Thursday, December 2, 2021

Inside Apple’s Chat Support

Zoe Schiffer:

While Apple’s corporate offices take a proactive, deliberate approach to product development, Apple’s customer support function operates in a reactive mania, using a vast array of processes and metrics to keep employees on task. If workers go to the bathroom or are away from their computers for more than five minutes, they’ll sometimes get a note from their manager asking why they aren’t working. They’re monitored based on their customer satisfaction score, as well as after call work time, which dictates how much time after a call or chat they spend writing up notes, and average handle time (AHT), which indicates how long it takes them to solve a customer issue. A good AHT is around 15 minutes for phone calls and about two minutes for chats.

“It starts to get into a game of fixing the numbers more than helping the customers. They look at the numbers and assume that is helping the customer,” a former employee says.

Employees who really want to help customers say they often have to sacrifice their personal metrics. “If I have an elderly person on the phone, am I going to be a little slower with them to the detriment of my personal metrics?” a current employee asks. “Yes, I can’t treat every person the same because they’re not all the same.”

On chats, the ability to resolve issues can be even more difficult, as employees are expected to speak to three people simultaneously during busy parts of the year. “It’s impossible to do a good job multitasking with that many scenarios,” a current employee explains. “Especially because we have to respond in two minutes — from an Apple ID issue to an iCloud issue to an iOS [or] Mac install.” […] “We equated it to being able to do your job with one hand tied behind your back.”


5 Comments RSS · Twitter

"A good AHT is around 15 minutes for phone calls and about two minutes for chats."

In my whole life, I've never had to contact support and had my problem solved in that amount of time.

Having worked on the Apple helpdesk in Cork back in 2000-2001, I can tell things were a lot better back then. Many times did I get a call from an elderly person - taking more than an hour to handle easily, this was never an issue. Customer satisfaction was absolutely priority number 1..

I always struggle to understand these bean counter metrics when it comes to customer experience. Steve Jobs used to call these managers bozos.

I don't work for Apple, but I am head of support at a small company that makes premium apps. The last thing I'd ever expect from my team members would be to finish a fixed number of support interactions in a pre-set amount of time. As CowDude pointed out, older users or those who are not comfortable with technology take *significant* more time than others. And they have the right to the same quality of support as everyone else.

Apart from that, telling someone how to do the most basic thing with your app/service might only take 2 minutes, but if you have to chase down bugs and test issues on your test machines to track down an issue, it can take hours (not for the user, but on our end). For that reason, it's ridiculous to pick a random number of minutes and say "You have to be done with this issue in that timeframe".

Customer satisfaction and high-quality support can be done efficiently and fast, though. If you have people who care about the product and the customers. We tried expanding our support team in the past with 3rd-party hires and with college students. Neither were a good fit because, to them, it was (understandably) "just a job". No matter how much coaching, if they are not excited about the product/service, they would not be able to think of workarounds for a problem, or be able to go the extra mile to help the customer understand that certain workflows were better than others. That's only something you can combat if you find people who truly care about the product/service, have genuine interest in helping, and if you create an environment where these support agents can thrive without ridiculous things like monitoring bathroom breaks. Honestly, what BS.

Anyway ... just saddened and disappointed that Apple is turning more and more into a corporate giant that does stuff "by the numbers" instead of truly caring for their customers and products. Unfortunately, it shows.

Just realized that my comment might be misunderstood (sorry, English isn't my native language).

> If you have people who care about the product and the customers.

That is not to imply that the people from the cited article didn't care about their work. It's quite clear from the anguish and frustration that they did. My point was (and I didn't make this clear enough) that you have to have an environment where customer support employees can thrive. And that can't be achieved with minute-by-minute tracking, with oppressive rules, and with impossible metrics. Unless I – as a supervisor – and the company we work for care as much as about support agents as we do about our customers, the workplace is going to be hell, and customer satisfaction is going down the drain.

Hope this makes it clear that I didn't mean to imply that anyone who was interviewed for the article wasn't committed to their job.

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