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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Mention lawyers and suddenly the techs become unresponsive

Have you ever worked customer support and had a caller try to escalate things beyond the realm of reason? It never happened to me, but I got to hear about it from my friends and other coworkers back in my web hosting business days. There were a few things which happened in response to such demands, depending on who you were talking to at the time.

Sometimes, they'd pick someone random on the floor to "be the boss" and they'd transfer the call over there. That person would do their best calm and measured voice and would take the abuse from the caller and would calm them down. The caller usually just wanted to get the original tech in trouble. This generally happened if no actual managers were available. On second and third shifts, and particularly when manager type people were on "offsites" to places like Las Vegas, sometimes we'd be on our own for a few hours at a time.

The other one I heard about was one that actually has a far simpler resolution. You can basically shut them down cold when the customer reaches for this particular trump card. Here's how it works.

First, the customer gets angry for whatever reason. Maybe they have a good reason for it. Maybe they don't. A handful of people who never intended to pay us (fraud customers) used to do things to get credits out of us to negate their bills.

Second, the customer says something like "I'm going to sue you" or otherwise threatens to summon his land sharks.

Third, this part is easy. Like I told my friends, you aren't the company legal department and you aren't authorized to speak on their behalf. In fact, you now have a responsibility to shut down this call and refer them to legal because they have now escalated the matter out of any realm where you can meddle.

The trick, of course, is that in the middle of the night (second and third shifts, remember), there are no lawyers available. There might be someone on call for really crazy things like when the feds show up with a warrant (and yes, this happens), but they sure aren't at the office. All you can do is take the customer's contact data and forward it on, and then shut down the call.

Usually what happens at this point is that the customer realizes they have just hosed themselves. Now they have to deal with an actual lawyer, and tech support will no longer do anything for them. If they had an actual technical problem, their chances of having it resolved in a reasonable amount of time just went out the window.

While I never had this happen to me and thus never had a chance to use it, I can only imagine what would happen next. I suppose a customer who didn't really mean it would eventually cool off and try to apologize to whoever they had on the phone. They might convince them to start treating it like a technical matter again instead of being locked up in "nope, it's a legal matter now" mode. They might have to call back and play tech roulette and hope to get someone who doesn't know about what happened on their earlier call.

If there's a moral of this story, it's something like this: if you threaten to whip out your lawyers on some poor technician who probably has never even seen the inside of a courtroom, don't be surprised if you find yourself unable to get actual technical help for a long time.