24

Basically, my company uses Software A, which provides a developing framework and a lot of generic code templates. My company purchases this software and uses it as a platform, making customizations where needed. Recently, someone approached us with a defect wherein buttons weren't displaying correctly (relatively minor). The boss told me to contact the software company to submit a defect report, to which they essentially replied "We fixed it in the next release."

Of course, we can't just drop everything to update the software; it's a process that takes months. My boss wanted me to continue working with this customer service rep until a 'proper' solution was found, despite being told multiple times that there is no other workaround.

Essentially, my boss isn't happy with the answer, so he wants me to bully this customer service rep until the answer changes to something 'acceptable' (which it won't). I've been polite in my dealings with the rep, and my boss has now told me to use 'any means necessary' (AKA yelling/belittling the rep) to get a solution.

How can I stand up to my boss in this matter and tell him that the answer is not going to change, and that I outright refuse to be intentionally rude to a customer service rep?

  • 9
    Surely, the answer is to escalate the problem to someone other than a first level customer service rep. No matter how much you yell, the customer service rep isn't going to be able to get anyone to do anything for you. Have you asked to escalate the issue to a manager? Or do you have a contact at the software company (the salesperson that originally sold you the software and wants to keep you happy so you buy more products, for example) that could assist? – Justin Cave Jun 26 '15 at 19:10
  • 2
    Escalation to a manager yielded the exact same result. This is basically an adult's temper tantrum over getting told 'no'. – 404usernotfound Jun 26 '15 at 19:15
  • 13
    So, it's been fixed but your boss doesn't want to update to the fix? If he was my customer I'd just shake my head and put him on ignore. – NotMe Jun 26 '15 at 19:34
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    Btw, you might as well brace yourself for the fact that your boss is going to use "any means necessary" on you if he doesn't get acceptable solutions. This is why I like the answers that involve escalating the issue away from yourself, and best of all Patricia's since it simultaneously escalates the other end of the conversation to someone your boss cannot successfully abuse. – Steve Jessop Jun 27 '15 at 10:24
  • 5
    The company has already provided the fix and your boss asked you to use "any means necessary", so just go ahead with the upgrade to the next version, even if your entire company comes to a standstill while doing so. That approach fits perfectly well within "any means necessary" and doesn't depend on an external company. PS: If your version of the story is accurate, your boss is the problem, get out of there as soon as you possibly can. – Masked Man Jun 28 '15 at 14:18

10 Answers 10

50

So, you're stuck between a rock and a hard place. Your boss refuses to hear the word "no," and you can't get any sort of "yes" answer.

You need to remove yourself as the middleman from this situation.

The next time you speak with the service rep, take your boss with you to the meeting (or let him talk with the rep by himself), and let him do his own yelling to the rep. It's very likely that your boss will still not get what he wants, but at least he'll realize that you can't do anything about this (at least not immediately), and that he needs to probably focus more on upgrading the company's system or finding a new vendor for Software A.

  • 8
    This is a great suggestion! I think this is how I'm going to try to proceed. Do you have any ideas on what I could say to him, to avoid sounding like I'm just dumping the work onto him? – 404usernotfound Jun 26 '15 at 19:17
  • 14
    You can say something like "I don't feel like I'm going to be able to convince the rep by myself anymore, and that we could be more effective in resolving the situation if we both participated on the call." It communicates the truth that you're not going to be effective or production now, and that he should really be escalating this situation by handling it himself if he wants to effect any change. – panoptical Jun 26 '15 at 19:21
  • @404usernotfound This is a bad idea. Your boss has tasked you with solving the problem, not handing it back to him. If this is a minor issue as you say, then figure out how to solve the problem in the mean time. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jun 30 '15 at 18:55
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    @ReallyTiredOfThisGame I'm talking about letting the angry boss yell at a brick wall. I have been in this position before, let my boss yell, and when he came back he told me that we'd be doing things their way, not ours. Sometimes in order to convince a hard-headed boss of the way the world is, you need to let them tire themselves out trying to intimidate someone over whom they have no leverage. – 2rs2ts Jul 1 '15 at 2:16
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    @ReallyTiredOfThisGame The OP isn't the one doing the yelling, and the OP has no power to prevent his/her own boss from doing the yelling. Thus, it's really out of this question's scope. – panoptical Jul 1 '15 at 2:18
19

This answer combines "escalate" and "stop being the middleman".

The customer service rep is unlikely to be able to do anything further. A decision has already been made to fix in the next release, so service managers are also unlikely to be able to help.

Your company purchases Software A. Someone in your company, possibly your immediate boss, possibly someone else, has a customer-seller relationship with a Software A sales person. That is a higher leverage relationship than your user-support relationship. Call that person "B".

If your boss is B, suggest he should use his contacts with Software A sales to escalate the issue.

If your boss is not B, suggest bringing the issue to B's attention. B will have to decide whether the issue is serious enough to justify further action. If it is, B should contact the Software A sales organization, and express dissatisfaction with the bug and the decision to fix it only in the next release. Your company may or may not be a sufficiently important customer for the Software A sales organization to decide to raise the issue with the development organization.

