"The Care and Feeding of Your Customer Service Agent"
Is this what it feels like to take on Customer Service? Been there. Done that. Once upon a time, about 20 years ago, I spent no less than 8 hours on the phone with AT&T. Why did I do that insanity? Because I was determined and a little stupid.
Want to tame the savage beast and get what you want out of your service call? FABulous! Here are some secrets you Did Not Know And Now Will. Here are a few suggestions about the Care and Feeding of your Customer Service Agent. Here is why your calls are sucking, and your Customer Service experience is less than fabulous... I mean, you want to buy your whatsis and we want to sell you your whatsis and get our commission. That's a win-win, right?
Yeah. Cool. So come take a seat behind the phones with us (don't worry, we won't make you answer any calls), and get the secret answers to making this shit work.
Let's do this...
Your phone sucks.
I don't care what kind of phone you have, your phone sucks. It's a cell? It sucks. We can't fucking hear you. I say, "Who do I have the pleasure of speaking with today?" and you mumble your nineteen-syllable name, or you rush through your nineteen-syllable name, and I am supposed to somehow know what you said. There is a sound delay, there is bad/muffled/tinny sound quality, there are a thousand-and-one problems with hearing you because...your phone sucks.
Worse, you have me on speaker and you're 12 feet from the speaker. Worse than that, you talk at the speed of light, as though I've heard you say this stuff a thousand times before. (Spoiler alert: I haven't.)
Worse yet, you have every conceivable noise happening in the background, plus you're speaking to three other people while you're yelling at the dog (and, by the way, IN MY EAR, DUMBASS!), and you wonder why I can't understand one. single. thing. you're. saying.
So, Care and Feeding Tip #1: Spell everything. Spell your name. Spell your street name. And for the love of all that's holy, slow the fuck down when you're giving us your phone number. You may have said it 16,000 times, but I'm only hearing it now, and I'm not actually a robot. Remember: your phone sucks. Yeah. Even your iPhone. And so does your judgment. Before you call, think about your environment. Because if I can't hear you, it's my fault. Trust me, I want to hear you! Additionally, I'm not deaf, unless the background noise and your horrible phone make that a reality. Remember, if I try sign language as a last damn resort, you can't see it.
You wouldn't believe who we just spoke to.
We just hung up after talking with someone who told us incredible stories about living in Thailand, or we just spoke with the monster from hell who berated us from start to finish. And then you called.
We're either relaxed and happy, and stressed and flipping out. And none of that has anything to do with you. But it really does...
The minute we hang up a call, the phone immediately purrs into our ears in faux dulcet tones, "Store Transfer", or "Fine Jewelry", and we immediately start in with, "Thank you for calling. Mynameis..." etc. We work for roughly 2 hours before we get a break, and another two before we get lunch and another 2.5 or so before our last break. It's fast-paced, slowed down only by the calls themselves.
So, when you call, and we act like people instead of like Stepford-Wife-like Agents, well, really, whatever you're picturing on our side of the phone Is Not Accurate.
I understand. I used to picture a man in his 30's with a great physique and chiseled jaw - why? Beats the hell out of me! - sitting with a relaxed and happy attitude at his desk, just leisurely moving from one call to the next. (Apparently, I had some really good, male Customer Service Agents!). In reality, we're just people. The coolest thing of all is that we're all kinds of people. We're people in our 60's and people in our 20's. We're straight people and trans people. We're Black people and Latino/a people and White people.
And no matter who you are, it is emotionally and physically hard effing work. We might have spoken with someone just before your call who made us tear our hair out and drove us to eat junk food to suppress the urge to kick small animals. We then have to get back on the phone without a break, and act as if yours is the first call of the day, and act as if there is no place we would rather be. So...
Care and Feeding Tip #2: Employ a little patience and kindness. Those go a long way with us, and you'll get the benefit of our feeling appreciated, which means that even the less gifted of us will go the extra mile for you.
We are not the website.
Shocking, I know. But I don't actually know every brand in the store. Wow. How on earth could that be? I mean, I work here, don't I?
A young woman with a very entitled tone to her clearly superior voice called me today. She thought she had called the store. People can be forgiven for thinking that, because when the store doesn't answer, the calls roll to us! So we do a lot of explaining about that.
She said, breezily, and incomprehensibly, "I would like to talk to the BARthe area of the men's..." I lost the rest of the sentence because my brain was trying to make sense of what she had said! I asked her to repeat herself, which she did with an audible deepening of her frustration. I could see the thought bubble above her head, "JESUS! Who do they get to do these easy Customer Service jobs??? How stupid do you have to be?"
So I politely said, "I am sorry, but I don't understand the words you are saying. They sound like "BarThe". I am not familiar with that brand. Would you mind spelling that for me?"
She not only spelled it for me, she spelled it with a tone of such utter disdain - Bar III, it turns out - it would have hurt me if I had actually given a shit. She slowed down, speaking as though she were talking to a frustratingly slow toddler. (I hope she doesn't actually have a toddler. Even more than I, they don't deserve that kind of attitude.)
So, Care and Feeding Tip #3: If your Customer Service Agent asks you to spell something, just effing spell it. Okay? They're trying to help you. Assume the best of your Customer Service Agent. We have no reason to want to make our work more difficult, so assume we're trying our best, and we'll get along just fine. Because you have a choice here: you can either be "right" about how incredibly superior you clearly feel yourself to be, or you can be kind and get the help you need.
So, what will it be? Falsely superior and emotionally dumb as a box of rocks? Or a superior human being, and helped?
We work on hourly pay and commission.
Please, please, please do not call, keep me on the phone for 45 minutes during which I am giving you my care, my suggestions, my honesty, my time and my expertise, and then take the item numbers and say, "It's okay, I'll place the order myself," or, "Y'know what, I'm gonna go to the store..."
I imagine it comes as a surprise, but we're not paid $25 an hour. We're not even paid $20. In one of my Customer Service jobs I was paid $8.25 an hour. So...we find other things to bring joy to our jobs. Mine is communication and service and creativity.
When you take your $5,000 watch sale and say, "Never mind, I'm gonna go buy it in the store," our hearts break. Violins play sad songs. Small children weep.
Care and Feeding Tip #4: We make money when you buy from us. And you make money when you buy from us, because if you saw it for less money in the store, guess who can adjust that price without you going out to the store? US!
This is like a mini-date, okay? So present your best side, just like we have to do, and we'll both be polite, we'll go dutch on this thing, and we'll end the date with a polite handshake or a warm hug. Or we can part, snarling. It's at least 50% up to you.
Care and Feeding Tip #5: We don't know you, but we really are ready to like you. So, give us a reason, 'k?
Really, we're an easy bunch, most of us. We just want to do a good job, have you leave feeling better than - or at least as good as - you felt when you called in. And we want our commissions numbers to go up. And we want to be sure we have done our best so that we look as good to our bosses as we do to you.
That said, we are not one-size-fits-all. You may get a bad Customer Service agent now and again - I know I have. Try to tame the savage beast if you can. (The one inside you and the one that may be tormenting you on the phone or in a Chat.) And if you can't, screw it. That's why God made Managers. Ask for one, get your business taken care of, and move on.
And remember, everyone has bad days. We know that customers have bad days too. Even you.
Gentlemen? To your corners!
©2019 Lori Kirstein
Do you like the idea of breaking those social "should's" that have held you back for too long? Do you like the idea of successfully changing your modes of communication, your business goals, your self-image, and to your quality of life?
Lori Kirstein, CEO
The Goodbye Good Girl™ Project LLC
Kicking the Good Girl Rules to the Curb!
Cincinnati, OH 45205