Tuesday, January 12, 2016

On telephone customer service

This is in response to a discussion between Chris Hardwick and Jen Kirkman on episode 717 of the Nerdist podcast, 14AUG15.

The first thing you need to understand is that telephone customer service is one of the worst jobs in the world. That is not hyperbole. Employee turnover is ridiculously high. The job is extremely stressful and you're not paid very well, so it's understandable. It's so bad that some companies outsource some of their customer service to prisons. Employees are expected to take as many phone calls as humanly possible, keep them as short as possible, and be friendly, polite, and empathetic - but also firm when needed.

The second thing you need to understand is that "quality" means something very different than you're used to. A "quality" phone call is not a "good" call. It is a *consistent* call. It doesn't matter how the customer feels at the end of the call, at least not where quality is concerned. What makes a quality call? Well, experiences may differ, but here's what I experienced in my two years in telephone customer service. Basically, you're adhering to a script...something like this:

"Thank you for calling customer service. My name is X. May I have your name and account number, please?"
Let's assume for brevity that the customer knows their account number.
"Thank you, Mr./Ms. X. While I'm pulling up your information, how are you doing today?"
Customer says good.
"I'm glad to hear that! I have your account loaded. How may I help you?"
Customer complains about something that the company cannot or will not fix.
"I'm sorry to hear that. Regrettably, I cannot help you. The terms you agreed to when you made this purchase cannot be changed."
Customer starts yelling
"I'm sorry you feel that way, and I wish there was something more I could do for you, but our policies are clearly outlined on our web site. Is there anything else I can do for you today?"
Customer is outraged, demands supervisor
"I can transfer your call to a specialist, but they will most likely advise you in the same way I have. Would you like me to transfer your call?"
Customer demands supervisor, not specialist
"I'm sorry, but our supervisors are here for administrative purposes only. They do not take phone calls. Would you like to speak to a specialist?"
Brevity: customer declines, defeated
"Well, if there's nothing else I can do for you, Mr./Ms. X, I'd like to thank you for calling. Have a good day."

In case it wasn't clear, the script goes like this:
"How are you?"
"How may I help?"
Find appropriate policy in database and relay that information to customer. If issue can be resolved, attempt to resolve. If not, politely inform as such.
Ask if there's anything else customer needs

Please notice some other things, like word choice. It's not "unfortunate" that Acme won't refund Wile E. Coyote for yet another failed roadrunner trap. It's "regrettable." "Unfortunate" implies that luck is involved, which is not the case...Acme's policy is no refunds. Likewise, Mr. Coyote can't speak to a supervisor - only a "specialist." And the agent is not allowed to hang up on Mr. Coyote, no matter how verbally abusive he might be.

Every single call is recorded, and people are paid to listen to them and use a checklist to make sure that the agents are following the script. If you don't ask the customer if there's anything else they need, you get dinged. If you don't ask how they are, you get dinged. If you use the wrong words, you get dinged.

So try to keep that in mind when you call customer service.

Oh...and yes, customer service agents can hear you when they put you on hold.

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