Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Advice for best customer service

I've worked in customer service a long time. Frankly, too long. At least in the cold dark empty abyss of telephone service.

The one benefit of this is that it does give me the experience needed to write this column.

I'm going to offer some suggestions to help make your future experience with a customer service operator work more smoothly and more to your advantage. Some will work in smaller ways than others, but if everyone followed them, the entire experience would be easier and the operators would be better prepared to deal with the rare person with whom there is a real reason for an impasse, and even those could go better.

Someone following these rules would do better every single time that someone reading rules on when to demand a supervisor and how to work a specific company. Unless your actual goal is to cheat and steal, these principles will always get you the best service and the most agreeable outcome to whatever situation you've found yourself in with a company.

The first suggestion, and it's a pretty good principle for life, is "Assume the person on the other end wants to help and find a solution." Frankly, even the most cynical misanthrope you might get will still be pleased to solve your problem if only to look good for their boss and score something to put forth in their next review.

Second, "Know what you're hoping to achieve going in, and don't be afraid to state it outright." I've never worked for a company that wouldn't encourage everyone to do all that's appropriate for a customer, even if it's more than they requested. Most companies like to offer extra when possible, and the representative will be much more favorably inclined toward helping you if you make their job easier. Not to mention how much easier it'll be for you to avoid hemming and hawing around your request.

The third one won't help your issue so much, but it will make the entire experience better and I swear will help people the next week's worth of people after you have a better experience and if everyone followed it, it would make everyone else's experience that much better, "If the person helping you goes above and beyond, don't crap on what they do for you." I know it's not always easy to tell when someone really does go above and beyond and when they make an act of it, but I also know there's nothing more disheartening then when a person does come up with a creative solution or go to their supervisor and plead someone's case and then goes back and has the person say, "Well, if that's the best you can do!" Fuck! Those are the people who are luckiest I don't have the power to kill with my mind! If every one who had ever done that to me, no matter how small the effort on my part or how petty the issue, found themselves homeless and feeding their small children from discarded dog food cans, I would literally find no way to sympathize.

Four, "It's not 1955, nobody cares about the Better Business Bureau. Don't bring them into the conversation." Whenever someone brings them up, I assume that person doesn't know who they are or what they do. I'm certain I'm right on that way more often than I'm wrong. If you do know and believe they should be informed, feel free to offer them your review. Just don't kid yourself that it sounds like a credible threat to anyone under the age of 80.

Fifth, "You are not talking to a lawyer. Don't try to get into a legal debate." First of all, even if you're a lawyer or a law student or what have you, you're almost certainly wrong. Frankly, even if you're a lawyer or a law student or what have you, you're probably horribly transparently wrong, if only the person on the other end were empowered to explain it in no uncertain terms and not couched in apologies and positive phrasing. If you've done the research on the specific circumstances surrounding the company, the appropriate governing body, case law, etc. then you need to be approaching the company's legal department not their customer service department. Going off half-cocked against a customer service person with your supposed knowledge only makes you sound like a very inept and stupid lawyer, law student or what have you. Getting a customer service agent to back away from a legal debate and apologize doesn't prove you're a brilliant legal mind or excellent debater, it proves you're kind of stupid and an unbelievable wuss. Not to mention, it's antagonistic and will most likely lead to them helping you in the least way they can get away with.

Sixth, "Internal jargon or pseudo corporate jargon makes you sound like a tool and will not help you." Really, go back to the first rule. This is a fast way to lose your advantage. This is another way to ensure you get the least assistance the person on the other end of the phone can get away with. And if you escalate to a higher person on the food chain, if it's possible, the person you are speaking to is likely to use it as evidence that you are trying to scam the company. This may ensure that you get whatever the company offers as a minimum for your issue, but more than that it ensures you will get nothing more than that. And I promise at companies where such things can be gotten away with it will get a note on your account that you are a "possible scammer" that will follow you into your future. And, yes, it can be as simple as "I'm not feeling like you are working to fill my needs as a customer." Why? Because nobody who isn't trying to bullshit you talks like that!

Seventh, "Avoid threatening or legally challenging terminology at all cost." No customer service representative is authorized to "compensate" you for an error. They have a legal department that handles matters like that. If it's appropriate, say, the company's product actually caused a fire when being used properly (and very, very little below that), then the legal team will be looking over their shoulder. Even discussing what you're "owed" is sticky. That doesn't mean that the person on the other end is unsympathetic or that the company is unwilling to bend to satisfy you after a bad situation, it merely means they're going to avoid terminology that ties them to legal responsibility. Unless you want to, or need to, deal with it from a legal perspective, then you're best to avoid language that will cause resistance or potentially tie the company to legal fault. Give them the opportunity to appease you for your difficulty. Chances are they will jump at the chance. And remember, the possibility of legal and corporate looking directly over their shoulder will make most agents shy of offering too much as much or more than it will encourage them to offer something.

Eighth, "Even if you didn't know the rules before, if you're going to make a request, know them before you call." I promise, "How was I supposed to know that?" will get you the literal answer to the question, perhaps in polite terms, but it won't earn you any sympathy. Someone working in customer service has heard a lot of terrible stories, including ones from people who went out of their way to do everything right and still had some terrible issue. When you complain that you couldn't and shouldn't have to go through the effort that those people did in order to get the same service, you look like an asshole. And you look like an asshole who is disrespecting one of the handful of people who stands out in a service person's mind. The person they wanted to help but couldn't or that they went out on a limb for. I know you're frustrated, but keep in mind, those people that really tried and the system failed really stand out and stay in the hearts and minds of those who try to help them.

And that basically leads into the final rule, which is important enough that I'll declare it the ninth and tenth rule/suggestion, "Most things customers call in to complain about are PEBKAC, even if they don't know it. Fess up to your part in the mistake." Ok, not all of the problems are entirely due to customer error, but very nearly all of them have some level of it. If you try to arch your back on an issue of fault, you're more likely to get the rules and their availability to you explained in greater and greater, more bureaucratic detail. In order to win the "It's not at all my fault" debate, you will need to be absolutely right in every way. And yet most companies these days do allow their agents some leeway to help and compromise, and most agents are blown away by "I'm sorry, I know I should've been paying better attention to the rules, but is there any way you can help?" and will make an actual effort to find a way to help. Yeah, you're just stroking their ego, but then they're getting yelled at by dozens of idiots every day who think companies owe it to them to clean up after their fuck ups. Being the one who asks nicely goes a long, long way.

Just don't short change their effort when they're done.

This isn't rocket science. Make the person on the other end want to help you! I know it's a frustrating situation and that's why you called customer service, but try to meet them halfway. Trust me, even that is so unbelievably rare that it'll pay off in spades.

And, as I've suggested, not only for you, but the next person and the person after that. There doesn't need to be an antagonistic relationship. In most cases, neither the company nor the human being you're calling has any reason to want that. Going into the conversation armed with that knowledge will make everything much easier.

I swear!


Rev. Phantom said...

From someone that worked in a call center for 7 years, I'll vouch for everything you've noted here. The one exception is dealing with a jaded bastard like myself in my last month at that job, when I would hang up on people if I didn't like the sound of your voice. I went quite mad towards the end there. Fuck I hated that job.

This was a great read, man.

Neil Sarver said...

Thanks, man. I'm glad to hear I'm not alone.

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