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How To Avoid Helpdesk Hell

Aren’t helpdesks just the worst? Calling an expensive number to plead with an unpleasant teenager to solve an issue you shouldn’t have had in the first place? Many hours and dollars were spent trying to explain to those goofballs what the problem was and how serious it was. Many more hours were spent following up on your solution and each time felt like banging your head against a brick wall, awful, just awful. But there is good news, it doesn’t have to be like that and I can show you another way of dealing with helpdesks. Having been a helpdesk agent for many years I can give you a unique insider perspective into the wondrous world of customer care and in this article provide you with some valuable tips and tricks to use, so you can get what you need with minimal effort, time and frustration.


The very short version

For people short on time, or currently in a helpdesk/callcentre crisis here’s the very short version:
1: Know your needs.
2: Know your rights.
3: Keep calm.

That’s all you need to kill every conversation you have from now until eternity. Sounds simple doesn’t it? That’s because it is, but there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to these points and if you want to know more and have a moment to inform yourself I’ll give you the not so short version.



wrongHaving worked in the trenches for almost ten years I would say I have developed a pretty clear picture of what works concerning customer to agent interaction and what doesn’t. If you want to know how to get the best possible solution or offer from your helpdesk please read on. In order to optimize your customer care experience, let’s start off with some tactics that don’t work.



1: Being a tough guy

Best get the obvious out of the way first. Shouting, yelling, intimidating, threatening and swearing is rarely effective, if ever, I would even go so far as calling it counter-productive. If an agent is confronted with this type of behaviour he is often allowed to end the conversation, leaving you without a solution for your problem, so try to control the urge to go mental even though it might be very tempting. If you take the hostility too far you might even get blacklisted all together causing you a whole new set of problems, so just don’t do it. We want to achieve results and the only result you achieve by being antagonistic is a high phonebill, an upset person on the other end of the line and maybe even sorrow on your end. Don’t be that guy (or gal).

2: Breaking down

Other tactics that are not very effective include begging, pleading, crying, bribing or whining. To be fair, back in the old days that did work on some occasions, but as soon as the upper management of the bigger companies got wind of it, they invented all sorts of ways to make it impossible for their agents to give into these tactics. They are often bound by Service Level Agreements (SLA’s), scripts, procedures, systems, etc, etc. So even if you are fortunate enough to have an attentive and empathetic agent on the line, he or she will not be able to go rogue and give into all your requests at all times. There were instances in my own work where people were literally crying on the phone and no matter how bad it made me feel, there was literally nothing I could do due to the restrictions my company had placed upon me. Tears are wasted on agents and there are better and more dignified ways to get what you want.

3: Pulling a ‘Mission Impossible’


Something that’s equally ineffective in getting your way is trying to trick, deceive, lie or fib to the person taking your call. You’re in good company though, or large company at least, since an estimated 10% of people calling in use some sort of deceit to get their way. You might think you are justified in doing so (and maybe you are, I don’t judge), but the fact is that being on the receiving end of these lies for an extended period of time turns you into some sort of human lie detector. After several months in the trenches agents develop a sixth sense when it comes to these things and veteran agents can hear your lies before you even open your mouth. They might even feel compelled to make your day worse by denying you the very thing you need or by noting it in the system, making sure his co-workers are aware of your motives too, thus making your solution only harder to obtain. I’m not saying it’s impossible to get away with lying, but you have to be very adept at it and very knowledgeable about the system you’re trying to game. What I’m saying is, it’s probably not worth the effort, and even if it is, do you really want to get your way through fraud? Of course not you’re better than that.

If you do nothing else but refrain from using these three tactics mentioned above you are already way ahead of the game and are likely to have a much more enjoyable and productive customer care experience. But if you really want to knock it out of the park please read on to find out what does work when it comes to customer service.





Like I said at the top of this page in order to get the most out of your call four things are most important; Know your needs, Know your rights, keep calm and write everything down (!). But what did I mean by that, let me explain.



1: Know your needs

Why are you calling? It’s a simple question, but it’s in your interest to examine it before picking up the phone. Not so much for the benefit of the agent, but more to save yourself some time and energy. If the person taking your call has to spend 20 minutes trying to figure out what it is you actually want before he can offer a solution it’ll just be one hot mess with frustration all around. If the person is unable to properly analyse your request you might spend half a day bouncing from department to department and that’s sure to ruin your day. So have a clear picture of what it is you actually want and why. You can ask yourself question like: What’s the problem? Who’s responsible for the solution? How urgent is it (really)? And maybe even; how much am I willing to pay for a solution?
I would advise to write the answers down even if you think that’s overkill, because sometimes customer care interactions can get messy and heated, but if you keep a clear picture of your needs you’ll be able to overcome almost every obstacle.

2: Know your rights

No I’m not talking about your rights as human-being or a citizen, I’m talking about your rights as a customer of the company you are about to call. Whenever you sign a contract with a company there are certain rights and duties both parties agree to, these terms and conditions can generally be found in the T.O.S. (Terms of Service), the S.L.A. (Service Level Agreement) or the contract itself.
In my experience 99 out of a 100 customer have neglected to read these documents before agreeing to them and although that’s understandable it’s unwise. You’ll find that more and more companies these days try to make their documents legible and easy to understand, but even if they don’t it might still be wise to read up on your duties as a customer and what the company offers in return.


