O2’s network went down in the UK yesterday, and immediately, Twitter, Facebook and the whole socialsphere* filled up with cutting comments about the situation. Because that’s what we do now.
Customer service has never been part of my job description as such, and yet somehow, I have ended up doing more than my fair share of it over the years. It’s times like this I really feel for the guys doing that job at O2, and any other company that dares to not be completely and utterly flawless all the time (I hear there are a couple out there).
As one of those “mobile phone users” you hear about these days, I understand how annoyed people can be, and if my network was down, I would be pretty annoyed too. Then again, having forked for one for a few years, I also understand that shit does sometimes happen (I hear this also happens outside the world of mobilephonism, to be confirmed). and when it does, the people who work for that company do not, as you might think, sit on their backsides and laugh at the poor stranded users. They work their butts off, doing the hours they need to do until the problem is fixed. I know, amazing, right?
For some reason, we all seem to think of companies as big faceless things, even the smallest startup is often considered to be a thing rather than a group of a few people. And that makes us behave like dicks. Because it’s OK to be a dick to a faceless thing on the interwebs.
The thing is, it’s not OK.
That faceless thing is made up of many things called people who have faces, and feelings, and who work hard every day (well, most of them do, most days) and when you scream at customer service down the phone or online, you’re screaming at a person. And the chances are, that person you’re insulting isn’t responsible for the problem you’re having. And they have also been screamed at and insulted by dozens of other customers who are also having the same problem.
Also, quite often, the people who get told that their product or service is “shit”, and that they should “get their act together” and “stop ruining the customer’s day” have no power to correct or improve the situation at all. I have worked for quite a few companies over the years, and every single one had its limitations, technical, political, financial or even just in terms of human resources available, that meant that I couldn’t get the job done as perfectly as it deserved to be. Those limitations made my work extra hard, frustrating and sometimes soul-crushing. But I did my best, every time, with what I had.
Of course, that never stopped customers telling me that my work was shit, and that a proper company wouldn’t dare present such crap to their customers, and that the site had obviously been made by incompetent monkeys. The solution is simple they say, even an idiot would see you “just” need to do this for it to work. And the fact that, not being an idiot, I also knew that “just this” was the solution but wasn’t possible due to those limitations made it just that bit more like a kick in the teeth.
So if you feel like screaming insults at a company, please take a moment to take a deep breath before you do, and think.
Think that maybe the person you’re addressing, even indirectly on a social network, has been working hard, putting up with a lot of other people insulting them, their company, and the collective work of all their colleagues. They are also probably frustrated and annoyed at a lot of other internal things, their boss, their lack os ability to fix stuff the way it should be fixed, etc.
Think that when something big happens, like this outage, there are guys up 50ft antennas in the middle of nowhere who would have liked to get home for tea and will be up all night. There are guys up to their arms in cables and electronics and computers spending hours upon end trying to solve this problem. They know that it’s really pissing you off right now, and that until they get it fixed you won’t be able to call for pizza or chat with your Auntie Mabel, they know it better than anyone.
I know it’s tempting, I have the same urges whenever something screws up. But unless I know that I’m actually talking to someone who is responsible for the problem, or at least someone who can fix it, I try to keep calm and carry on.
Unless the problem is one of those stupid keep calm and carry on posters, in which case I go MENTAL.
Edit: Looks like the guys at @O2 are handling it well. Kudos to them !
*Not including MySpace.