We recently needed a battery replacement in one of the household computers, so I made an appointment at the brand’s retail location in a local mall.  The process of registering and scheduling an appointment was super easy, and the appointment times were remarkably specific, so I figured I was in for a very tightly-run experience.  I also had a few other questions about other devices and things I was sort of shopping for at the store anyway, so depending on how efficient they were (fix our device while I was asking my questions and looking around), I estimated there was a possibility I could be in-and-out with everything done in one swift motion.

When I got there, they quickly checked me in and took the computer needing the new battery away and I engaged with the team member who’d greeted me.  We talked about a few questions I had and even addressed a small issue I was having with another of their branded devices I own.

After about fifteen minutes on these other matters, I inquired about the status of our battery replacement:  Was it finished, or close to finished yet?  I’m not in a huge hurry, I clarified, but if the estimated time remaining was really short (if, say, it’s open and they’re swapping it out now), I’d hang out a bit and look around the store or even stroll around the mall for a while.  On the other hand, if I still had some time to wait (if, say, it was still waiting in queue, not yet even addressed), that’s no problem at all as my gym is nearby and there are even some groceries I need to pick up while I’m out.

All I wanted to know was the status and even just a rough estimate of the expected completion time.

You’d have thought I’d asked this person to explain quantum physics to me, because not only did she not have an answer (And, in fairness, how could she anyway?  She’d been with me the whole time.), but seemed confused by my question.  “So you’re in a hurry, then?”  No, I reiterated, I’m just wondering so I can better plan what to do next.  Should I stay or should I go?

This person was completely befuddled and even had to approach colleagues and ask them what she should do to address my query.  They were standing only a few feet away so I could pick up on some of the conversation.  When a more-seasoned team member assured her that it’d be fine for her to “just go back to the shop and ask them how the job is coming along,” she did so and returned triumphantly a few moments later to announce to me that indeed my computer was still waiting for service, but should be done in an hour or two.

Brilliant, and I thanked her, went to the gym and grocery store, and when I returned a bit later, it was there waiting for me to pick up.  Well done.

But what an odd interaction.  Was this another in a series of encounters with employees who are so beholden to their own processes that, not only can they not conceive of doing anything differently or going ‘off script,’ but that they’re frozen with fright when even confronted with someone asking a completely human and understandable question?  I can imagine her not wanting to put out there, for example, a guarantee that at 11:35am, they’ll be done and I’ll be on my way.  Sure.  But it almost seemed as though she didn’t even understand the question.  Or why anybody would ask.

Here’s a pro-tip for those in Customer Service or Support:  If a Customer’s logical question comes as a surprise to those working on the front-lines (“How long do you estimate this will take?”  “How much do you estimate this will cost?” “What’s another possible solution?” “Do I have to replace the whole thing, or can I just swap out this part?” etc…) it may be that they’re more chained to your own internal rules, scripts, and processes than they are dedicated to your Customers and their happiness.

Oh, and it’s not on them…nobody starts a Customer-facing job because they don’t enjoy working with and helping people.  Of course not.  But if yours is an environment that’s so strict about the rules of engagement that it turns someone who voluntarily took a job in that line of work suddenly into a robot who can’t even fully comprehend a question as simple as this, yours may be an atmosphere in which even the best, most Customer-centric team members forget why they’re there.