Not My Job

One very interesting thing about we few and proud in the customer service and support industry is that we all lead a double life.  Not only are we analysts or directors or designers or engineers or marketers of customer service software solutions; we are also customers, the beneficiaries (or victims as the case may be) of our own efforts to improve customer service.  As such we have an almost limitless supply of experience and anecdotes, based on being a customer, to draw from for inspiration and insight.

Just yesterday, I was attempting to fill my car with gasoline at a self-service pump.  No matter what I did with the nozzle and its associated pump mechanism the pump refused to dispense fuel.  Instead, the display just kept flashing the message, “Lift Pump Handle to begin Pumping Gas”.  After several attempts to convince the machine that I had already lifted the indicated pump handle it decided that I wasn’t really serious about my intention to get gas and cancelled my transaction.  Time to escalate (using the terminology of our industry) and get assistance from the kind and eager attendant inside.  Noting the number stenciled on the side of the obstinate device, I set off on my quest for help.

Now I wish I had video of what occurred next because at least as much, if not more, was communicated in facial expression and tone of voice but the brief conversation went something like this:

attendant: “Yes? May I help you?”

me: “I just wanted to let you know that pump #9 isn’t working; it seems to be broken.”

attendant: (rolling eyes and sighing as if explaining something completely obvious) “You could move to a different pump.”

me: “Well, yes, of course I’ll do that. But I thought you might like to know that it’s broken.”

attendant:  (Doesn’t say anything but stares back at me, blinking, with a look of bewilderment that clearly says that she thinks this is probably the stupidest thing she’s heard all week.)

me: “Maybe you could call someone to fix it. Or at least put a sign up so no one else wastes their time on it.”

attendant:  (Now a look of concern like maybe she should call someone – like 911)  “Ooookay.” (She had decided to humor me and hope I went away.)

I went away, filled my car at a working pump and left, pondering on what the world was coming to.

How could the concept of taking some action seem so totally alien to this attendant?  Later I started thinking about the similarities this scenario had to other experiences I’ve had and heard about in other customer service situations.  How much additional aggravation – and cost – could be avoided if agents had the ability and the direction to post a notice when they discover something isn’t working?  The concept is at the core of Knowledge Centered Support’s (KCS) “flag it or fix it” doctrine.  Most agents want to be as helpful as possible or they wouldn’t have sought a job in customer service in the first place.  But too often they’re working under pressure to just get to the next call.  They may have even been trained that it’s someone else’s job to fix unanticipated issues and that they are only to handle items for which they have scripts ready made.  Call guides and scripts have their place but the bottom line is that customer service organizations won’t consistently see customer satisfaction rise and costs of repeatedly fielding the same issues go down until that most basic of KCS methodologies is adopted and agents can take a few seconds to alert their peers when they run into something new and, ideally, what they tried to resolve it.