The website is hopeless. Your password has passed. You’ve read the explanation ten times and all you’ve gotten is a headache. Eventually, we all hit that impasse where there is no choice – we have to call customer service.
For many of us, root canals are more appealing prospects. There’s the long wait for someone to pick up. The inane questions you already answered for the silly computer. The hold music that was evidently composed by Satan – and played by a really bored high school band. There’s just nothing more annoying than having to call someone and go through a mini-nightmare just to ask a question.
Unless it’s going through all that and getting the wrong answer.
Here are five tips to making the customer service line work better for you:
Number One: Don’t Tick Off the Person You Are Depending on!
This should be self-evident but taking your frustration with the inanities of the system out on the person who finally answered the phone is a really good way to make a bad situation worse. No one working for the call center answering calls actually designed the silly system – so yelling at them accomplishes only one thing – it makes them want to get rid of you.
Don’t assume you know how to fix the problem – if the system is quirky from your side, it’s probably got other quirks you can’t see. You may be certain that all they need to do is X – but X may not work the way you think it should because of things in the complexity of the system that you don’t see. The Customer Service Representative (CSR) can be your best ally here – or your worst enemy.
No, CSRs don’t need to go around sabotaging your account – they can simply do the least amount possible to end the call.
Example: Bob’s insurance company, ABC, tells him that they don’t have an enrollment for him but Bob knows he enrolled with the Marketplace a month ago. ABC politely transfers Bob to the Exchange Call Center. Bob, now frustrated, tells the CSR in no uncertain terms that he needs to confirm his coverage. The polite – because he has to be – CSR informs Bob that he does indeed have coverage, provides the details and ends the call. What has Bob accomplished? Nothing at all. Bob will have to call back to get the Exchange to re-send the enrollment to ABC.
But he got his frustrations worked out – on a completely innocent rep.
Sue has the same problem and ABC transfers her to the same Exchange rep. Sue patiently (okay, she’s probably biting her lip a bit by now) explains the problem and answers the rep’s inane questions. But the rep now knows what’s actually wrong – and submits the work order to have the enrollment sent back to ABC.
Sue may have to take her frustrations out at the gym, but she probably won’t have to call back to get her enrollment where it’s supposed to be – over at ABC!
The rep could have helped Bob – a few questions would have told the rep what really needed to be done. But reps are human too – and rudeness to underpaid, underemployed people does nothing to make them want to risk their performance to help you out.
Number Two: Performance Isn’t Necessarily What it Should be.
Performance as defined by the call center’s contract may have little or nothing to do with how well or correctly the rep handles your issue. Often, reps are under pressure to meet consistency measures (those inane questions like ‘are you working with a broker’) and to keep down the amount of time they are on a call (average handle time).
Mary, the CSR, likes helping people and wants to solve the problems that people bring to her, but her supervisor is complaining that her AHT (average handle time) it too high. The call center expects an AHT of 15 minutes – which makes it difficult to handle complex problems in a given call. Mary needs her job.
When Bob calls and talks to Mary as if she were someone’s not beloved pet, is it in Mary’s best interest to spend an hour on the call getting Bob’s enrollment corrected properly or is she better off answering his questions quickly and referring him to the website?
When Sue calls and treats Mary like a person, it may not be in Mary’s best interest – but she is more likely to take a few extra minutes to help Sue out.
CSRs are as human as you are – and just like you, their jobs depend on meeting expectations – some of which aren’t necessarily best for actual customer service.
Number Three: Can You Hang on While I go get it?
Call centers answer thousands of calls a day – even in off peak times, an Exchange call center can take a thousand calls in a day – and they need to be as expeditious as possible. Find out beforehand what you will need (the Exchange website is a good place to start) and have it on hand. The longer you make the call drag out, the more likely the CSR is getting dirty looks from a supervisor. Have your paperwork on hand – especially if you need the CSR to complete an application for you. The CSR will appreciate it – and the whole process will be smoother.
Number Four: Why do You Need to Know That?
It’s perfectly okay to ask relevant questions – but use your common sense. If you called the call center then it’s really, really silly to ask why they need your personal information in order to locate and confirm your account. HIPPA is pretty danged strict about sharing someone’s health information so the call center rep is legally obligated to make sure you really are who you say you are. Fighting the rep about what they are required to ask you just drags out the call and annoys both you and the rep.
If the call center called you and you aren’t comfortable with what’s being asked, tell them you will call the call center back. A real rep won’t have an issue with that – a fake one may try to talk you out of it. Generally, a genuine rep won’t ask for more than one or two pieces of information (like your address or phone number) to confirm the account if they called you. They don’t need to. A rep should never ask for your social security number just to identify the account. Again, if in doubt, end the call (politely) and call the call center yourself. If the call was genuine there will be a record the rep can see that will tell them why you were being called and who you need to speak to.
Number Five: Space Cadet, Reporting for Duty!
Don’t expect the CSR to be the fount of all knowledge. If you’re trying to get health insurance, you need to take charge and do your own homework. A rep may reasonably have to explain a Cost Share Reduction – but you’re pushing it to make them explain copays. Do your homework before you call to buy a plan – it makes it much easier for the rep to really help you and much less likely that you’re going to get stuck with a plan that doesn’t do what you need it to do.