One long telephone call overseas – a short story, not 100% fiction

I stared briefly at the call duration, 59:28. Reached for my ear instinctively. Slowly massaging it. Dissipating the heat from having held the mobile phone against it for so long. Funny, I didn’t even feel the phone heating up and warming up my ear. But I did feel the discomfort, or so I thought. Next time, use your ear plugs I mused to myself.

Why did you stay so long on the call? One hour? International call!

The young man sitting next to me fired, rapidly at me.

True. Why?

Some background.

I wasn’t calling my wife.

As she’s perhaps the only one I have spent so much time on the phone with on single calls, often when I am travelling and compensating for not being a few feet away from her.

But that changed since I started to run my own business almost full time.

The call I just ended was to a client, who is about 6,000 KM away from my physical reach and one time zone away from me (easy, there are others 6 timezones away in both directions).

And is in response to an email chain which has exceeded the threshold of number of emails that can be exchanged between our customers and our service desk team before the CEO is automatically notified. This in itself is good. Everybody knows I will be notified once a certain number of emails have been exchanged between us and our clients and everybody works pretty hard to ensure all enquiries and/or complaints are resolved with the least number of correspondences. So, more often than not, my colleagues keep their eyes on the ball, are as honest as they can be and don’t attempt to troll clients. But we also sometime fail.

To be fair, the service desk has done a lot to assist this customer. But the customer is still unhappy and tethers on the border of being upset.

An upset customer?

A customer who wanted to know why they are not getting the service they paid for (I know, you hate their guts. You even ask, how much are they paying ‘sef’).

One, who needs help to understand how to use the tool we have deployed for them (yes, we trained users, we provided manuals and even pointed them in the direction of a well documented knowledge base on their local intranet – also painstakingly deployed).

A customer who though did not say in as much words, wanted, simply, to be happy!

In the past I’d be agitated, too. I’d point fingers. I’d scream, this is my personal mobile phone (not true, I didn’t even share my personal number with people except friends, until recently).

In the past, I wont read my emails on a Saturday – it is the only day in a typical week that I rest (don’t look at a computer screen for long hours, whilst typing away at a keyboard) and play with my toddler – who like most toddlers keep their dads facinated by their creativity and soon wears the dude out with their energy.

A lifetime ago, I would ignore the customer’s complaints or deal with it at my convenience. Even then, email chains will continue between our very well staffed and knowledgeable service desk consultants and our customers, getting absurdly long and sometimes ending in service termination on the client’s request. Sad.

Aren’t all customers stupid?!

No they are not!

Took awhile for me to come to those terms. Took, painstaking reviews of my own experience as a customer of other businesses to realise that, whilst customers are not always right and may not always be able to articulate their needs in a language service providers and their too deeply involved but often ignorant of the fact that selling and keeping customers go beyond knowing your product(s) inside out but also understanding that customers are humans and deserve to be treated with respect service desk consultants understand, they (customers) know what they want and it is my business to find out, not condemn them to the jail of stupidity and then ignore them.

And often, they want one thing. A good experience. To be happy with what they have purchased. For their pourchase to keep its promise.

Think about it.

The car park attendant who offers to clean the outside of your car, guides you as you reverse into the street on your way home after a busy day’s work (this may sound strange to people who do not park in open air car parks and only one lane away from street traffic).

The waiter, who welcomes you with a smile (and as hard as you try, you can’t tell it is a fake smile), settles your party to an appropriately sized table – without you asking, comments s/he follows Arsenal football club too (yes, you are wearing a copy of the team’s jersey), did not come back a few minutes later to ask you for the 5th time for your order, again – because she lost the order each time before getting to the kitchen, who comes back to your table every few minutes (not too constantly to irritate you) to check if you are fine or need anything else (yes, trying to cross/up sell you, but making it enjoyable).

The IT guy in your office, who did not point out to you that the reason you are not connected to the internet is because you have stupidly not switched on your computer, but painstakingly switches on the computer for you, tells you where to enter your login details (again, perhaps for the 100th time that month) and sends you a follow up email with instructions for doing this yourself – which you should print and place next to the phone (so, you try the steps listed first before calling IT again).

What does each leave you feeling.

Valuable.
Important.
I don’t only want your money, but want you to be happy whilst here.
Thanks for spending your money/time with us, please come back.
A customer.
A friend?

And in all of these, the facilitator of your experience is non-verbally impressing upon you to come back.
To become a repeat customer.
To bring your friends (or to tell your friends about your experience), who will bring theirs.
Incentives. Non-financial incentives. Cheap advertisement. Customer loyalty. Make you buy again and again and you will do so happily!

Just becuase you were happy with your original experience and all others thereafter.

I looked at the young man, starring at me from across the table, and said in a very cool tone.

I called, because I needed to make that customer happy, again. When s/he is happy, they will come again, and again, and again and I in turn, will  be able to stay in business, make a lot more money, hire and train new hands (who I will sell my philosophy to) and take those long vacations I only now dream of.

He looked at me dazed, maybe confused.

I woke up. O, I have been dreaming.

Now, make I go work.

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