Strategy for dealing with suppliers

2018/06/21

This post has been at the back of mind for a while now because I often encounter randoms and family who have had poor and frustrating experiences dealing with  suppliers over the phone. There is a lot a customer can do to make the experience easier and more productive.

I have had to deal with various services over the phone over the years and I have developed an approach which works well, helps you to gain accountability from the provider and ensures you have an effective tool and information for when things get rough.

Why write this?

We’ve all had to deal with it in one form another, we’ve bought something online and it hasn’t arrived, some sort of technical fault has occurred with a device or service, or you’ve had some sort of poor customer experience when dealing with a supplier. In your conversations with the supplier things have not gone well for you, you’re not comfortable that the supplier has understood the problem or not taking your needs seriously. Maybe you have already spoken to them and the supplier has made a commitment to you and that commitment hasn’t been met or wasn’t up to the standard you expect. If you’ve had an experience like this then hopefully the following tips will help you to help the supplier to help you.

Do’s and Don’ts

Starting with some simple do’s and don’ts for how you approach and handle the situation…

  • Be polite. Regardless of who the supplier is, where they are located or how angry you are remember that the person you’re dealing with is a fellow human and almost certainly isn’t to blame for the experience you’ve had. Ensuring you are polite with the person you’re speaking to gives you the best chance of having that person take on an advocate role for you inside the supplier organisation. Often people in these roles are dealing with hundreds of customers who have an axe to grind. The customers they are likely to remember and go the extra mile for are the ones that treat them well, like a colleague or friend. Your kindness and empathy makes you stand out.
  • Be patient. If the supplier is a large organisation then things can sometimes take a while to work their way through the system. Yes you’re likely to end up in a call queue, more than once, probably a few times. Yes its poor customer service for suppliers to let their customers rot on hold however that is not your beef here. Your mission is to get the outcome YOU want. If you want a supplier that responds to customers quickly then do your research and find one that can do that. It is also common to experience heavily scripted first contact calls with suppliers. Be patient, answer the questions and let the supplier process roll. Being angry or frustrated about a call script isn’t polite or patient.
  • Be open. Be clear, open, direct and don’t make stuff up. You want to own the moral high ground in the interaction, not look like some goon trying to get something for free. If things have been rough when dealing with the supplier, explain this to the person you’re dealing with so they can understand your frustrations. Tell the supplier on the phone that you will be taking notes. Ask Open Questions. Remember though, above all, be polite.
  • Keep a Log. One of the easiest and most important things to do is to keep a log of your interactions with the supplier. Date, time, name of the supplier agent you spoke to (its reasonable for you to ask for their first name, some suppliers even allow their staff to supply some sort of employee ID, its NOT okay to ask for their full name though), the topics of conversations and MOST IMPORTANTLY, the commitments and information the supplier gives you on the call. Critically, it’s important to also request a case number, ticket number or some sort of identifier that the supplier uses to track customer interactions. If a supplier isn’t using such a system it’s almost certainly time to find another supplier.
  • One problem at a time. Try and deal with one thing at a time at the start. This makes it easier and quicker to get the ball rolling and get the supplier engaged. Services staff will often ask at the end of a call if there is anything else you need help with. This is the time to bring up the next issue. Ensure you treat the issue the same way as you did the first. Prepare and Execute.

Preparation

When you are starting off an interaction with a supplier to get a matter addressed or resolved, spend a few minutes before you pick up the phone or send the email and make a few notes for yourself to help you focus on the issue and get it resolved as quickly as possible.

  • Problem Statement Start with a brief sentence which describes the problem you’re having or the need you have.
  • So far I have… Write down a few points about the actions you’ve taken to try and address the problem yourself and any observations about the problem that may have changed.
  • Recent Changes Think about anything that might have changed recently.
  • I would like… Describe what the best outcome for you is but also describe what a bonus outcome might be.

Execution

Now the time has come to contact the supplier. The best way to do this depends on what sort of service the issue is about and where the supplier is located.

If the problem relates to a product or service from a supplier that is based overseas then email might be the best way to contact them. If the supplier is a local supplier then phone might be better. Either way the execution is largely similar.

The goal here is to produce an experience log you can share with the supplier or, if things go badly, a regulatory agency later.

