Working in customer service has its ups and downs. Well, alright, maybe a few ups and a whole lot of downs, especially for an introvert like myself. On the positive side, it provides a lot of material with which to work when it comes to creating characters. On the downside, though…
Well, even after fifteen years of working as a service consultant in the independent automotive repair industry, there are some things about people that I still don’t understand:
1) People and their spending priorities
I see people spend thousands of dollars modifying their cars — paint jobs, rims, lighting, exhaust systems, stereos, spoilers, body kits, etc. — but they won’t spend $1000 in maintenance to keep their engines from blowing up. I just don’t get it.
2) And more spending contradictions
It’s amazing to me how often we’ll get a vehicle in, perform a general inspection, tell the customer the car needs $1000 worth of maintenance and it’ll be as good as new, and the customer replies, “Nope, I can’t afford $1000. I’ll just go trade it in and buy a new car instead.”
Alright … hold on … let me process that …
So you can’t afford $1000 one time, but you can afford $500 a month for the next six years, plus higher taxes, plus higher insurance, plus higher registration fees?
Did I miss something here?
3) People who self-diagnose wrong, and are shocked when we’re right
This happens all the time, but my favorite example comes from several years back. A man called and made an appointment to bring in his truck for an engine noise. When he arrived a few hours later, I could tell he was coming because I could hear his “engine knock” from over a block away. He pulled into the parking lot, lifted the hood, scratched his chin, and finally came inside to check in the vehicle for service, though he claimed he already knew the problem.
His diagnosis? A faulty air polluter valve.
All I could do was look at him and blink.
“I’m pretty sure there’s no such thing called an air polluter valve,” I said.
“Oh yeah,” he said with great confidence. “It’s an air polluter valve. Back of the engine. Looks just like a spark plug.”
At this point, I kept my mouth shut and just nodded along agreeably, but all the while, I thought, “Well, if it looks like a spark plug, don’t you think it just might actually be a spark plug?”
So, customer leaves, we diagnose the problem. Are you sitting down? It was a spark plug! Shocking! The vehicle had something over 100k miles and had never had a tune up, so we recommended a complete tune up and some other related repairs to get the vehicle caught up on its maintenance. The customer said he didn’t believe we were right but authorized the repair anyway.
When he comes to pick up his truck, before even coming into the office, he goes out to the parking lot, lifts the hood, starts up the truck, and is absolutely shocked that it’s running so smoothly. He came in and told me he couldn’t believe it. He was shocked. Speechless. It made no sense.
I just smiled and told him to have a nice day.
Stuff like this happens. All. The. Time.
4) People who’ve forgotten how to communicate properly
This one … oh, this one just gets me all riled up, because it happens almost daily.
Customer, delivery driver, salesman, or person passing through asking for directions — all of them come up to the door, and start asking me a question…
Before they even have the door all the way open.
Before they’ve even stopped to make sure I’m not busy with a customer or on the phone.
Before they’ve even bothered to see if they have my attention.
So they stand there, letting out the A/C or the heat, while I tear my mind away from whatever it was I was working on, and ask them to repeat the question, since I didn’t hear it.
Then they get mad at having to repeat themselves.
I mean, did I miss something in Life Etiquette 101, or Basic Common Sense? Why do people do this? The mind boggles.
5) People who do the above … but repeatedly
Yes, repeatedly. As in, over and over, but they still don’t catch on.
Someone will be standing at the counter in my office, and ask me a question. I don’t know the answer, so I start down the hallway toward the shop so I can find someone with an answer.
I’m halfway down the hall when I hear the person (customer / delivery driver / passerby / salesman / etc) ask another question, but because of the acoustics of the office and the hallway, I can’t make out anything other than noise.
I walk back into the office, trying to remember their first question, and ask them to repeat what they just said.
And — surprise, surprise! — they get mad at having to repeat themselves.
But, they repeat the question, I add it to my mental list of things to find out, and tell them I’ll be right back with an answer.
Guess what? They do it again.
So I go back to the office. Again. Ask them to repeat. Again. They get mad at having to repeat. Again. But they repeat, I again say I’ll find out, and head back toward the hall.
I had this happen six times in a row once, with one person, who kept asking me questions about his vehicle (which I couldn’t answer because the diagnostic hadn’t been completed yet so I had to go pester the technician [read: waste his time] by asking him before he was ready with his diagnostic notes). Even after six times, the man didn’t catch on, and it was all I could to hold my tongue.
Face, meet palm. Head, meet desk.
6) People who make contradictory demands
This comes in a lot of forms, but the most frustrating one is when a customer seems to assume that, just because I’m female-bodied, I must automatically be gifted with the ability to do twenty-seven things at once.
Well, I’m not. I can’t multitask so save my life, unless it’s a very, very good day. And the most difficult multitasking for me involves talking about one thing while typing up another. I just can’t do it.
Yet, somehow, people expect I can.
They’ll be rambling on at the counter, asking me questions, looking miffed when I don’t immediately answer, and all the while, they punctuate their mindless conversation with, “Don’t you have my invoice finished yet?”
Well, I might if you’d shut the hell up for two seconds so I can focus!
No, I don’t say that. But I certainly think it.
Then there are the people who come in and say they’re in a hurry, need their estimates written up fast so they can get to work. So, I scramble. I can whip out a new estimate quick when I need to. But then they start throwing a wrench into things.
“How come you haven’t made any coffee yet?” they ask as they stand by the coffee machine, looking personally offended that there isn’t any brewing.
“I’ll get to it as soon as I get a moment,” I say as politely as I can.
