Saturday, August 27, 2011

Greetings from The Shire

I'm a senior technical adviser and product specialist for a window and door company.  It can be a pretty entertaining job, let me tell you.  I spend most of my day bending over backwards to assist people, and I do everything I can to bend the rules or work around the rules or occasionally throw the rules out the window to make sure the homeowner with whom I am speaking is satisfied.

Some homeowners don't get this.  Twice in my tenure I ended a call and cried.  The first time, it was my second day on the job and the person I spoke with was hostile and resistant to giving me any information from the get go.

Homeowner:  I need to order some replacement parts.

Me:  Great.  Can I get your address, please?

Homeowner:  Why do you need that?

Me:  So we know where to ship the parts once you've ordered.

Homeowner:  Fine.

Me:  What kind of window are you calling about?

Homeowner:  Why do you need to know that?

Me:  So I know which parts catalog to open, so I can find you the correct line and vintage.

Homeowner:  Fine.  They are X.

Me:  What year were your windows manufactured?

Homeowner:  Why should I tell you that?  You said the information I gave you previously would help, and ca-LEAR-ly it didn't.

This, is a greatly abridged transcript.  The actual conversation went on for over 40 minutes with this guy refusing to give me any additional information without explanation and talking to me like I was wasting his time.

Then, there was the guy who purchased a new screen.  He purchased it from his local home improvement big box store.  The box had some damage to it, and when he got home, the screen was bent.  He wanted me to send him a new one, and get it to him the next day.

For starters, door screens have a 6 day lead time.  This means they don't actually leave our factory until 6 day after the order has been processed.  Secondly, because the company needs to know, for insurance and other business purposes, at what point in the production/packing/shipping process the damage occurred, if a product arrives broken, homeowners need to go back to their place of purchase for the replacement.  We are more than happy to replace the screen.  At no cost.  But it has to be done through the proper channels.

I explained this to the homeowner.  This was his response:  Fuck you, bitch.  Fuck you, bitch, you fucking cunt.

I spent 10 minutes crying in the ladies room after that.

So, finally, I decided rather than taking it personally, I'm going to assume that the homeowner has the problem.  And I'm going to be amused by them.

So, I get this guy a few week ago who insisted we had sent him the wrong product and wanted to be connected to someone who could rectify this.  He didn't want to give me any information about who he was or what the product was or what was wrong with it.  I persisted and cajoled and finally got him to allow me to open his file so that I could send him to my supervisor for correction.

Except, when I opened his file, it turned out we didn't the send the wrong part after all.

As I tried to explain this to the man, he just kept interrupting and yelling at me, and telling me I was wrong.  And every time he would interrupt, I would stop, let him rant and continue when he had finished.  And I honestly had a difficult time not laughing out loud at him.  He calls me, asking for assistance, and then refuses to allow me to help him.  This is ridiculous and bordering on crazy, in my opinion.

I had a new trainee sitting with me that day.  When the homeowner ended the call, we bust into a fit of giggles.  When the trainee asked me for my number one piece of advice, I told her, "Don't let homeowners get to you.  Just find their antics amusing instead.  Never take it personally.  If you're trying to help, and they're being rude, that's their problem."

Occasionally, however, I come across situations that are just plain funny.  Or, at least they're funny to me.

I am one of the few agents who has been trained to participate in online chats with homeowners.

The chat tool was billed to me as "A way to interact with homeowners who cannot find the part they are looking for on our online parts store.  It'll be pretty simple.  Just direct them to the part they need."

Oh, how foolish to think this is what I would actually end up doing.

I spend more time explaining to homeowners that for warranty issues, they need to call in; that for diagnostic issues, they need to call in; that if the part isn't in the online part store, they need to call in; that giving me all of their window information isn't going to help because I can't order a new window for them through chat, and we don't sell new sashes for most window in our online parts store, so they need to call in.

Of the chats I work, about 10% of them actually have to do with the online parts store.  Some days I spend an hour or two with one homeowner who wants to know all of the part numbers for the parts he needs because he doesn't want to call in and he's planning to take his information to the box store.  This is not what the chat tool was envisioned to be, but it's what it is, nonetheless.

Well, I thought, this homeowner must have made a mistake.  So I tried to verify the information she had provided:  I just want to verify what you've told me.  You have a door that is 64 inches tall, and you want to know if a lock mechanism that is 68 inches long will work.  Is that correct?

Homeowner:  Yes.

Me:  Is the door itself 64 inches tall or is that just the glass you can see and touch.

Homeowner:  It's just the door.  The glass itself is several inches shorter.

Me:  Well, I'm sorry ma'am, but we do not manufacture products for hobbit houses.  And shipping parts to Middle Earth is a logistics nightmare.

I'm kidding.  I didn't respond with hobbit jokes.  In the chat.  I did read the chat to my desk mates and told them how I wanted to respond.  Everyone laughed.  A lot.

What I actually wrote was:  So, just to be clear, your door is 5 feet 4 inches tall.  Is that correct?

Homeowner:  No.  My door is 6 feet 4 inches tall.

Me:  Fantastic!  Would you mind measuring the height of the visible glass in your door?

Homeowner:  Sure.  Just one minute.

8 minutes later:  It's 63 inches tall.

Me:  Excellent.  That tells my your door unit is 6 feet 8 inches tall and unit size 68 lock mechanism the correct part for your door.  This part can be found in our online parts catalog at....

Still, for a moment there, one glorious moment, I really thought I might be having a chat with a hobbit, from Middle Earth, who just really loves our products.

Maybe next week.

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