Thursday, August 12, 2010

Oh, please

Every where I turn, people are talking about Steven Slater. I confess, when I first read the story, I laughed. He really acted out a fantasy for almost everyone who's worked in customer service. Having worked in customer service fields for a long time, I definitely understood how he felt.

Once at the end of a long work day, I literally had to spit out a tiny piece of tooth enamel, because I'd been grinding my teeth to keep from saying what I dearly longed to say. While I looked at that chip in my hand, I remembered that Bill Cosby once said that the key to failure is trying to please everyone. My job in customer service was trying to please everyone. The inevitable conclusion was that being a failure was my job.

That was just a bad day though, and I'm proud of what I do.

I've worked in a variety of customer service jobs throughout my career. Some have been seen as serious career jobs that require a solid base of knowledge and professional skill before service could be provided. I'm glad I've spent more time in those than the other type. Those are the customer service jobs where the people like me are just seen as the flunky you get stuck dealing with. Throughout both types of jobs though, I've come to hold a lot of respect for good customer service people everywhere.

It's not an easy job. I've worked in marketing, sales and public relations as well as traditional customer service, and frankly, customer service demands a higher level of communication skills than any of those fields. You have to be able to listen effectively, promptly identify a customer's real need, and present a problem solving solution in a clear way that makes your customer feel good and want to do business with your company again. A good customer service rep has to think quickly and master the art of emotional alleviation. She has to thoroughly understand company policies and procedures and have the ability to adapt those procedures to individual needs, while pleasing both the customer and the company. Let me add, either company or customer could have caused the problem you're trying to solve. Talk about being in a hot spot.

Since the people you're dealing with are sometimes upset, they can often be long winded and short tempered, and you have to be able to sort out the verbal chaff from the essential information. This requires patience, but beyond that, it requires an emotional maturity that is becoming increasingly rare. On a bad day, it's not just maturity that's needed, it's emotional teflon. I haven't met too many people made of synthetic polymers, but every day I see more evidence that the loss of civility is not limited to the political realm.

Yes, there are days when I've really wanted to make a bold "F... You" statement like Steven Slater, but some fantasies need to stay in the land of daydreams. His flamboyant reaction was another loss of civility, maturity and self-control. It was no better than the customers who put their desires before any one else's needs, and the biggest part of me wants to tell them all, "Grow up!"

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3 Comments:

Blogger Songbird said...

Well said.

August 12, 2010 7:16 AM  
Blogger Virginia said...

Cynthia,

Another reminder as to why I always keep coming back here.

As the director of a technical support department, I read your essay this morning to the team during our morning meeting!

Peace, Virginia

August 12, 2010 6:07 PM  
Blogger alphawoman said...

This was great! I find that working in a typical min. wage job like sales clerk (lol...that's waht I am) most people are very nice, but there are a few who are rude and condescending. I love the peopel who say "Do you work here?" I feel like saying "No I wear this get up because I want people tothink I work here." but I smile and say "how can I help you?" At the other job I had some lunatic call and complain about Victoria Secret. About thier commercials on TV. I told him he needed to contact the networks, the station or the FCC. He began ranting and raving at me! I told him he sounded crazy and if he called the FCC he better prepare what he was going to say. Then he asked me for thier number....hey, I think I have a blog entry here!, ...and I told him to call 411. He said it cost money. And I told him that if he was passionate and committed to his cause, a small charge for a telephone number shouldn't stand in his way. Then he wasted the store number....this guy was a piece of work. Anyway Ithink, "why do I have to be nice to this crazy person?"..because I am customer service, the voice of my company. That guy cracked me up, but in the end he was out of line.

August 20, 2010 7:15 PM  

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