By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.
I dread doing my annual income tax return. Not that I actually complete the forms myself, I merely need to gather the needed documents to give to my accountant. He does all the actual work. Still, tax season is a source of anxiety that I approach with much trepidation – and this despite the fact that I keep good records, plan ahead, and take a conservative approach to deductions.
One year, as I organized my batch of needed documents, I stumbled upon two contradictory forms for my HSA contribution, both sent by the same company. Until I could determine which one to believe, moving ahead and completing my tax returns would need to wait.
Dreading the ordeal before me and unsure of the best approach to take, I then noticed the forms displayed a toll-free number, with an extension. This was a most customer-centric sign, and I began to imagine a quick resolution and a clear explanation for my contradictory paperwork. With high expectations, I dialed the number and punched in the extension.
Though an agent answered quickly, his customer service skills were decidedly lacking. I explained my dilemma as concisely as possible and held my breath. With a scant few seconds of conversation to make an assessment, my once optimistic outlook withered to a tiny glimmer of hope.
With a dismissive air, he asked for my account number. I gave him the number from the form. “That’s not one of our account numbers.” His irritation came through the phone. He sighed. “What’s your soc?”
His use of an abbreviation only heightened my perception that he was in a hurry, and I was in his way. Even though I view it as bad form to employ slang or internal abbreviations when communicating with customers, I gave him my social security number. Then, I sighed.
“Can’t find that either. Are you sure you’re calling the right place?”
I reminded him I called the number on the form his company sent me.
“Must be your account’s been closed.”
I assured him that wasn’t the case. He murmured some more, and then placed me on hold.
After waiting too long, a woman picked up the line. He had done a blind transfer of my call. With similar abruptness but a slightly gentler disposition, she requested the same information and reached the same conclusion. Eventually, she said, “Let me check something” and placed me on hold, again.
There was another long wait and another blind transfer. However, this time the lady who answered was as accomplished at customer service as the other two were not. Within a few seconds, I again held hope for a positive outcome. Despite a five-minute delay and two unacceptable agents, my initial optimism returned.
As we talked, I shared the abject failure of her counterparts. She sincerely apologized for their shortcomings, even though she didn’t need to. I assured her my bad experience with them was not her fault. By this time, she had retrieved my records and given me a thorough explanation of the information on both forms.
She then asked if there was anything else she could do for me. There was not, but I did applaud her expert handling of my call and affirm her excellent customer service and communication skills. Then, I thought of something. “Is there a direct number for you or your department in case I need to call again?”
She wished there was, but that was not the case. I would need to call the same number and ask them to transfer me.
“But, those agents don’t seem to know about you.”
“Our department is our company’s best-kept secret,” she said with a polite laugh. “They don’t even know we exist.”
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.