Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Zen Pitfalls: Customer Service

Customer Service:  Sort of  like taking a walk in a poison ivy patch

Let's face it, Life throws assholes at us all the time, in some sort of twisted Cosmic Testing Rite designed to test every millimeter of calm and composure we've managed to acquire.  Few things test us quite so much as Customer Service.

Ugh.  Was there ever a more vile thing?  Customer Service: the one place where you are definitionally starting off on the wrong foot.  Why?  99% of the time, the only time you ever call CS is when something has gone wrong.  It's awful on both sides of the equation.

As a customer, it means that you are probably already ticked off due to something being damaged, broken, missing, or mishandled.  Then you have to deal with the obnoxious computerized voice listing a menu of options that probably doesn't have your problem, but you still have to sit through anyway.  Some of them don't even let you dial "0" and bypass the system anymore.  Then you have to sit for untold aeons on hold, waiting for someone to pick up the damned phone already, during which time you get more and more annoyed as the minutes tick by.  Finally someone picks up, and half the time they can't help you with your problem and so you get bounced around a few more times, until (if you're lucky and the stars are right) you manage to get someone who is remotely useful.  Half of the reps you've dealt with have been either spectacularly stupid or Class 1 Assholes.  We won't even get into the number of times this experience turns out to be for nothing, as they can't fix whatever the issue is, leaving you in a foul mood for the rest of the day.

As a customer service rep (the side most people don't think about), it means you get the joys of having a shitty, low-paying job where people call you up, already in a fighting mood, to yell at you because the company you work for, or one of your co-workers in some other department, probably in some other state or country, fucked up.  You can't do anything about it, the person on the phone is insulting you and calling you names, demanding that you fix the problem immediately, which you'd love to do, except the only authority or access you have to anything is to write a little ticket in a computer data base and hope and pray that maybe this time, someone higher up will deal with it, because you're getting awfully sick and tired of this bitch calling you lazy, stupid, and all manner of other things over something you have zero control over.  Then there's your boss bitching at you because you only took 100 calls that day, instead of 150, and you really need to hurry up and get these calls finished sooner so you can take more calls from more angry people, and oh by the way, while you're at it, you need to meet this quota of sales on these calls from these angry people or "disciplinary action will be taken".  All for the low, low price of $10 an hour.

Worst. System. EVER.

I've been on both sides of this equation, and it's an area that drives me mental constantly.  I don't know how many times I've listened to my friends complain about the truly awful customer service they've dealt with, and wanted to ask "how much of a douche were you being to the CSR?  You realize there's nothing they can do about the fact that you don't live near a cell tower, right?  Be nice to them, they get shit on only slightly less than telemarketers for less pay".  I've been that CSR getting bitched out, again, because some idiot sales rep made promises that were not only in violation of the laws of physics, but also promised the customer items that we didn't even carry!  I've also sat on the phone, grinding my teeth and wanting to reach through ether and beat the person on the other line with their own computer, because they were being complete asshats.  (Don't get me started on yesterday's call, which prompted this post, as I was dealing with a CSR who I think was using the list of "What Not To Do" as a checklist.  Pro-tip:  Never start a conversation with a customer with "So let me get this straight..." in as snarky a tone as you can manage.  It doesn't go well, and the only reason I haven't reported him is because it's not worth the trauma to my blood-pressure to call back.)

So how do we deal with these situations?  First and foremost, stay calm.  Remember that the person on the other side of that phone line (both sides) is just that:  a person.  A Human Being.  It's also a person who is very likely frustrated because of something they can't control, which is a ticking time bomb of a situation.  So take a deep breath.  Control your tone of voice and watch your words carefully.  Pay attention to what the other person is saying.  If you don't understand, try repeating it back to them, diplomatically.  Be patient and understanding.  Don't be a dick, and if you do (because sometimes we lose our cool when we're upset and frustrated),  take a deep breath, apologize to the person, and explain that you understand that it's not their fault, personally, but that you are frustrated with the situation.  Commiseration is helpful.  Try to get through the situation as calmly and reasonably as you can.  Keep breathing.

If that fails, there's always tequila.


  1. I love my backround in customer service for that very reason. Of course, my background was in health insurance and beenfit admin, so I always had that evil voice in the back of my head whispering "She called you that? When you have access to her name, address, DOB, SSN and can cancel payment to her doctors? Really?"
    But the rep you dealt with yesterday is foolish. You don't start out that way. You have to at least fake concern.
    I told you before - call back and go over his head. File a complaint. Then call the HQ # and file a complaint about both the driver & the response, telling the company that you will be dealing exclusively with their competitor from now on, due to the poor treatment. (Whether you do or not.)

  2. Meh. I probably should, but I'm not going to deal with this office again. If I do call, it'll be straight to HQ. Sadly, I doubt that it will do much good, as I've had difficulties with the entire chain off and on over the years. At this point, I'm just going to give my money to the folks I've never had a single problem with, and call it a day. There are enough other companies that do the same thing that it's just not worth my stress level to bother tangling with these guys.