What does “customer care” or “in a moment” mean to you?

Probably something very different from what Dell and McAfee mean. The words you use make a big difference on the Internet. Carefully chosen, they can keep a customer happy. Sloppily chosen, they can infuriate.

“Please be patient. An agent will be with you in a moment.” So stated the McAfee text in the chat support box.

The only problem was that there were 22 people before me in the queue. The last time I checked the definition of “moment,” it didn't mean “a couple of hours.”

I talked to a senior manager from a multinational recently. He was frustrated because he felt the organization was not paying enough attention to what was written on its Web sites. Staff who would be obsessive about getting a press release right were careless when it came to content on the Web.

I like the way Dell has changed its advertising strategy. Gone is the focus on technical specifications. Dell now has a human face. Watching these warm, funny, irreverent ads, you'd almost think Dell cared about its customers.

I bought an accessory for my Dell laptop that didn't work. When I rang support, they couldn't wash their hands of me quickly enough. The sales rep who sold it to me wouldn't return my calls or emails. I finally got onto Dell's online support. I told them they had just lost a customer for life.

Here's the reply I got: “Thank you for using the Dell Community Forum.”

Hello? Don't thank me for anything. I'm irate, annoyed, angry. Please, I'm not part of your “community.” (You know, that is one of the most abused words on the Web.)

Anyway, the text went on to state: “Tech support does not get training on, or information about, third-party devices, that is why they could not help you with it.”

That's just wonderful. Dell sells third-party products, but when they don't work it feels it can wash its hands of them. I thought there used to be a law somewhere that said that if you sell a product you are responsible for supporting it?

The Dell text went on to advise me that I should contact Customer Care if I have any further problems.

It all feels to me like a generic brush off. These agents must have piles of pre-written paragraphs that they just cut and paste into replies.

Had this support agent recognized my anger and become apologetic, he could have potentially saved the situation. Instead, he poured petrol on the flames by advising me to contact Customer Care, adding: “**Please be Patient**” (Yes, those were his double asterisks for emphasis.)

As for reaching customer care: “Depending on the time of day you call, your wait time may be from 10 minutes to an hour. Calling early in the morning will get you the least wait time.”

Now I understand what Dell means by customer care. They don't want you to be waiting on the phone for an hour, so they advise you to get up early to call them.

So the question remains: How early? 6 a.m.? 5 a.m.? 3 a.m.?

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image of Gerry McGovern
Gerry McGovern (gerry@gerrymcgovern.com) is a content management consultant and author. His latest book is The Stranger's Long Neck: How to Deliver What Your Customers Really Want Online, which teaches unique techniques for identifying and measuring the performance of customers' top tasks.