I remember several instances whereby people called me to get a solution for their problem expecting me to send a mechanic within the hour, as if they were calling the fire department and expected a fire truck within minutes. Most of the time I was unable to give them what they wanted, in a lot of cases we were able to solve it over the phone and in other case I could send a mechanic, but not until hours- and in extreme cases days later. The customers were livid after hearing that and it always took a lot of explaining, that was one of the biggest parts of my job, cooling down angry people. I accepted that, but my ‘bad news’ shouldn’t have been a surprise in the least since it was well within the limits of our SLA and I strongly suspect that every person that shouted in my ear had failed to read the paperwork before signing the contract.

Knowing your rights will have several positive effects for you, firstly you might find out that you’ve been dealing with the wrong partner all this time because they have crappy service and even put it in writing for you to see. Now is the time to find a company with better service, aren’t you glad you found out about it before it actually became an issue for you? Another thing is that some SLA’s etc. include things like compensation in case of negligence. Depending on the company, product and situation, things can get really interesting, really fast though, I’ve heard of cases where customers were owed several hundred bucks and all they had to do was make a claim.

The most important reason for knowing your rights in the context of this article is that the conversation with your helpdesk will go so much smoother. The main reason is that you won’t make demands the agent can’t meet and you won’t get shafted by an unwilling employee trying to short-change you. Sometimes you’ll get five different answers from three different agents, this sort of thing is bound to happen in big companies. Maybe the agents were misinformed, maybe they’re dumb, maybe they just don’t care, but none of that matters when you are well informed and have the terms and conditions in writing. It changes the nature of the conversation from a conflict or power struggle to a productive two sided interaction, saving you a lot of time and aggravation. If you find the company is unable to hold up to its responsibility don’t start threatening with a lawsuit right away, just point to the terms and conditions and take it from there. Knowledge is power.

3: Keep calm


Keeping calm is just about the most important thing you can do in a time of crisis. Of course you are annoyed that there’s a problem, and worse still that you have to deal with that damn callcentre to get it resolved. Maybe the people you interact with aren’t very clever, maybe they have a poor grasp of your language, maybe they’re just treating you poorly for some reason, whatever the situation may be, keep calm. Be the bigger man or woman and keep in mind what it is that you want and what the agent is supposed to do for you. Escalating the situation by getting emotional will only make things worse, so take a deep breath and carry on.
Calmly ask the agent what his or her options are in solving your problem and try to get to an agreement. If you can’t get to an agreement and you’re dealing with a professional callcentre there’s often a pre-built solutions for an issue that arises during the call. Sometimes an agent can conference with or connect you to an expert department (a.k.a. the second line), sometimes you might be able to speak with the manager or complaint department, or there might be some sort of escalation procedure to follow. Just ask and if all else fails you can always end the conversation and call back to see if you can connect with another agent who might be more capable or willing to resolve your issue, it’s amazing what a difference a fresh pair of eyes can make when all hope seems lost.



Just get a notepad and start by writing down the things you’ll most likely need during the conversation, for instance your own address, accountnumber, correspondence number etc, anything that is relevant and might be asked. It might sound like you’re doing your helpdesk a favour and maybe you are, but it’s more for your own benefit. Having your ‘you know what’ together keeps the conversation flowing and makes for a healthier power dynamic. What does that mean? I’ll give you an example. This one time I got a call from a man who was really upset that his product wasn’t functioning properly and in order for me to help him I absolutely needed his zipcode and that’s where it went belly up. It took him over 15 minutes to find his own zipcode, now I didn’t mind, because I got paid by the hour, but it was all kinds of embarrassing, thus changing the power dynamic between us. At first he was enraged to have technical problems and then he was embarrassed to keep me waiting for so long for such a silly thing. Again, I personally didn’t mind, but you don’t want to be that guy, wasting everyone’s time including your own, just have the relevant data on paper so you’re good to go. Another thing you’ll want on that piece of paper are your needs as described in ‘point 1 Know your needs’ and the date + time of calling, when you have that written down you’re good to go, now nothing can stop from getting what you deserve.

While on the phone write down which person from what department you spoke to and what was discussed, what was promised to you (replacements, appointments, ticket numbers etc) and by which time this promise should be fulfilled (response time). Writing it all down will not only make you more confident and effective in your interaction, but you also have a written journal of the entire experience. That way you will know exactly what actually occurred and if it all goes belly up you can always hand a copy to the complaints department or (god forbid) your lawyer so they can slap somebody over the head with it.


So there you have it, it might look like a lot of work, and maybe it is, but you have a real choice here on how to engage with helpdesks. Do you want to let it ruin your day, your health and your finances? Or do you want to take control of these interactions and get it over with as quickly and painlessly as possible?

In closing I would just like to say I really hope that this article will make interacting with service departments over the phone a bit easier for you and that you get what you want and need in life. As a former helpdesk agent I’ve worked with hundreds of people, solved thousands of issues, spoken with tens of thousands of customers and all I can say is that I really feel that most people have their heart in the right place, customers and agents alike. It might be nice to keep that in mind while interacting with the people in the trenches taking the heat for the companies they represent.


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