Contact the supplier, state the problem and request help. For each interaction you have with the supplier, include the following in your log:

  • How you contacted the supplier. Phone, email, web form etc and what the number, address or URL for that contact was. A neat trick when calling suppliers who have complicated IVR phone systems is to write the number you called and then the keypad options you dialled. This way you can quickly refer back to the numbers you dialled if you have to call again and you have a better chance of ending up with the same team you spoke to the first time.
  • The date and time you made the contact, the name of the person you spoke to, the location (suburb, city, state) of the call centre where the call was answered and what the result of that contact was.
  • Notes and comments about the supplier conversation.
  • Pay careful attention to what the agent is saying and telling you. Some agents, particularly new or junior operators may do or say things to you that just aren’t true or show that they do not understand what you are telling them. If you suspect this is the case you should request an escalation to a more senior person. Be sure you note the date and time of the request.
  • If you seem to be getting a little roadblocked by an agent, its often useful to keep coming back to your original problem and invite them to comment on what needs to happen to have it resolved. If you turn the conversation around on them and force them (politely!) to present options to help you get things resolved then that can often get you some traction.
  • Agents will often say “someone will get back to you”. When you are told this, push hard (politely!) for a timeframe where someone will get back to you. Agents can be very evasive about this for several reasons. Your job is to get them to set a day, date or timeframe for when you will be contacted and the role of that person. If they refuse to give a number, throw a speculative number at them.
    • You: One year?
    • Agent: No.
    • You: Six months then?
    • Agent: No.
    • You: One week?
    • Agent: Oh yes, absolutely within a week.

And this is the important part, you state back them your understanding. “Thank you, I will expect a call back from from the Escalations Team no later than 5pm next {DAYNAME+7 HERE}.

A good approach to take is to assume that the notes you keep will be shared with the supplier in the future. If you keep your notes clear, concise, polite and factual then if/when things go off the rails you can easily share the log of information with the agent directly. Don’t ever put anything in the notes you don’t want the supplier or regulator to read.

Going to a regulator

Some suppliers are subject to government regulation such as telcos, banks, other government agencies. A regulator can help you get your issue resolved when you have been unable to do so with the supplier directly.

Before contacting a regulator though, advise the supplier that you are considering taking the issue to their regulator. Some suppliers (like telco’s here in Australia) are very keen to ensure that customer issues do not end up with the regulator. There are various reasons for this. Sometimes the supplier will escalate your case to special team within the organisation for dealing with these situations.

My preference is the three-strikes method. When a supplier has had three attempts or opportunities to resolve your issue and have been unable to do so, advise the supplier that you will be contacting the regulator. If the supplier still doesn’t come through for you, look up how to contact the regulator and open a case with them.

Regulators almost always expect you to have attempted to resolve an issue with the supplier directly before they will take on your case. If you have a detailed log of all the interactions you had with the supplier then this helps the regulator enormously because they can see at a glance everything you have done and when. This also increases the likelihood that the regulator will take your case on for you.

Common Challenges and Pitfalls

  • Look out for the up-sell. Some less reputable suppliers might try and convince you that you need to give them more money or purchase an alternative product to have your issue addressed. Do not give in to this. If this happens to you, focus on getting the issue resolved and then find a new supplier.
  • Sometimes something bad happens. I once spent 4 weeks working with a supplier to have an issue resolved. The case ended up on their Asia-Pacific Vice President’s desk and was resolved in very short order from there. I was only able to get this to happen because the suppliers IT team migrated their issue tracking system to a new service in the middle of my case and lost all my history. I was faced with the task of starting again or being polite yet firm to get an effective escalation. The VP was very apologetic and I learnt I wasn’t the only customer who wasn’t please about the situation.
Advertisements

Interesting Railways Documents

2018/01/17

Putting this information up here for future keeping. I seem to need to keep referring to these from time to time and it will be handy to have them saved somewhere.

PIR for RailCorp (Now SydneyTrains) Sydenham Signal Box Failure on April 12th.

110429-Signal_System_Report

Presentation on the Stabilisation of the Melbourne Train Control System

Legacy Train Control System Stabilisation


Old Cloud news is still funny

2014/04/03

A survey of 1000 people was conducted back in 2012 that had some pretty funny^h^h^h^h^h^h embarrassing results for Cloud computing awareness. The highlight is best summarised by:

“…the survey found that 51 percent of respondents believe that stormy weather can interfere with cloud computing. A plurality of respondents (29 percent) also think that the cloud is an actual cloud. A paltry 16 percent actually knew what the cloud was.” which is taken from http://www.webpronews.com/americans-think-cloud-computing-comes-from-actual-clouds-2012-08.

The Forbes article is here http://www.forbes.com/sites/thesba/2012/11/13/americans-still-unclear-about-cloud-computing/.


