Saturday, October 04, 2008

Empathy is Not a Disease

Pretty much since the day I left University, I have worked in Customer Service. Heck, even as a library Page in high school that was part of my job. Between jobs in Canada and the US, I can safety say that I have worked at virtually every level of the hierarchy that Customer Service has to offer. I have been a (shamefully) good telemarketer, a Customer Service Representative (CSR), a Senior Service Representative (SSR), a management intern, a manager, a back-office flunky, and a back-office assistant manger. Over the course of ten years I learned to live and breathe telephonic Customer Service.

After that brief resume, you can surely understand why I take Customer Service so seriously. If I call into a company for assistance I expect to receive the sort of service that I would provide. Words like please and thank you should be used often. The mute button should never be used. And if it is absolutely necessary to put me on hold tell me that’s what you’re going to do and when you get back thank me for holding. Those of you reading who are in the industry are no doubt nodding your heads and mentally ticking off your Quality Assurance forms.

But what I desire most in a call is empathy!

Last week I had to call a company in the States and cancel an order I placed on their website. Although the item I wanted was not backordered when I placed my order (or the four days that followed) my item was never shipped. When I called and explained that I needed to cancel since I had only a brief window of opportunity to retrieve my item, the girl on the phone didn’t say “sorry,” “oh dear,” or anything vaguely resembling fake sympathy! My grief at not having my beloved item was quickly overshadowed with righteous indignation that this CSR would treat a customer so shabbily.

As a former CSR I know that there are two golden rules that customers should adhere to. First, never yell at a CSR because they don’t get paid enough deal with your rage. Although you will find it incredibly difficult to get a manager to take your call, insist upon it because he is paid to take your grief. Second, if you are the recipient of exceptional Customer Service thank your CSR and ask to speak with their manager (or manager’s voice mail) so you can give props to this paragon of telephonic service. Chances are that they will receive some sort of reward for your taking three extra minutes out of your day to be kind.

I broke these rules when I “politely” informed my rude CSR about the definition of empathy. She didn’t care and probably mocked me the moment I hung up. Since the chances of that call being monitored were negligible she didn’t care how she treated me. And I shouldn’t have expected anything more. Most people wouldn’t have noticed the things I did during the call – but then most people weren’t trained to.

Good Customer Service is a two-way street. And while it is my fondest desire to walk into some of these call centers and help them excel I know that it will never happen. My standards, as anyone who ever called me manager can attest, are slightly too high and my desire to make you a better CSR for the next caller is usually about as welcome as milk in Hubby’s cereal. I know that empathy gets tedious but please, for the sake of my sanity, learn to fake it!


Lynda said...

Several years back I decided to take this matter into my own hands. As a matter of course, every single time I was treated well by CSR I made the time to write a personal letter to the CEO of the company. Except on one occasion, they were acknowleged and I was thanked. On the other hand I decided to take negative to the wall - an unfortunate incident with a bank that thought it was OK to stiff me for 48.75 (I know, not a fortune, but it was the principal) was taken to the Banking Ombudsman - and my transcript included the disrespectful way I had been spoken too.... I won. One of the greatest moments of my life.

I say --- you need to follow that up - after a year in Cairo, I am so pathetically grateful for ANY kind of service, I have forgotten how it can be elsewhere.

Anonymous said...

You also taught me to have patience with those *** people who call looking for subsrciptions and offering holidays etal!
I'm not sure that you were sleeping in your manger--I always thought that you were a good manager.
I also try to ask where these poor CSRs are located--that sometimes helps!