Trials and Tribulations of Training by Phone

If there’s one thing I’ve learned since I’ve been a client training officer, it’s that a lot of people have really weird phone etiquette or, more precisely, have completely lack of phone etiquette. While having to deal with a mumbler or a motor-mouth or a downright rude or obnoxious person can be bad, my pet peeve by far these days is being put on hold for a very long time.

When I set an appointment for training, I make a point of telling the client everything that should be prepared ahead of time: have your registration codes; if we’re going to have to transfer data from one computer to another, let’s be sure to have a way of bringing that data from Computer A to Computer B; before our call, map out on paper who will have access to the system and what each individual will be allowed or not allowed to do; do you know if the computer you’ll be using already has Java installed, and if not or you don’t know, will you need an in-house IT person to give you permissions to download and install it on your computer; will you have the time to concentrate only at the task at hand instead of fielding calls from 17 other different lines, …and so on. In other words, I cover all the bases at initial contact to ensure, for the sake of both the client and myself, that the actual call won’t take more time than necessary, because that’s often the first question clients ask me on initial contact: “How long will it take us?”

I can’t count the times I suppressed replying, “It all depends on how on the ball you are.” Rather, I word that thought more diplomatically, and avoid referring to the fact that it can also depend on how good the client is at following instructions and trusting the guidance I provide. I mean, by now I’ve done hundreds of these calls, so I’ve developed a logical, orderly pattern to get through what needs to be done. And because I’ve done so many of these calls, when a client explains to me what needs to be set up, without using all the “correct” terminology, I can very quickly map out a plan of attack and get us off the phone as quickly as possible.

But all of that goes out the window if, when I call, the client puts me on hold for 10 minutes in order to find the smart cards for the old software. Or insists on walking clear across the building each time something trivial has been sent to the printer. Or refuses to hear my suggestion on the best way to proceed and puts me on hold for another 10 minutes in order to do something that’s entirely unnecessary.

I know that whenever I had to call a help line (even before I did the work I do now) and I was instructed to reboot my computer, I was mortified to have to make the person on the other end of the line wait while my computer slowly did its thing. I would not call before I had everything I needed at my fingertips, like account numbers or whatnot. But many of the people I call don’t seem to be burdened by such guilt. On the one hand, good for them; guilt over such matters, I admit, is pretty damn stupid. But on the other hand, from there to have a client go on an “on hold” frenzy and extending what should have been a one-hour call to two-and-a-half hours, that’s going a bit too far.

I don’t mind so much if it takes two-and-a-half hours because I had to calibrate my instructions because the person is freaked out by the entire process. But if I spend nearly a third of that time on hold, I can get really cranky. And the worse part, I can’t let on that I’m getting cranky.