Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Thank You for Calling pt 1

That initial thought of 'customer service' today makes us cringe. Our next thoughts immediately recount dreadful experiences that involved tears, yelling, and even cursing. That's happened to all of us and things only sometimes seem to be getting worse. Our minds rarely race to that great service experience despite how rare or recent they seem to be.

So what's the trick in this new technical service age? I want to take a few posts to go over different scenarios and how we can all do our part to make customer service what it's truly supposed to be....a tolerable experience at best.

Companies in this day and age see customer service as a cash cow. It's a part of the budget that just eats away at resources, while barely producing new business or sales. As a result, the customer is often left with long hold times, service reps based overseas, or annoying voice mail systems. These companies are pushed daily to find ways to cut costs by reducing paper, assigning longer hours, even trimming breaks and ultimately cutting staff. The long hold is not a result of a customer service department hating you, it's a result of a company that had to make budget in a hurry.

This is something that may not ever change or get worse with time. It's the nature of this beast. Count on it.

So what do we do? I'm going to give you a little perspective. As you know I was a customer service rep for many years, and I still am to some degree. So these tips are all field tested.

Depending on the type of service you are trying to receive, there are a few different pointers that I can give. I want to focus our time on calling customer service this time around. Face to face customer service and corresponding by mail are two different beasts for another time.

The first trick is to remember when contacting someone in customer service is that person has not just spoken to you alone today. He or she has helped dozens if not a hundred people before you. To a customer service rep, you are a metric they need to receive to make a daily goal to retain their employment. Most of them are there for a paycheck sure, but most of them know what it takes to satisfy you and get you off the phone. They even have a passion for making your experience a better one. Believe me, those people really do still exist!

There are also two types of representatives that will answer your call. You will either speak with a seasoned professional, or a newbie out on his/her own for the first time. You need to be as patient with one as you need to be with the other. Today let's look at the gristled veteran:

The seasoned professional has been there for four or five years. He or she has been given several decent reviews, but has not made the grade to be promoted to manager. This person can honestly tell you why you're calling before you get it out of your mouth. He or she will also be ready with a couple of options to solve your dilemma and send you on your way quickly. In fact, that rep probably already has the paperwork you need ready to fax or email before you tell them your name. They've been doing the same thing every day, day in, and day out.

It's easy to detect this type of rep because they will typically come across as smug or will quickly try to interrupt. Don't think that as a bad thing, just let that person go ahead and give you that quick fix so you can be on your way! Just remember to be patient because they will have that tone and at the wrong time it can come across as confrontational. I myself became this person and the quicker I resolved your problem, the quicker I could go back to chatting to associates or snoozing at my desk.

Confronting this rep is never a good idea. This rep will go from apathetic and able to disgruntled and able to make your experience a living hell. I would become the most unhelpful person on the planet if someone called with their collective asses on their shoulders. I'd even badger someone who was rude enough to the point of tears and then help them; just as a personal reminder that I had the control, not them. The trick is to keep it cool, determine that rep's pace and tone and try to match it, because he or she is already doing the same thing to you. 

If that seasoned rep has a chip on his or her shoulders that particular day, it's not going to be a pleasant experience. The best solution for dealing with grumpy pants is just to be short and sweet, tell them what you want by asking nicely (emphasis on nicely), thank them and be on your way. Remember the quickest way to get someone to empathize is to express to the rep the easiest way to resolve your problem. They are not going to be in the mood to problem solve. When I had those days, the best way to break me out of that funk was to simply speak with a sincerity with a sincere request and didn't try to push me or tell me how to do my job. Everyone has bad days, it's really not hard to learn how to help them help you. 

The ultimate key to get that rep on your side with a vengeance is to thank the person who does go out of their way to help you. Speaking to his or her supervisor or writing a letter to express how helpful that rep was and that he or she is an asset to the company is like gold. Expressing to management and reminding them they have a quality associate on their team encourages that rep to be more helpful to you if you're so lucky to speak with them again, but it also starts a chain reaction of kindness that will spread to the next calls. Morale is very quick to drop in call centers as we'd watch staff get laid off, or hear from our bosses about what a terrible job we're doing answering the phones under 2 minutes with a bare knuckle staff. Kind words can raise that morale right back up. Help remind that rep that they are valued for just simply doing their job right.

Next week we'll talk about the newbie. The newbie is an interesting creature and perfect to mold to your will. I'll show you how next time.