“Thank you for calling customer service! My name is Summer. How can I help you?”
Wait, it’s after 5 pm. And this is the internet, not a phone. And I’m at my kitchen table, not in my drab fabric-walled cubicle. And I’m not wearing a headset. Let me switch hats for a moment and return to being a writer for the next few minutes.
Tomorrow, I celebrate my last day of working in a customer service call center. (Despite the rumors, it’s not an easy gig.) Over the past few years, I’ve been called some less-than-savory names through the phone lines. A few customers have threatened me. Even more have called me a liar, played psychological games with me, and screamed words that their grandmothers would be ashamed to hear.
Lesson learned: contacting a customer service call center sometimes brings out the worst in us. Here are a few tips to lower the stress level (for both parties!) in a customer service interaction.
1. Don’t call when you’re angry.
Calling when you are angry can intensify your own emotions. If your anger irritates the customer service representative (CSR), you might not receive the top-notch service you’re expecting. Then, when you realize you’re not getting the service you’re expecting, you grow even angrier. Sound familiar? It’s a downward spiral of frustration.
It’s true that anger is 100% justified sometimes. Once, I had a caller whose checking account was dinged not once but twice for a large deposit that he’d made on an order. Our mistake threw his bank account into the red and his bank’s overdraft fees had piled up. As a result, his checking account AND his linked credit card account had been locked up. He had no access to any of his money, and it was our fault.
That’s a bad day. I’d be angry too. In fact, I’d be absolutely furious.
Here’s what the customer did right: he didn’t yell. He didn’t scream. Instead, he used clear and rational language to convey his emotions, like “I’m very upset” and “I was shocked when I saw my bank statement.” Try this approach next time you contact a customer service department either by phone or in person.
If you can’t imagine withholding anger in this way, take some time to calm down before calling into customer service. Try writing out your complaint as if you were sending a letter. You’ll get all the pertinent details spelled out so that you can more effectively narrate your story — calmly — to the customer service representative that you’ll speak with later.
2. Provide a clear goal.
Begin your call with a summary statement that describes the outcome you’d like to reach — especially if the issue is complex. Something like “I want a refund for a defective product,” “I’m having trouble logging into your website when using Internet Explorer,” or “I need to split my recent order into three shipments with three different mailing addresses” is ideal.
All too often, a customer will begin the call by telling the entire story. If a customer service department is broken down into teams — like billing, shipping, fulfillment, retention, scheduling & the like — then the CSR who happens to answer the call might not be trained to resolve your problem. It’s frustrating for both parties when, five minutes into the full story, the CSR realizes that she needs to transfer you to another team…where you’ll have to explain your story all over again.
3. Be polite to the customer service representative.
Despite our (occasionally) robotic voices, we’re humans. I promise. (The classic android-like voice develops after years of repeating the same sentences — or “lyrics,” as we like to call them — over and over and over again.)
We feel stress too. We sit in small cubicles, we log into a phone queue that meticulously monitors our average call time, and we act as the company’s proverbial punching bag all day long. We have very specific schedules that are dictated not by when we get hungry or when we need fresh air, but by mathematical formulas (including “Erlang C”, if you feel compelled to read further). You’re probably not calling in to speak with someone who is twiddling their thumbs and waiting for a phone call. You may be talking to someone who has been waiting an hour for management’s approval to use the restroom.
Also, there’s what Ruyter, Wetzels, & Feinberg (2001) call “role conflict:”
Role conflict has been defined as “the simultaneous occurrence of two (or more) sets of pressures such that compliance with one would make more difficult compliance with the other” (Kahn et al., 1964, p.) For call center personnel, expectations of the organization, the supervisor or team leaders stressing operational efficiency may clash with the demands of customers who want problem resolution or satisfaction.
So, the customer service representative on the other end of the line has two competing sets of pressures when you call: the pressure to resolve your problem, and the pressure to resolve the call center’s problem of keeping their service level, a quantitative measure of overall call center performance, high.
Keep this information in mind when you call. Know your audience. A polite demeanor makes it easier to serve you. And, it also makes it more likely that we’ll truly identify with your issue and work hard to resolve it.
4. Go through the proper channels before trying to escalate.
True story: once, I had a customer on the line who was unhappy with a service that he’d purchased. Not only did he want to cancel the service, he also wanted a full refund. Unfortunately, he was still under contract for another three months. I explained this to him — as politely as possible — and he didn’t take very well to the bad news.
“I apologize, sir,” I reasoned, “but you’re still under contract. I can make sure your contract doesn’t automatically renew if–“
“SUPERVISOR!” he yelled.
“Oh — okay. I can see if a supervisor is availa–” I began.
“SUPERVISOR SUPERVISOR SUPERVISOR!”
“Sir, if I can–“
He continued yelling “supervisor” over and over again until I finally had to disconnect the call. Perhaps he didn’t understand that I am a human being (and not an interactive voice response system), but it’s more likely that his frustration got the best of him.
Here’s the kicker: had he calmed down enough to converse, I could have transferred him to a supervisor. Or, better yet, I could have continued discussing the terms of his contract, checked for loopholes in his agreement, and offered an early cancellation or refund.
5. Keep accurate records.
Have you ever called into a customer service department twice, only to receive different information from different CSRs? It happens.
“But I called yesterday and someone told me that I could get a discount!” you might say. As a CSR, I can’t do much with a statement like this. Who did you speak with? What time did you call? How do I know you’re not making things up?
Keep a log of your contact attempts in a single place. Be sure to note the date, time, and the representative with whom you spoke — and a summary of what you discussed. This information can help a manager to locate a recording of the call, if needed, at a later date. Also, keep a record of any ticket, incident, or confirmation numbers. Having this information handy will make it easy for a CSR to locate a record of your previous calls. It can save you a headache.
Calling into customer service doesn’t always need to be an anxiety-producing chore. If you follow the above tips — well, it’s still probably going to be a chore. But perhaps a more tolerable one.