and eureka! Bathed in a beam of white light, she detects that two packages from the same mail truck were reported as lost. One of them must be Cruncher’s. She hopes that the other package’s recipient, wherever he may be, is getting the assistance they need. In fact, they must be pretty annoyed right about now, she thinks.

“Mr. Cruncher? I see what went wrong. Your package got lost in transit, which is just unacceptable. I’m very sorry for the mistake, and I’ll make it right,” Sydney explains, adding that she can either provide a refund or send the package again free of charge.

Cruncher’s sigh of relief wafts through her headset like a spring breeze through an open window. He opts for a new shipment since he really wants the product he ordered. He thanks Sydney for taking charge, and she assures him that she’s only doing her job, keeping the city safe one call at a time.

The age of wisdom

Cruncher and Sydney exchange one last salvo of pleasantries, and she terminates the call. Sydney quickly messages her boss. “You wouldn’t believe the call I’ve had,” she types. “It went very well, textbook even. We could use the recording for the next training session.” As a warning of her next call comes in, Sydney reflects on the perception of customer support calls as a whole, which is solely ever considered as good or evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Epilogue

Where would any cautionary tale be without an explanation of its ramifications for all involved?

The winter of despair

Ernest Defarge’s package remained in a corner of a forgotten loading dock, never to reach its destination. Defarge himself never ordered from Charles’ company again and took his business elsewhere. He did, however, soothe his frazzled nerves by leaving a trail of scathing critiques, both online and in person.

“The best and worst are known to you, now,” Defarge told friends and acquaintances alike. “But mostly the worst.”

The people he warned trusted his input and steered clear as well. Moreover, the negative reviews he left online were visible to all and stuck out like sore thumbs. Since Charles himself was mentioned, he was issued a warning and had to endure extra coaching. No effort was made to improve his phone system, knowledge base, or CRM solution. He didn’t even get a comfier chair.

The spring of hope

Jerry Cruncher’s second shipment reached him two days later. He was pleased and remembered how helpful Sydney had been. He left a glowing review online and occasionally spoke up at parties when the subject of terrible customer service experiences came up, to regale other attendees with his story of Sydney, the lovely support rep. Several of those to whom he preached eventually placed orders of their own. A few weeks later, a colleague of Sydney’s in the marketing department asked him if he’d be interested in taking part in a series of testimonials lauding their company’s service model. Cruncher readily agreed.

Sydney was commended by her boss, and her conversation with Cruncher was introduced into the rotation of recordings used to coach new agents. It prevails as a shining example of a well-executed support call with a mutually beneficial resolution. As Sydney shut down her computer that evening, tired but proud after a long day’s work and looking forward to winding down at home, she mused, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

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