Saturday, January 18, 2014

Still Life With Robin: The Perfect Call

Photo in public domain (Wikimedia Commons)
by Peggy Robin

It’s not often that I praise tech support reps for good service over the phone. Wait, make that never…. But yesterday I had an experience that was a first for me: a tech support call that went exactly as all tech support calls would go if this were a perfect world. Now in this vastly flawed world a call like this may happen once in a lifetime. Here, then, is my perhaps never-to-be-matched experience: 

It all began Friday afternoon when I pressed the print button on my computer to send a print command to my ancient Brother DCP-1000 all-in-one printer/copier/scanner/fax machine….and nothing happened. I quickly tried a few standard fix-it moves --powering the printer down and powering it back up, unplugging and replugging it, shutting down this or that program on the computer, then rebooting the computer entirely-- all to no effect. When I tried to print again, the printer message window began flashing: “Error 77 - please call Brother Service Center.”

“A lot of good this will do me,” I grumbled to myself (based on years of cynicism-building experience) as I dialed the 800 number. I was mentally prepared to wade through an interminable voicemail system, followed, no doubt, by 20 mind-numbing minutes listening to “lite jazz” hold music, occasionally interrupted by a mechanized voice lying, “Your call is important to us, please stay on the line,” before being connected to some poor, horribly underpaid employee in Bangalore, who would claim to be named “Bob.” But none of that happened.

Here’s how it went. First, I navigated a very short voicemail menu that simply asked me to key in or say the model number of my device. I was put on hold very briefly--maybe all of 30 seconds-- before a live person picked up and identified herself as “Ellen” and asked me a few short questions. After I verified the name, model number, and type of device I was calling about, I told her the problem. She asked me to read off the serial number on the back of the machine -- and told me exactly where to find it. Then she asked me how old the machine was. There, I had a bit of trouble. I’ve had the machine for ages. “I can’t even begin to guess how old it might be,” I admitted truthfully. “Maybe ten years? I’m sure it’s time for a new one. Still, I’d really like to get it to print this one document, if it’s at all possible to get it going again. I know it’s kind of a long-shot.”

Ellen wasn’t the least bit fazed by the challenge of a superannuated device. She did want to know a bit about its history, through. “Have you ever called Brother Service Center about this machine before?”

“No, it’s been fine up till now. It’s been a real workhorse. All I’ve ever had to do to it is change the printer cartridges.”

Ellen got right down to business. She asked me to power the printer down and turn it on again. When I told her I had already done that, she said patiently, “Try it again.” I followed her simple, clear instructions, unplugging as well as turning off the printer, and then reconnected everything again in the sequence she spelled out.

“What is the read-out now?” Ellen asked.

“Error 77 - please call Brother Service Center.”

“Okay,” Ellen said. “Press 99 on the keypad while pressing down on the print button.”

I did that. But the error message never changed.

“Now press 91 on the keypad.”

Again, I did as she commanded. All of a sudden the printer jerked back to life with a whoosh and then a whirring noise, and the display window changed from “Error 77” to “Waiting…” meaning it was waiting for something to print.

“Hey, I think it may be working again!” I told Ellen, almost in shock.

“Try copying something,” Ellen urged.

I fished a piece of junk mail out of the trash can and slapped it on the glass and hit “copy.” Within seconds the machine spit out an exact replica of the junk mail on the glass. Amazing! But copying is still not printing, and I knew I should not say goodbye to my new friend Ellen until the printer had passed the test.

“I’d just like to make sure that the printer is back, too,” I said, sending a print command from my computer to the device as quickly as I could manage. Ellen cheerfully agreed to stay on the line. A few more seconds passed and then the document I had been wanting to print for so long came gliding down the plastic runway, sharp and crisp, as if there had never been anything amiss.

“Have I resolved your concerns today?” Ellen asked, the way all customer service reps are required to do when ending a call -- even when (or maybe especially when) they know they haven’t helped you a bit.

“One hundred percent,” I answered. “I have never before had concerns resolved in a tech support call as well as you’ve done today! Thank you so much!”  I hung up the phone feeling so pleased with the experience that I wanted to recreate it and re-experience it in this column. And to all those who have yet to enjoy a similarly effective tech support call, I hope one day you may find your own Ellen, too.


Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv,, and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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