Tag Archives: call center

customer service

“Your Call Is Very Important To Us.”

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.

CUSTOMER SERVICEThat’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.

When Working Hard Doesn’t Work.

By: Chris Warren.

Labor Day is the unofficial end of summer and a ready excuse to fire up the barbeque grill, invite everyone over, and fill up with icy cold beer. There’s parades, street festivals, old car shows, and all sorts of celebrations. I spent the three day weekend on my childhood turf of Naperville, Illinois, a big town with a cheerful small town vibe where my parents still live in the same house I grew up in. Naper (rhymes with paper) ville  is also the host city for the Last Fling, the appropriately-named finale of the summer where thousands turn out every Labor Day weekend for one last huge summer blast. Next stop: Thanksgiving.

Anyone who is even sort-of paying attention to the world around them is aware that for a whole lot of people, Labor Day weekend was seventy two hours of living with the depressing irony of being unemployed on a holiday that honors working men and women. Beyond them are many others who have jobs but are just barely squeaking by and having great difficulty meeting the bills every month. Those who are solidly employed and living comfortably still have family and friends they care about in one of the former categories. It seems no one is left untouched by weak job market.

Graphic courtesy tradingeconomics.com
Graphic courtesy tradingeconomics.com

Two people very close to me work as customer service reps at different companies. Talking to them would make you think they sit next to each other. The mismanagement, low pay, unattainable objectives that are constantly changing and no one fully understands, abusive customers, and rigid schedule expectations all cumulate into a sense of demoralization. It’s a bit of a joke between us that the only thing worse than working in a call center is working fast food, and even that’s debatable since at least fast food workers score a free burger once in a while. Both of these people are hard working, intelligent, and overqualified for their positions. They both want out very badly. Unfortunately there aren’t many options for them to get out.

How do you climb the ladder when the ladder is a step stool? The psychology is like a shark eating its own tail: A common belief among the un- and under- employed is that there is something wrong with them…being stuck in an unfulfilling low pay job is somehow their fault. They will notice when someone else is doing well and let that amplify their own failures, real or perceived. It’s hard for them to see that there are millions of others just like them, and very few are unmotivated slackers complacent with a dead end job.

My service-rep friends call me at least once a week and the conversation always turns to their jobs and their worry about the future. I get the sense that they don’t want to annoy me with their venting, but it’s ok. Really. Yapping with me for a few minutes seems to benefit them and if it helps them pull through another day of dread on the “cube farm,” then it’s not a big deal for me to indulge them.

I’m one of the lucky few who has a job that is enjoyable, stable, and pays well. It’s not the end of the rainbow. I still have my workplace gripes. Yet every morning when I walk through the door, I thank God for giving me such a sweet deal. The only way I can show my gratitude is to give the boss an honest eight and do what I can to help those who are not as blessed as me. Because to a degree I am insulated from the mental and financial stress of being trapped in a crappy low wage job, I am in a unique position to help others. Mostly they just want to talk. Sometimes I’ll buy them lunch or put a few gallons of gas in their car. I’m not powerful or well connected enough to set them up with something better, so it’s the least, and the most, I can do.

I do not believe any of the chatter about how things are improving. Most of the positive numbers are either cherry picked to cover up the bad news or outright fabrications. Back home in Naperville, my childhood town, there are entire malls that are nearly empty, upscale shops replaced by dollar stores, numerous vacant car dealerships, cash for gold swindlers, payday loan hucksters, and a noticeable increase of homeless people. Naperville is still a great community with uncountable positive attributes, yet it is unsettling to see  so many red flags in a city that never had them before. Even in a relatively poverty-free town signs of the real economy are slowly creeping in.

What seems lost in the charts and statistics and political gesturing is the everyday people who are struggling with no visible path out of their situations. It’s a sad statement on the world when a motivated, well-qualified almost-fifty year old accepts a $12/hour job because it’s the only deal they can find. Or when a person who should be well into retirement is working a fast food drive through at nine o’clock on a Sunday night. How far does society have to crack before the system resets itself and opportunity makes a comeback? For many, Labor Day is like the anniversary of a loved one’s death, a reminder of something missing from their lives. These hurting souls find a way to do the best they can with what they have. The rest of us cannot restore their lost income, but we can and should help them keep their dignity.

Editor’s Note: Please check out my other blog articles related to this topic:  

Play Fair, Unless You’re an Adult  and   If You Love Something, Let It Freeze