Vodafone #Fail & Goodbye

2011/01/25
I posted a few months ago about the problems I was having getting a Vodafone (Huawei) K3765 USB dongle to work on Windows 7 64bit. I’m happy to say I resolved the fault however I failed to get the equipment working to my satisfaction.
I had time recently to follow up my case with Vodafone and get the software working on my laptop. I called the Vodafone contact centre on 1555 and got through to Valencia. I gave her my case number and SIM number and put me through right away to the Vodafone contact centre in Tasmania. I was impressed by that, its always a pleasure to speak to local people and for extra bonus the person I spoke to in Tasmania (Sonya) knew her stuff, understood my situation and did many things to try and resolve the problem.
Alas nothing she could think to try would make the dongle work. What I did learn though is that one should always use the software that comes on the USB key and not the software that comes with the dongle on CD-ROM or from the Vodafone website.
During our troubleshooting and the subsequent troubleshooting I did over the course of the following weekend I was able to determine that the cause of the issues appeared to be that Windows considered the drivers for the K3765 to be unsigned and refused to load them. By default Windows 7 64bit will not run unsigned drivers. Sonya had told me that she wasn’t working on the following Monday and that I should expect a call back from one of her work mates on Monday morning.
By 3pm the following Monday I had not had the return call I had been promised. I wended my way through the Vodafone IVR again and ended up speaking to Valencia again. She got me through to Heath in the Tasmanian contact centre. Heath put a lot of effort into troubleshooting and resolving the problems. He had me put Windows 7 into test mode so that it would accept the unsigned drivers. Hardly a satisfactory solution but hey, I’m prepared to try anything at this stage. Unfortunately the solution didn’t resolve the fault. After a reboot and reinstall of the software the same problems persisted. Heaths conclusion at this stage was that a reinstall of Windows 7 was the only way to go.
During the course of the call I had been poking a lot of fun at the reliability and quality of the Huawei brand of equipment and software. Heath was careful to not make any comments about my fun at the expense of Huawei.
I spent a few hours the next day gathering all the CDs and DVDs I would need to complete the reinstall. The day after that I completed my backups and reinstalled Windows. Once the base OS was installed and patched and the vendor drivers were all updated I installed the Vodafone dongle and Vodafone Mobile Connect software that comes with the key (not the CD in the box). Success! Worked first time, no errors, no faults.
From this point I ran through my software installation and patching. Once I had all my tools and apps installed I connected the USB dongle again and it failed to show in Device Manager, only one of its devices showed up. A few reboots and more testing later and my problem had returned. I was not impressed BUT at least I knew now that the cause was something I had installed.
I had a look through the list of installed applications and decided to start troubleshooting by uninstalling all the applications which had a driver component. First one to go was Daemon Tools. That didn’t resolve it. The next to uninstall was VMware Workstation 7.1.3. After a reboot I tested the Vodafone dongle again and it was now working fine.
So, having successfully identified the cause of the failure I had a decision to make. Stick with the Vodafone dongle or use VMware workstation. Hardly a pleasant choice since I use both to do my job.
At the moment I’m still using the Vodafone dongle. With all the ongoing problems Vodafone is having in Australia at the moment the company I work for is about to churn to Telstra Nextgen which hopefully wont have this problem.
The only task that remained was to contact Heath in Tasmania again and let him know my findings so that some other poor Vodafone customer wouldn’t have to suffer my fate. I contacted 1555 again, wended my way through their IVR and ended up speaking to Suraj who, on the quality Vodafone VoiP connected to sunny India, I was sure was telling me his name was Sewerage. I gave Suraj the case number and he tells me that he needs my mobile number and account password to access my history because he cannot use a case number to look up a customers history. I describe the case to him in a nutshell and request connection to the Tasmanian call centre and he tells me that Vodafone doesnt have any call centres in Australia.
At this stage I’m pretty unhappy. I’m going out of my way to help Vodafone and they are giving me the run around. I push on Suraj a little harder and after about 5 minutes on hold I’m talking to Heath. Heath laughs when I explain what just happened. I relay my findings to Heath who expresses gratitude and assures me the notes are going to his supervisor for further action internally.
So, what did I learn from this exercise?
– The software that Vodafone provides with the USB key package on CD isn’t the best software to use.
– Huawei USB keys don’t have a fantastic reputation for reliability and I suspect Vodafone knows this.
– Level 1 Vodafone support/customer service need substantially more training, particularly about what countries do in fact have call centres.
– The software that Huawei provide Vodafone is not compatible with VMware Workstation 7.1.X.
I’m glad that this exercise is over and I’m also glad that my employer has decided to ditch Vodafone as seems to be somewhat of a theme going on in Australia at the moment.