Technical support airing personal details in public


Customer service and support is hard, and don’t believe anyone who claims otherwise. Shows like Thank You For Calling made an entire series on how it can go wrong from both sides, and how it should be done. I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of that transaction many times, and it’s rarely a fun exercise. My heart goes out to support staff who deal with awful people, and customers who go for weeks without answers to their problems.

There’s an infinitely broader discussion to be had here about expectations, training, remuneration, the viability of SLAs, and basic human decency. This post is specific to one thing that irks me about so much infocomm support: how cavalier they often are with personal details in public.

This is how it goes:

  1. Someone who’s felt slighted or ignored will take to a forum saying customer service didn’t meet their expectations, with the hopes that the company will take the hit to their reputation more seriously.

  2. The company will reach out with an apology, a request for follow-up, and an assurance that customer support is a priority and that they’ll be learning from the experience, etc.

  3. The customer either thanks them, or goes nuclear saying it’s too little too late, that it shouldn’t have taken airing dirty laundry in public to get concrete action, and that they’ll move to another provider.

The company is now in a tough spot. Any act of assertiveness in defence of their position will almost certainly be construed as covering up or making excuses, whether or not they’re in the right. Contrition is rarely seen as genuine. Ignoring the issue will just generate more heat. And matching the customer’s aggressiveness will only end in disaster. We’ve all seen each of these outcomes.

(This is why public relations exists as an occupation, and why I’m self aware enough to know I shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near it!)

But where I draw the empathy line is when customer’s private information gets used as a public defence. I routinely see providers comment on the dates and times of calls, what was said in emails, and the specific names of staff internal in the customer’s company they spoke to. I understand they’re seen as a way to rebuke misleading or false claims made by customers, and quite often quotes are paraphrased, but it still strikes me as a tremendous breach of confidence, and one of the more unbecoming, unprofessional behaviours I see. It’s the electronic equivalent of losing your cool, and it shows.

But it’s even more than that. Divulging this information doesn’t help their cause, it broadcasts to the world that they don’t take information security seriously. I’ve only been in the industry for a decade, but I know this usually is emblematic of a wider cultural issue within companies that goes beyond a single customer’s complaint on a web forum. A whirlpool, you could say. That alone should ring alarm bells.

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Ruben Schade is a technical writer and infrastructure architect in Sydney, Australia who refers to himself in the third person in bios. Hi!

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