Kevin B Ebert
empathy is a superpower
Untitled photo by Jonas Leupe through Unsplash
March 1st, 2021, could have been one of those days I'd rather forget, but the action of one person changed that for me and turned it into a day of learning. You see, I learned, after working at Asurion for over 18 years, that the greatest service Asurion provides is empathy. Even though I have made a career working in technology, there are times when even this seasoned veteran of tech support needs a little help.
At 10:20am, I received a relatively innocuous email from Verizon. I briefly glanced at the email without reading the subject line and saw in big, bold letters "Thanks for your request" and didn't even give it a second thought as I closed the mail app on my phone. I didn't give the email a second thought because my wife has been updating all of our bank and utility accounts with a new email address recently. My mailbox was flooded with similar emails thanking us for our request, mostly about the fact that she updated our account with the new email address.
But then, something unexpected happened. My cell phone lost service. I say unexpected, but it isn't unprecedented either because I live in a rural community. One to two cell service bars are not uncommon, and dropped calls are frequent without WiFi calling. This brings me to an interesting aside. Despite our spotty cell service, we recently disabled our land-line to our home, making our cell phones the only form of communication we have with the outside world.
But, this loss of service was different; I didn't merely lose all the service bars; I also lost that little "LTE" insignia on the top of my phone. It then changed to say "3G," and then something even weirder happened; it said "1x". I don't even know what "1x" means. But, despite the strangeness, I still didn't stop and say to myself something is wrong.
I headed downstairs to take a break from my meetings to go talk to my wife. She was in the kitchen on her laptop, paying some bills. I sat at the table next to her and looked at my phone, checking recent headlines through force of habit. And that's when the gates of hell opened up, and my worse nightmare started to unfurl. I didn't have internet service. My phone was no longer connected to our home WiFi network, and I saw that "1x" insignia on the top of my phone persisting. The next few minutes are a blur, but panic swelled in me when I just happened to switch back into my mail app and saw that innocuous email from Verizon again. But this time, I looked at the subject line, "We've completed your mobile number change request."
Bewildered, I asked my wife if she made a change to our cell phone service? She replied no. I showed her the email, and my heart rate went from 70bpm to 150bpm when she said, wait a minute, my phone is not working. We both franticly start checking our various settings and tried making a phone call. We got a pre-recorded message that a phone call couldn't be made and hang on for an operator who would help make a call. We both tried to make calls again, and we got the same message.
Call it a surge of adrenaline, or panic I tell my wife, I think someone just hijacked our sim cards and took over our lines. She didn't understand because I was becoming unglued at this point as the fear set in. I told her, quick, log into our credit cards and bank accounts and quickly freeze all of our cards, I think someone is slamming us, and we have lost control of our cell phones. I suspect it was that flight or fight response from the adrenaline at this point because things stood still as I became hyper-aroused of my surroundings. I had a moment of clarity and remembered reading articles about how hackers hijack your cell phone number and receive text messages through your bank accounts' multi-factor authentication, and quickly gain access to your personal finances. In that brief moment, thoughts of all of our money and credit vaporizing flashed in front of my eyes.
Throwing some irony into the situation, I provide technical support for our customer-facing applications and websites for our insurance programs as my job at Asurion. To understand what that means, do you remember the last time you were speaking with someone in a call center and they said something to the effect that "please hold on, our computer systems are running slow?" Yep, that's me; my team is trying to make the systems not run slow. Because of this role, I've been in high-stress situations where we've experienced our systems' outages. I was on calls making quick decisions to restore service. I'm usually pretty calm and organized in these high-stress situations, but not today. I lost my mind and my means to be rational, and I was nearly incoherent because of panic by this point.
With that said, my wife decided to restart her phone. At that same moment, I was able to access our Verizon account through the website. That's when the gravity of the situation hit. On the Verizon site, it showed that our phones had been reprovisioned, and we were issued new phone numbers. I started chatting with an agent online who told me what I just learned, someone requested new phone numbers on our account. The request originated from my wife's phone through the My Verizon app. I was confused. But it didn't matter at this point; my question was, can it be fixed.
And much to my dismay, the agent said no, it can't be undone.
I remembered that Charlotte restarted her phone, and now understanding that our phones were reprovisioned, I took a stab and asked her to call *611, the shortcut to contacting Verizon support through your cell phone. The call went through! By now, if you were watching a movie, the music would have been building in intensity to this point, with some thunderous booms and then a sudden shift to something hopeful—a glimmer of light. Just when you think it's over for the protagonists of the story, the tides turned.
Do you remember the Club Hair for Men commercials? The commercials where the narrator ends the commercial saying, not only is he the company owner, he's also a client? Well, that's me; I'm a client of Asurion services through our Verizon mobile plan. We have the Verizon Protect add-on service. This means my calls to Verizon with technical issues would be routed through Asurion's mobile tech support help. I knew I was about to speak to an Asurion employee.
Within a minute or so, a friendly customer experience expert from Asurion was on the call asking me, "How was my day going?" I just shot it straight with them and replied, "My day is going horrifically bad. As in murderous slasher movie kind of bad, but I hoped she would be able to turn it around." And that's when it happened. Within that split second, a moment in time, the expert did the most remarkable thing. She could tell I was in complete distress, and she said, "Well, let's get this day turned around for you." The tone in her voice dripped with empathy. She was so calm, assured of herself, and just started handling me like the professional she is. She then asked for me to tell her what was going on.
I pretty much told her the same story you have read to this point, including the part about being an employee of Asurion. Here is where she went from being an expert in her field to being the best in her field, and I would go so far as to say she is in the top one-tenth of a percent in her field good. She got me to start laughing at the situation. She was able to pick up on some queues from me. She brought about some levity to the problem, so I would take a moment to breathe and come to terms with the fact that the world was not about to end, despite every cell in my body telling me it was about to end. She realized that she would have to escalate this back to Verizon to fix it, given the problem's nature. So, she explained exactly what she was going to do and asked for me to hold while she contacted Verizon.
Now here is where I learned how cruel the technology gods can be. As I waited on hold, I started receiving the ringing tone indicating I was being transferred. Still, the unthinkable happened; the call was dropped. We got disconnected. I started convulsing and was about to go down into meltdown mode, but the phone rang. It was this expert calling me back. Through all of this, she managed to capture my phone number through the system. When the call disconnected, she promptly called back and reassured me, and apologized for the disconnect. I have never been so happy to hear a customer service person's voice as in that moment. She proceeded to get me transferred back to Verizon and stayed on the phone the whole way to make sure I was taken care of.
About thirty minutes later, Verizon restored our original numbers. Still, it took another escalation on their end to get it done.
It wasn't until that evening laying in bed I realized that I just witnessed firsthand the greatest service Asurion provides, and that is empathy. Our experts are professionals dealing with high-stress situations because, by the time you call us, it usually means your tech has gone completely upside down or something terrible happened to your mobile device. And Asurion has somehow found a way to bring empathy to the front lines of what we do. The expert who helped me got me laughing when I needed it most. That little action settled me down, and I realized it was going to be ok. The expert who helped me put in motion the actions that saved my day. And if I knew who it was, I'd send them an email thanking them, letting them know, they did turn things around for me, and they saved the day.