“Oh, and can you find out how soon they’ll look at my car?” they ask as I run toward the front door to get identification information off the car. To answer their question, I’d have to go out the opposite door and cross the entire length of the shop, which isn’t exactly conducive to getting their estimates prepared in a hurry.
“Oh, and I’ll need a ride to work,” they say, as though I could simply drop everything else I’m doing, besides trying to attend to all their needs, and leave other customers hanging.
Or, even worse, in an office full of people waiting to be helped: “I planned to have my neighbor come pick me up and take me to work, but that fell through, so can you run me over real quick? We have to leave right now or I’ll be late.”
All I can do is look around my crowded office and resist the urge to bang my head against the wall.
Salesmen are even worse in that situation. They’ll walk into my office, where I’ve got five people waiting to be helped, and look completely put out that I can’t ignore those five people and the phones ringing off the hook just to listen to their sales pitch.
“I only need ten minutes of your time.”
Yeah, well, in case you hadn’t noticed, it’s not my time you’re about to waste here. It’s my customers‘ time, and that’s unpardonable. I’m not going to make them sit and wait while you try to sell me something I don’t need. Please, for the love of all that is holy, get out of my office and don’t come back.
Then there are the people who arrive before we open, sit in the parking lot, waiting for us to arrive, and before I’ve even had a chance to get the door unlocked to go inside, they start pelting me with questions.
“Can you take a smog right now? How much would a tune up cost? How soon could you get a particular part if you order it today?”
More blinking dumbly on my end.
Did you really not notice that I just got here? And haven’t even stepped inside yet? And have a locked door between me and my schedule book, between me and my parts catalogues, between me and the phone? How could I possibly answer your questions?!?!
Alright. Deep breath. Moving along.
7) People who expect magic
Scene: Small town, independent repair shop, Saturday afternoon, one hour until closing time.
Customer calls, telling me they’re on a tow truck and on the way to our facility (the only one open on Saturdays in this town, and almost in the county) with a 1995 Saab, and they need a fuel pump.
“I’m traveling through on vacation. I have to get back on the road today. You have one of those in stock, right?”
I blink dumbly, trying to get my mind to wrap around this question.
There are probably all of two Saabs in this entire county. No parts store in the area will stock parts for vehicles like that. Now, a late-model Chevy truck? Different story. Fuel pumps fail on those all the time, and everyone and his brother around here drives a Chevy truck, so every parts store stocks them. But a Saab?
And besides that, we’re not a parts store. We’re a repair shop. We work on all makes and models. We couldn’t possible even begin to stock something like that, when we don’t even have space to stock every possible oil filter for every possible vehicle. That’s what the parts stores are for.
“What do you mean you don’t have it in stock?” the customer asks in shock. “Back home in LA–”
Ah, yes. LA. Where everything is open 24/7 and Saabs are at least a tad more popular than they are here.
Should’a’ stayed in LA.
8) People who expect crystal balls and foretelling
Customers and vendors are definitely guilty of this, but the people who really take the cake are telemarketers.
I hate telemarketers. Loathe them. Despise them.
I’m going to say it again just because the very thought of them makes my blood boil.
I. HATE. TELEMARKETERS.
They call, they ask for the boss, who is always unavailable (even if he isn’t, I say he is, because, really, he doesn’t need his time wasted with sales pitches for things he doesn’t need — and yes, I’m allowed to do this, because he hates talking to them more than I do, and since I help him run the business and handle most of the finances, I almost know more than he does what products and services the business needs).
“I’m sorry, he’s busy with a customer right now,” I say as politely as I can muster. “Can I help you with something?”
“No, I need to speak to him, since he’s the owner…”
And then comes the inevitable question. I’ve yet to have a single telemarketer not follow up with:
“…Can you tell me exactly what time he’ll be available to chat? I’ll only need fifteen minutes of his time.”
Hmmm. Let’s see. Can I foresee a particular block of time when the boss won’t have customers to talk to, parts to order, technicians to supervise, estimates to calculate? Can I foresee a particular block of time when he’ll have absolutely nothing to do and be able to take your call?
I wish I could. Wouldn’t that be a neat trick? See the future. Hmmm….
Oh, sorry, I was daydreaming.
But, just like I don’t have a magic wand to make fuel pumps for 1995 Saabs appear out of thin air, neither can I predict the future.
It’s gotten to the point that I tell them that. “Sorry, I can’t see the future. I don’t know exactly when he’ll have no other responsibilities to address so that he’s free to take your call.”
Sometimes I’m tempted to say, “Yes, he’ll be free from precisely 1:03 to 1:07 in the afternoon on the 15th of March, twelve years from now. Why don’t you call back then, hmmm? Have a nice day.” Click.
Tempting. Someday I might just do it.
So, after days when all these things happen, I thank every god known to man for the ability to escape into my stories. Because, otherwise, I’d probably go insane.
Then again, there’s so much good material here.
Perhaps I ought to write a book…
Maybe someday. Right now I’m elbow-deep in working on the next series. I’m so excited with where it’s going, and I just can’t seem to stop. I very nearly have complete first drafts for the first three books. One of these days I’ll have to pause writing so I can go back and start editing Book 1. That’s hard to do, though, because I’m enjoying writing them so much, and editing is such a chore. But, in the meantime…
Oh, there’s the phone ringing. Back to work, I go.
Please don’t be a telemarketer. Please don’t be a telemarketer.
Can you believe they’re calling on Saturdays now? Sheesh.
Counting down to closing time so I can go home and get some more writing done.
Did I mention I’m excited about this next series? 😀