Part 2: The Quasi-Problem

It happens to all of us. We dial customer service, then, for reasons that make perfect sense to them, they transfer us to a different department who can help us. “What is the direct line to this customer service department?” you ask, and the number read back to you is often a different toll-free number than the one you called. Next time, you call the new number. They transfer you.

It’s no big deal, because you’re otherwise satisfied with the service you get from them. Another thing that happens from time to time is the line disconnects while you’re being transferred or while you’re waiting to speak with someone. Or perhaps your products came in and the packaging was a little busted, but it wasn’t that big of a deal.

These are all quasi-problems. They’re not that big of a deal: at worst you were slightly peeved in the moment, at best you forgot about them entirely. If this company in question continues to provide you with great products and great customer service, you will tell friends and family that you “never had a problem.”

Then comes the erroneous $833.13 charge on your bill. You call, a little bit more emotionally this time, but you still manage to stay polite. They assure you it was a mistake, and say they will drop the charge. Then you get a bill that says “past due.” Now you are fuming, rightly so, and have zero confidence that the issue will be taken care of if you stay calm.

As a quick interlude, I want to mention a concept that I read about in Crucial Conversations by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. They drew a line between facts and stories. Facts are things that you witnessed with one or more of your five senses and know to be true. Stories are when you commit that oh so human fallacy of drawing connections between the facts you observed with the objective of uncovering some greater truth about what’s really going on. Believe it or not, this fallacy used to be of evolutionary benefit: some jaguar footprints here and a rustle there could save the life of the person who made the connection.

Now back to the second-person customer service narrative. You start to subconsciously make up stories. “I bet they over-charge people at random hoping they never notice and just shut-up and pay it as part of a sales strategy… I bet it works too (I doubt it)… I bet they hung up on me on purpose too… Probably the last time I called, they made a little note in the note-thingy they undoubtedly have that says “this guy’s a fairy!! Keep charging him!!” Whether or not you realize it, your stories are making you madder even if you stay objective.

All your little quasi problems are back now. The package with the smashed corner, the hang up, the transfers: all come rushing back into your psyche. Now you’re oppressed, aggrieved, victimized, and mobilized. Now it’s up to you and your rage to right these wrongs. You get the customer service supervisor and imagine she personally approved every outrageous injustice that happened to you. You explain the issue, then enumerate a long list of the otherwise benign quasi-problems as if her ability to fix your problem increases as your degree of victimization increases. All it took was a real, bona fide problem to suddenly resurrect all the peaceful little quasi problems into an undead army of big problems.

People like to make lists of the things that happened to them; just remember that when dealing with customers. It’s really about the big problem, not the little quasi-problems, though one should strive to fix ALL problems. I recommend acknowledging the quasi-problems and making it clear that you would like to address those, but that right now you’re mostly concerned about the big problem. Once you resolve the big problem, you might find that the quasi-problems have already melted away.