Customer service is not rocket surgery

Posted on Tuesday, at • 215 views

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Customer service is not rocket surgery

Customer service is like teaching: it’s a necessary job, it’s an underappreciated job, and it takes lots of patience, humor, and tact. When you work in customer service, you generally only get to deal with people when things go wrong. They’re mildly perturbed, or cranky, or annoyed, or vituperatively pissed. You will rarely deal with completely happy people when you work in customer service.

As a customer service person, your job is to find solutions to the customers’ problems. Sometimes these solutions are simple: send the item that was not included, replace the item that arrived broken, answer questions about the product’s function and features, tell them how to go about getting a refund (if that option’s available.) Your job is to instruct, to troubleshoot, to strike the balance between making the customer happy and giving away the store. Your job is not to bully, berate, belittle, intimidate, or threaten. Yes, you will catch a lot of shit in the course of your day(s). But…that’s what customer service is. If you didn’t realize that when you took the job, you’re being told now: being in customer service requires the strength to let people vent at you, the ability not to take it personally, and the diplomatic finesse to wade through the sometimes near-incoherent anger to find out the actual problem…and then solve it to the best of your ability.

When a customer gets too upset for you to work with - they start attacking you personally - you do have options: kick it up a level to your boss. Unless you are the boss, you’re not being paid enough to be personally threatened or verbally abused. That’s what your boss is there for: to provide backup to you when you need it. Whether that’s reiterating a well-published company policy against allowing opened cosmetics to be returned, getting information from a customer for possible product batch testing, apologizing for not listing that the food may have been exposed to nuts/shellfish/wheat/soy, or what have you, your boss should have your back. At no time should you threaten legal action, try to use marketing slogans to dissuade the customer (“our widgets are the most popular around, so I don’t know why you have a problem with them”), or imply that the customer or their difficulties with your company’s product/service are beneath your attention threshold. You are one of the company’s faces – and when they come to you, they’re already upset. What you say or don’t say can make things even worse, and will be spread around the internet…so be careful. You may think that you’re protecting your employer from harsh dealings with a customer who doesn’t appreciate the work that goes into creating the aforementioned widgets. You may think that by being the bad guy, you’re helping your company. That isn’t the case…and a boss who insists that you take the fall for the company’s misdeeds and / or inactions is kind of an asshat, if not also a fool.

Let’s contrast some customer service reactions from actual microbusiness owners, shall we? In one case, I had received two orders and a few items were missing. I’ve dealt with this business only twice before, but had absolutely no problems with their shipping or their product. I emailed the business and said that items AAA and BBB were missing from my combined shipment of order number XXXXXX and YYYYYY. Their response was simple, clear, and straightforward (minus salutations and signature):

Sorry about the missing items. I'll send them out to you today.

That’s all I needed. I didn’t need superflowery, I didn’t need kowtowing, I just wanted to have my missing items sent to me (or an offer of a refund – though had it been offered, I would have asked if the company could just ship the missing items instead.) Simple, straightforward, no BS, no stress or drama. In dealings with another company, regarding a repeated problem, I received this (snippet from an email):

You’re the only person who has had this problems this often! How frustrating that must be for you. I’ll get those replaced right away.

Not only is the first statement a bit denigrating and isolating, I later saw a few other customers posted on the forums complaining of the exact same issue — so it was untrue. It also backhandedly implied that I might have been lying about the problem. (Again — not true. And since I already had contacted the company multiple times about this same issue, I sent photographs to prove that I wasn’t just trying to bilk them out of product. I have worked in retail, I know that there are a small percentage of customers who do this, and I sympathize with stores and especially small businesses who are trying to balance protecting their bottom line with rectifying genuine problems. Whenever I can provide proof of a problem to internet businesses, I do so.) I did appreciate the statement that I’d be receiving replacement product — but the email was perhaps a shade less diplomatic than it could have been.

Now contrast those two examples, with their varying tones, with a customer service email exchange that included the CS rep using the word “asinine” in regards to the customer’s severe allergic reaction to a mislabeled product. (As soon as I receive permission to quote and cite the email, or link to the full text of it, I’ll do so.) If you are in customer service…even if you think and feel it, even if your co-workers think and feel it, even if you feel utterly sure that a random person stopped on the street and told the story would agree that the word was very very appropriate in describing the overall situation, “asinine” is a word that should probably not ever be used in any way by a CS rep in a customer-service email exchange. It can either be misconstrued (you’re calling the company’s reaction asinine, but it may look like you’re applying that word to the customer or their problem), or it outright has no place (you are, in fact, applying that word to the customer or their problem.)

Customer service is a place where you need to keep a hammerlock on your temper. Poor customer service can do as much damage as an inferior product. If you can’t keep your temper from getting the best of you, you probably should not be in customer service. (And when you need to contact customer service – keep your information straightforward, your tone as civil as possible, and if your text gets a bit harsh preface your remarks by saying, “I’m really upset at this, but I’m not upset at you, and I just need to vent a bit.” Yes, customer service is there to listen to your problems; but let’s not start right in with the abusive and belittling language. It doesn’t do much, if any, good.)

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