I think people who make service calls get a bad rap. Some, more than others. Yet, if you really stop to think about it, I bet you’d be hard pressed to count the bad ones on one hand. That includes Xfinity, everyone’s favorite whipping company.
Just this week, we had numerous service repair people to our home. The dryer was replaced. The air conditioner needed a tune up. A couple of people came out to give us an estimate on a water heater and Xfinity was in the neighborhood checking out an issue. They couldn’t have been nicer or more professional.
Yet, according to a recent survey by Health magazine, customer service rep jobs are among the most stressful in America, on par with 911 operators. How can that be?
I would think there are two factors. There is the rep you talk to by phone and the one that shows up at your door. On the phone, it’s easier to be a jerk. After being switched to various departments, being asked to repeat and re-enter the same information multiple times, being put on hold only to be disconnected, then having to call back and start the process all over again, angry frustrated customers can’t help but lose their call. Furthermore, it’s easier to blast someone you can’t see or interact with.
In person, most of us are a bit more polite to the smiling visitor with an outstretched hand that you invite into your home. We can show these people what the problem is and we watch them, sometimes for hours, working hard to make things right for us again. Furthermore, phone representatives are taught to put up with our rude condescending behavior. If we resort to cursing them out, the worst that will happen is they’ll hang up. When we threaten someone face-to-face, we may risk a physical confrontation.
Personally, I would not want the stress of being a customer service representative. Most, whether by phone or in person are genuinely trying to help you. Like any other profession, some are better than others. In today’s highly competitive environment, these people are getting squeezed from multiple sides. Managers are pushing them to take more calls, cut call times and sell more services. They also put reps through sensitivity training so they learn how to handle irate customers, even when these customers are completely out of line.
We’ve conducted some of those trainings for construction workers, tree engineers and utility companies. Most people tell us they genuinely want to help solve people’s problems. Yet, the stories they share are chilling.
Electric company workers are required to trim trees away from power lines to keep customers safe. One worker told us a customer threatened him with a knife because he didn’t want his tree touched. Utility workers frequently tell tales of angry dogs coming after them. Water department workers have similar stories even when they are working tirelessly to repair main breaks and restore water service. There have even been reports of customer service reps who have killed themselves due to the stresses of the job.
As a result, companies are trying to help these employees. Nordstrom has created quiet rooms for people to meditate. Call centers have hired on-call psychiatrists. Other companies bring in massage therapists and conduct stress relief workshops. Our sensitivity training programs are focused on communication; how to communicate with angry customers, techniques to diffuse conflicts, body language and better listening skills. You can’t change someone’s obnoxious behavior, but you can change your response to that behavior.
Regardless of the interaction, over time, people forget the specifics of what happened, but they never forget how the service representative made them feel. Just last month, I flew coast-to-coast on American Airlines. From less leg room to missed connections, to seat snafus, people are quick and often justified when complaining about today’s air travel experiences. Many of these stories even make news headlines. I fly a lot and have also had some of these experiences.
Yet, on my flights, there are more good experiences than bad. One of the flight attendants on that American flight was exceptional: funny, personable and warm. I filled out a form on the airline’s website to recognize her for outstanding customer service. Most of us and I include myself, are far more likely to complain than compliment.
So, whether you are the customer or the representative, here are a few tips that work for both sides.
- Word Choice. The words you use matter. Instead of “we can’t do that”, try “unfortunately, that is not a service we offer, however here is what we can do for you”. Now the message is positive and it’s about them, not you.
- 2. Take Responsibility. Customers want you to tell them how you will fix their problems. They don’t care about yours. Instead of “our vendor had an issue which prevented us from getting your service restored quickly’, try “let me see what I can do for you” or “here is what we are doing to resolve this as quickly as possible.”
- Shut Up and Listen. My first book was titled Shut Up and Say Something. In this case, the opposite is true. If someone is angry, let them vent without interrupting. When they are finished, instead of responding with a robotic pre-scripted answer, ask pointed questions that help them further explain the problem so you come across as someone who truly wants to help them fix it. If you’re the complaining customer, come up for air so the rep can ask questions and help you solve your problem.
Thanks in part to technology making it easier to reach people, today’s consumers have high expectations and short fuses when it comes to customer service. While no one has a right to treat anyone disrespectfully, when someone has a bad experience, posts to social media can tarnish your reputation faster than ever before.
That said, word of mouth still goes a long way. Just today, I phoned a hotel chain, annoyed that I had submitted receipts and done exactly what the customer service representative told me to do, to receive a refund for a problematic stay at one of their properties. Despite repeated emails, I never heard back or received confirmation that my request was being processed.
So, I called. When I was rerouted to the second department who said they’d have to transfer me to someone else, the representative sensed my annoyance and frustration. She apologized, asked me questions and listened. Then she stayed on the line and resolved the problem even though it wasn’t her responsibility. She surprised me by awarding me bonus points toward my next stay.
While I’m not posting to social media, I was so pleased that I told my mother and my son and my husband and some friends. I will book a room at this hotel chain again and thanks to word of mouth, so will they.
If you want your company to truly stand out, make sure exceptional customer service is center stage.