This path may even work. It it does not work, no amount of you yelling at a support person will work. Regardless of whether it works, it gets you and the first line support person out of the line of fire. It forces your manager to either get a reality check from B, or if he is B to think through the significance of the issue relative to the overall relationship.

  • This is exactly what we do. We have a dedicated team to handling purchase. They develop relationships with the sales folks at our various vendors. They write up and manage the contracts and SLAs etc that everyone agrees to. They likely have a clause that provides them leverage or at least the ability to escalate this internally and see to a positive resolution. Nothing you ever do with a CSR will ever result in more than a generic answer. – Mike McMahon Jun 27 '15 at 23:34
8

The same way your company won't drop everything to install a new version, the Software A vendor won't take the time to issue a specific patch just to solve your problem in the current version, even more so if there is a fix on a new version. It is usually very costly for companies to support older versions and they try their best to stay away from it.

You can yell to this customer rep until you are blue in the face and this won't change anything. You may want to escalate to the rep's boss, and document everything that you did as CYA but this basically has no solution.

6

I've been at both sides of the phone line, so I may be of some use.

First of all, don't yell, insult, threat or abuse a customer support representative. I repeat: don't do it. First level customer support rarely employs developers or people with IT studies. The rep in question may not fully understand what you're talking about, and even if he/she does, it's out of his/her scope.

What you can do is document everything, to prove that both you and support people are doing all they can. How? Like this.

  • Support usually manages customer calls with ticket systems, so ask for its number. If you call again, mention it, and ask to be updated. This way its easier to track the request history across the different support levels. If the software company lets you access to it via web or a proprietary app, you can show your manager.

  • If there is no ticket system available to customers, make your own. Write down dates, names and a small summary of the conversation. In some places first level reps don't use their real name to avoid client harassment, but it shouldn't be a problem in this case. For example

    2015-04-21: Jane Doe. Explained problem. Opened ticket number 12346584. Promised to escalate to 2nd level.

    2015-04-30: John Smith. Asked for updated. He says 2nd lvl hasn't read it yet. Updated ticket to reflect my call.

    2015-05-05: Alice Jones, 2nd lvl. The bug is detected and fixed. Will show up in the next release.

    Independently of the way you used, show it to your manager when he requests the status.

Lastly, if your manager doesn't believe you, even after you show him either the ticket or what you wrote down, suggest him to call again and put the phone in speaker so that he can listen to the whole conversation. If you communicate through email, suggest to CC or CCO him.

If after all this he still does not believe you, or demands something impossible for you or the software company, its him who needs to understand that there are things that cannot be fixed in the blink of an eye. Do not harrass or be rude to the support reps, even if he orders to do it, because if it reaches upper management ears you could be the one who has to pay for it.

Hope this helps.

1

There are a few matters here that potentially intersect, and you don't necessarily understand all of them.

You need to understand why your boss insists on a different answer. Is there some larger pressure - such as a major customer threatening to take their business elsewhere - that makes waiting until a future release unacceptable?

Has your boss actually told you to bully the rep, or simply asked you to find a workable solution more quickly than you have found to date? If so, have you considered other options, such as whether your boss is willing to pay for a quicker solution, and or asked the sales rep to provide a quote to deliver a quicker fix than waiting for the next release?

Asking for a quote for quicker interim delivery is one way to get a supplier to seriously consider what it takes to deliver a usable fix or give information about a workaround before the next release. They might still refuse, but they might also surprise you. You won't know until you ask.

Is your boss willing to escalate the matter with his counterparts in the supplier? If so, can you work with the sales rep to help that happen effectively?

You see, it strikes me that the only option you have pursued is asking the sales rep when they can deliver, and accepted the first answer provided. Unless you dig further, you won't know whether other options are available - particularly if your boss is willing to permit you to PAY for a quicker solution or to support you in escalating the problem. And a sales rep who is seriously asked for a quote for a quicker solution may well elect to escalate the matter internally within his organisation.

Addressing questions like the above mean you get an opportunity to test how committed your boss is to a quick solution and an opportunity to find what your supplier is capable of, or willing to do, in the right circumstances.

If you have exhausted these sorts of possibilities, and your boss is actually insisting that you bully the sales rep without any reasonable explanation (i.e. why?) or support (e.g. being willing to pay more for the faster fix) then other replies about "get out from being the middleman" apply.

0

If your boss wants "something" done and it's obvious the customer service rep is completely unable to do anything ask the person on the other end of the phone to escalate to their manager. I've had at least a dozen times where my supervisor gave the same answer as me but because it came from somebody in a position of power it held more weight. Your boss may accept reason from another manager.

Don't yell at or belittle the CSR, this does not move towards the goal of the bug fix or the goal of placating your boss.

0

So we have a situation where the customer wants an update but the vendor doesn't want to do it, and asking politely hasn't worked.

Yelling at tier 1 won't accomplish anything. You need to convince the company that they want to do it. How you do that depends on how much contract muscle you have with them.

