Customer Services Stories….from the Dark Side

Over the years, I have had several customer service-type jobs. A few were actual phone-rep jobs, then there was waitressing during the summers and while at college, and some were “liaison” positions. Basically what that means is that I virtually stood between one organization and another; my job was to listen to each organization, meet with them both regularly, and pass on information from Organization Right to Organization Left (trust me–way harder than it needs to be):

To Organization Right: “They (meaning Organization Left) want you to do <thus and so>.” Organization Right agrees, but with stipulations.

To Organization Left: “Organization Right says that they will do this, but with stipulations, which are <include list here>, ok?” Organization Left agrees, with with stipulations about the stipulations.

But the phone rep job was interesting, to say the least. I worked for a company that supplied math and science books, lessons, kits and so on for classes 1 through 8, and the products really were wonderful. Kids loved them, and they were very popular with teachers as well, as they made their jobs easier. Some of the kits involved live specimens, such as Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches (I am not kidding), butterfly larvae in a butterfly ‘tower’–you can watch the butterflies go from larvae to later emerge from their cocoons as full-grown butterflies, hermit crabs and the like.

The following phone rant came from a woman who had planned an outdoor wedding, and had ordered several of the butterfly towers in time to release the full-grown butterflies at the end of the wedding. Now the butterfly towers come with an 8×12 note that says that the larvae “generally take” however many weeks to become butterflies, at which time you can release them. But of course, this is ultimately up to Mother Nature.

This is the call that came in post-wedding:

Angry Bride: ” I am VERY disappointed in your butterfly towers and I want to make a complaint.”

Customer Service Rep: “I’m so sorry to hear that. Please tell me what happened and how I can help.”

Angry Bride: “Today was my wedding day, and I had my friends all ready with the butterfly towers to release the butterflies as soon as we said, ‘I do.”

Customer Service Rep: “Congratulations on your wedding! What happened?”

Angry Bride: “Well, first of all, only HALF the butterflies were fully developed! The others were still in their cocoon-thingys. Why didn’t they develop at the same time?!”

Customer Service Rep: “I’m sorry to hear that; it must have been upsetting. Did you happen to see our notice that came with the towers that the butterflies develop in a certain time frame? Unfortunately we can’t guarantee a specific date when they will all come out of their cocoons.”

Angry Bride: “Of course I saw it and read it! Do you think I’m an idiot?!”

Customer Service Rep: “Certainly not; then you did read it and understood that we cannot guarantee that the butterflies will develop at a certain date, nor can we guarantee that they will all develop at the same time.”

Angry Bride: “I KNOW THAT! I purposely had them sent early so that they would have plenty of time to develop! They didn’t, and they ruined my wedding!!”

Customer Service Rep: (who was visibly shaking with held-in laughter at this time) “Again, I am sorry for the inconvenience, especially on your wedding day. All I can do is offer to send you another butterfly tower at our expense.”


Customer Service Rep: “Again, I apologize. Is there anything else I can do for you?”

There was one more long and loud string of obscenities and then the angry bride hung up. The rep looked up to see his boss standing in front of his desk. She too was barely holding her laughter in check. They both cracked up, and he said, “I was about to suggest that she contact God to complain about His butterflies.” At that point, we ALL lost it.

As time went by, I discovered technical writing, and have been doing that ever since. My job is to write manuals that tell you how start, run and stop the thing you just bought. I tell you step-by-step how to do it, and the goal is to figure out in advance any questions you may have and answer them. I have written manuals from everything from RFID technology to F-16s, and the process is always the same: keep it simple.

At one job I had I was not only a technical writer, but also in charge of going through all manuals with all the engineers using  *ISO9000 procedures. Basically what this means is that I had to round up all parties involved in a product for which I was writing to go over the manual in question page-by-page, and weigh in on any issues. This way all involved would be able to address and solve them. Most engineers hate this; they look at it as a giant time-suck when they could be doing something else. But it is the only way that everyone involved can address any potential problems and keep from having to correct anything later on down the line.

To help salve the pain of sitting in these meetings, I would always bring a few dozen doughnuts and coffee for everyone. Now at least two weeks prior to one of these meetings I would send the manual we were going to review to everyone, so that they could make notes, etc. and be ready for the meeting.

This particular meeting was going slower than a field mouse running through Crazy Glue. I stopped everything and asked, “Did any ANYONE read the manual?” Out of nearly a dozen souls, only one raised his hand. I handed him two doughnuts and closed the meeting. I said that we would meet again in a week and that ALL of them needed to read and make notes on the manual. Then I picked up the box of doughnuts and dismissed everyone.

Two guys said, “HEY! Leave those doughnuts here!”

I turned around and said, “Nope–no read, no eat.”

The next meeting was much more successful.

These are just some of the customer service stories I personally have lived through; there are many more; some are even darker than these.

FYI, from personal customer service experience I know this: never EVER insult or bully anyone who serves you food. You do not want to know how bad payback can be.

But that is a story for another customer service Dark Side post. I’ll save that for another day.

*The ISO 9000 family of quality management systems standards is designed to help organizations ensure that they meet the needs of customers and other stakeholders while meeting statutory and regulatory requirements related to a product.








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