By: Chris Warren.
The internet is littered with rants about poor customer service. Some of them are so over the top it’s hard to believe that they are for real, yet going by the sheer volume of horror stories there is no way they can all be lying. What you don’t often see is the other side of the story, from the service representatives’ point of view. It’s true that poor customer service exists, sometimes on purpose; it’s also true that there are poor customers who are their own undoing.
Very early in my career I spent some time as a call center customer service representative. While we had to be nice to everyone on the phone; behind the scenes it was a very different deal. To be fair, 95% of the callers were reasonable and polite and got their business done quickly and without confrontation. It was the other 5% who became our “entertainment.” Contrary to what these customers thought, being rude to the rep was not going to get their issue solved any sooner, and in most cases made it take longer. A lot longer.
Calling customer service is a lot like the internet: People tend to be nicer face to face than when protected by the insulation of a phone or keyboard. Callers will say things over the phone that I’m sure they would not say if they were standing in front of you. Of course, reps are not allowed to say what they are thinking in return. That doesn’t mean they have no recourse. It is a perfect time to put the caller on hold “to look up some information,” i.e., chat with the rep sitting next to them about their weekend.
That’s right, Mr. Jerk Customer: You’re going to wait three times as long to get the same answer you would have anyway. So keep flappin’ your jaws, if that’s what makes you feel like a big shot. Every moment you sit on the phone is a moment the rep is getting paid and you aren’t.
One particular favorite was the “name droppers.” These were the people who claimed they knew the CEO of the company, and either explicit or implied, that means the rep should give in to all demands…or else. Uhhmm, dude, if you’re so well connected, then why are you talking to a lowlife call center drone like me? Go call your buddy and let them deal with your pretentious attitude of superiority. Customer service reps don’t care who you play golf with.
It is totally lost on the average person that customer service reps are heavily supervised and have very limited power to resolve a situation. They must follow a prescribed protocol and are usually penalized if they go outside the program. Furthermore, their willingness to help is is not greater than their desire to keep their jobs. If official policy conflicts with what is truly best for the customer, the customer will always lose.
My time in customer service is thankfully decades behind me. I admit my attitude would probably get me fired in today’s environment, so perhaps fate was being kind by guiding my career in another direction. One lesson I carried forward and use to this day: I go out of my way to be extra nice to call center reps. The fact that I went through a dozen prompts, told the same story to three different people, and waited on hold halfway to my next birthday is not their fault. And I would not name drop even if I had a name to drop.
What all this really comes down to is a pervasive lack of decency and respect followed by projecting one’s frustrations onto people who are blameless in causing the frustrations. Yes, it’s true that what passes as customer service these days really sucks. But the business decisions that make it so sucky come from many levels above the front line employees who have to listen to the rants for hours on end.
Saying please and thank you goes a lot further than a surly attitude. I also joke to the rep that I used to work on a cube farm too, so I understand what it’s like to be in their shoes. I keep it light and polite and somehow things always go well for me. Those who never seem to get good customer service might want to revisit the possibility that they are making their own problem worse.