By Peter Lyle DeHaan , PhD
Getting my annual income tax return done is one of my most dreaded tasks. Though I keep good records, plan ahead, and take a conservative approach, “tax season” is a source of personal anxiety and trepidation. As I organized this year’s batch of requisite documents for my accountant, I stumbled upon two contradictory forms from the same company. Until I could determine which one to believe, my tax returns would be on hold.
Fearing the ordeal before me and unsure of the best approach to take, I happily noted that 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 cogent explanation for my perplexing paperwork. With a sense of expectancy, I dialed the number and punched in the extension.
Though my call was quickly answered, the rep’s 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 had been quickly reduced to a tiny glimmer of hope.
With a dismissive air, he asked for my account number. I gave him a 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 and 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 that I had called the number on the form that his company had sent me.
“Must be your account’s been closed.”
I assured him that was not the case. He murmured some more, 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 futilely requested the same information. “Let me check something,” she eventually said, and I was again on hold.
There was another long wait and another blind transfer. However, this time the lady who answered was as accomplished at customer service as the others were not. Within a few seconds, I once again had hope for a positive outcome. Despite a five-minute interlude and two unacceptable agents, my initial optimism was restored.
She sincerely apologized when I shared the abject failure of her counterparts. I assured her that my bad experience was not her fault. By this time, she had retrieved my records and given me a thorough explanation of the information on both forms.
“Our department is our company’s best-kept secret,” she said with a polite laugh. “They don’t even know we exist.”