If your service contract entitles you to this kind of service, then wave it at them. Begin with "This call is being recorded." Yes, they are likely recording their end but this puts the agent on notice that you have a copy too. Get someone to formally decline to make the change, then tell them your company's lawyers will be in touch and they might want to get the going-to-court suit cleaned. I once made a government agency go away, permanently, with this technique. Send recordings of the calls to your boss.

If you do not have any contract leverage, you have to make them want to push out an update. Since your boss said "any means necessary", get everyone else in the company to call the vendor's support desk and complain about the bug. Then call again. This will involve a lot of waiting on hold but that's what speaker phones are for. And don't worry about putting their agent on hold while you take your own calls. Remember who's paying whom here, and remind the vendor of that as well. Frequently, as they have apparently forgotten. The winner here will be the one with the greater phone resources and/or patience. Make sure everyone tracks their time and send a frequent report to your boss.

I have generally found that being rather firm with T1 support, followed by "I would be happy to take this up with your supervisor / T2" results in a quick transfer to the next level up, but I do not accept voicemail. Their boss is paid more to handle these things, so they can handle it.

If the vendor's office is in the same city, pay them a visit (remember, Boss said "any means necessary").

The next step, open warfare, depends heavily on which country you and the vendor are in. Get your boss to approve a budget and schedule in advance.

0

You boss is not accepting "It can not be done now," because you can not explain why it can not be done now. Partly because you have stated that they already have a fix for the issue out in the next release. So your boss knows it can be fixed.

So your next step is try to get your vendor to connect their developer who fixed the bug on their end to explain what it would take to fix the bug in the current system. It could be a simple fix that they can send you the details of. Or it could require complex changes in the system. It is funny how sometimes seemingly simple things in a system can be incredibly complicated to change.

The best way to get this information is not to bully but to convince the rep that you are on the same side. Acknowledge that the problem is small but you have an executive that has decided that this problem is a priority for you. Then tell the rep that you really want to work together with them to come to a resolution on this issue. It may take some time but you should be able to come to an understanding as to what it will take to solve the issue.

If you feel the effort is still much greater than than the reward explain what it will take to your boss and see if he still wants it completed. If he does then you implement those changes. If the fixes are easy just fix them and report the success back to your boss, you will want to avoid telling your boss that in the end the solution was simple, it will not look good for you.

Another option would be to explain the problem to your Dev team and offer a team lunch to figure out a short term fix for the issue and the dev who figures it out gets to be king of the devs for a day. Small rewards like these are the real world version of quests. It bumps up moral and gets the problem solved. "What ever it takes"

-2

I've been on the other side of the fence often enough, as the software developer.

What works is to get your boss (it helps if he's the owner of your company and if your contract with the company is a big enough fish in the bucket) to go straight to the owner of the software development company.

And I mean owner not, some mid-level manager.

This is a way that minor things can get solved pretty fast.....if you don't do it too often.

-6

It is a relative minor defect where the buttons just don't display properly. That would be characterized as a non critical bug. I seriously doubt any software company would go back and patch a prior release for a non critical bug.

Who says you need to deal with an unreasonable boss in a reasonable manner?

Putting the boss in the middle is not going to fix anything. Yelling at a rep is not going to get them to patch. It will only serve to damage the relation ship with the vendor.

Use 'any means necessary' (AKA yelling/belittling the rep). In a slightly elevated voice to the support person say "Really so you have no authority to fix my problem". Technically you have yelled and belittled but have done no real harm.

Boss I did everything I can. "I yelled and I belittled. I thought he/she was going to cry. I personally don't have the clout to get them to patch a prior release. They have stated it is fixed in the current release. At this point we may need to legal involved and review the contact to see if we can force them to patch a prior release."

  • 6
    No, just no. A 1st level customer support is a person, not a robot, and as such deserves as much respect as you. What 1st level does is take the call, open a ticket and send it to the department that deals with this, hundreds of times a day, constantly pressed by their managers to take more calls. By saying things among the lines of "you're not helping me", you're shooting the messenger. Believe me, they're already under great pressure, don't add more. – Trickylastname Jun 26 '15 at 22:37
  • @Trickylastname What part of that is disrespecting first level support? You need to read that again. First level support took all of "Really you have no authority to fix my problem" in a slightly elevated voice. – paparazzo Jun 27 '15 at 1:50
  • Sometimes once the person starts raising the voice it triggers a "spiral of anger" that ends with yells and an employee too stressed to go on working. And, even if you don't intend it, your slightly raised voice could be consider rude to the person to the other side on the line. – Trickylastname Jun 27 '15 at 2:15
  • 1
    @Trickylastname Read the answer again. A slightly elevated voice was just to satisfy the boss so they did not have to bother the support person again. "Spiral of anger"? If supports lets that elevate to spiral of anger then support has a problem. I get this is sensitive issue to you but you you totally missed my answer. – paparazzo Jun 27 '15 at 2:30
  • FWIW, really serious software that provides a framework for customers to develop in often will provide LTS for multiple versions, and will backport bugfixes, because they know that for their customers to migrate past a backward-incompatible major release is a big project. So it's not true that no company will ever backport a non-critical bugfix, but it certainly looks as though this company doesn't want to backport this bugfix. – Steve Jessop Jun 27 '15 at 10:28

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