When — please reply above this line — doesn’t cut it as customer support

We’ve all been there.

Frustrated with something broken, something that didn’t ship, a query about a flight or a product you’d like to buy. You hit the dreaded customer support button on the supplier’s site. You explain your dilemma and press Submit. (Submit! Yes – more of this later!)

And then it comes.

An automated acknowledgement – Eureka! You’ve been added to the queue. Better still, you’ve been given a ticket number. That’s a sure sign you are a VIP customer.

The ticket number may even come with a timeline of when you can expect a reply. “We aim to respond within five working days” is one answer I received recently regarding a broken router which I bought.

The ticket number is a wonderful thing. Be sure to treasure the number – for without it you risk being lost in a sea of other problems, with other customers or non-customers, disconnected and disenfranchised. How will they find your original issue if you don’t “quote this ticket number in the subject line” of all future communication with that company?

To me, this ticket number is a throwback to the days of queueing at a drab government office for the dole (yes!), or later, for a driver’s licence. It comes with dread. The ticket number you get inevitably seems hours away from the number being shown in bright red LED lights below the “Now Serving” sign at the server’s cubicle.

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Later, an answer. A humanoid has chosen your golden ticket and has replied. Unfortunately, and sometimes due to the complexity of the helpdesk product, the humanoids first response is, surprisingly, not an attempt to solve the problem. Instead, it asks for more information. And yes, you may indeed have provided this information when you first hit “Submit”. But this Helpdesk is not really about solving problems. It’s just about managing tickets. So as a support agent, I keep the wheels spinning. It’s how I’m measured.

And when you write back, with ticket number in the subject line, be sure to REPLY ABOVE THE LINE. Because failure to do so risks eternal damnation. Your ticket will be lost to me. And so I will keep the wheels spinning and your frustration will grow.

Periodically over the coming hours or days, you will receive updates from the humanoid. “Your ticket has been updated” – has it indeed! No … not necessarily an answer .. but my ticket has been updated. Another golden moment in my customer support journey.

In time, bored with the journey, and when the “knowledge base” auto-replies have been entirely exhausted, the humanoid will answer and hopefully will provide a solution to your problem. More Eureka!! Yay!! #ProblemSolved.

And Jim (yes the humanoid has a name – he’s actually a nice guy and he is genuinely pleased when your problem is answered, it’s why he got into customer support in the first place), Jim got to use his smarts and his analytical skills to solve your problem. Gold star for Jim. He actually beat the system – his own system.

Yes – maybe I’ve exaggerated the above for effect. But by how much? Let’s see. The language, the ticket number, the instructions on how you are to speak to me = REPLY ABOVE THE LINE = PUT YOUR TICKET NUMBER IN THE SUBJECT LINE = YOUR TICKET HAS BEEN UPDATED … is this the language you would use to gain or retain a customer if you had a choice? If you’ve been lucky enough to visit a posh hotel, does the concierge greet you with “Hello Ticket #548122”, or remind you as you leave that “your ticket has been updated”?

No, they don’t.

Someday, a customer at your online store will feel like they’re in the Ritz. If you can make every customer feel like that, they’ll keep coming back.

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