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Showing The Love in IT Support

June 21, 2016

© 2016 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
Ministry Business Services, Inc. President
Reprinted from MinistryTech Magazine

I made an appointment to see an Apple Genius so they could resolve a battery issue in my wife’s iPhone. I was also going to have them replace my phone’s screen because of a scratch it picked up when about two weeks old. What happened is an example of how badly support can go wrong, and serves as a good reminder for all of us who interface with our customers.

Our phones are fairly similar—both iPhones with maximum capacities; hers is a 6 and mine is a 6s. We use similar apps, so our battery consumption has always been similar. In fact, we have never run out of battery! We’ve been very pleased with our devices, and consider them very reliable.

My wife’s phone battery started fully depleting a couple weeks ago by early evening. Batteries are consumable items, so I expected Apple to tell me I would have to pay to replace the battery. No big deal… the phone is nearly 2 years old. I also expected to at least pay a deductible to replace my screen since the scratch was my fault, not theirs.

So we went to the Apple Store to meet with a Genius with good attitudes and, I think, appropriate expectations.

What Happened
We started on the battery issue first. The Genius ran some diagnostics and told my wife that her battery is not really bad (though the chart showed it is acting like an older battery that has been charged many times and is losing some capacity); that it is more likely the third-party apps she was running causing the problem. Examining her apps showed that one had consumed nearly 30% of her battery! And using her phone in weak service areas had consumed nearly 20% (not a third party app). They also made other recommendations that all focused on how she was the cause of the problem, suggesting that the phone was okay. It felt like they were trying to stop a request for a free battery replacement before we made it.

My wife said what she cared about most was that she could rely on the phone when she needed it. Last week while traveling on business, she was driving in an unfamiliar area and her phone shut off because of the battery issue. So she asked questions about how certain the Genius was that these issues were the cause. “We cannot guarantee that…” was the reply. I said I was willing to buy her a battery– or even a new phone if necessary– but that the key was her having a reliable phone. The genius called a manager to help us further.

The manager said they wouldn’t recommend replacing the battery or the phone unless we did a full reset (to factory condition) so we could adequately test it. I’ll do that for her since I want to grab some screen shots before losing all of her configuration details, but doing so will cost me a few hours and may not determine the cause of the problem.

Regarding my screen replacement, they told me there is a 50/50 chance I would lose everything stored on my phone, and asked if it was backed up. My data is backed up, but configuring a phone for how I use it takes 6-8 hours, so I asked them for more details: do they really lose 50 out of 100 phones’ data? The manager came out to help us again and confirmed that replacing the screen was risky. It felt more like they were protecting their possible liability and exaggerating the problem more than was warranted. (If my firm lost 50% of computers’ data when we worked on them, we would have been out of business a long time ago!)

I should mention that I like Apple, and that the store manager came over and apologized about our poor experience there. This article is not about Apple– and certainly not about bashing Apple, but about improving the support experiences of those we serve.

What Should Have Happened
Non-technical technology users don’t like talking to tech support folks. They typically feel intimidated and really have to get to a breaking point before initiating contact. The best techs try to put themselves in the customer’s shoes and respond in a caring way, rather than point the blame on the customer or talk about high probabilities of data loss to intimidate the customer further. The best techs take the customer’s side and care for them as if they were the customer instead of being the tech.

In our firm we talk a lot about relationship management. It’s hard for most techs to treat each customer in a caring and empathetic way; it’s just not in most of our DNA. Our vocation attracts those who are focused on analysis and engineering rather than on warm and fuzzy relationships. The problem is that customers only like to give repeat business to those with whom they have a friendly relationship.

How Do We Overcome?
This is something I struggle with daily. Every time I write an email or help with a support ticket, my tendency is to give the necessary details as efficiently as possible. Efficiency is good! But good relationships are not/ cannot be efficient. And good business is built on good relationships, so that means our communication must be more than efficient.

The way I overcome this issue is by taking the time to re-read my emails before clicking the send button. While doing so I slow down to get the feel of them by actually pronouncing every word. I ask myself if I left things out in the name of efficiency, or if I said things in such a way that the reader won’t sense that I care about them and their perspective.

That is a hard habit to develop and to put into practice! But relationships matter! And those of us in the technology world need to show we care. That, or have a life plan of regularly looking for new  jobs because we did not appropriately care for the relationships our employer has been fortunate enough to establish.

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