When I wrote my article about the two conflicting words that lead to poor customer service, I had no idea it would touch such a nerve. The one comment I received the most from people who work in customer service can be paraphrased in this simple statement:
“Well, maybe you’re right but the customers suck!!”
I thought about this for a while. As customers, do we get the customer service we deserve? If we really are a bunch of over-demanding, inconsiderate, arrogant, condescending jerks, then maybe we deserve to get service that’s indifferent, impersonal, underwhelming and occasionally flat out rude. Have we turned into a planet that’s full of people who are “That Guy?” I might be an optimist, but I don’t think we are.
So why do we, as customers, have such a bad reputation with those who work with us on a daily basis? I really think it’s the few that are ruining it for the many. If you work dealing with customers for 8 hours straight and ONE person in that shift is an idiot, that’s the one you’re going to remember. You’re gonna tell your co-workers how this person yelled at you for no reason, cursed you out over $2 and threatened to get you fired because you couldn’t do what they wanted you to. You’ll think about it on the ride home. Talk about it over dinner. You’re gonna post on Facebook or Twitter a clever meme to express your feelings (and trust me, there are tons of these memes out there)
That one person has now ruined it for all of us. We might be the next person on the phone who talks with this employee. Are we going to get good service? Probably not. Is the employee going to go out of his/her way to help us with the problem we have? Doubt it. So as customers, what can we do? As customers, we’re often dealing with large corporations, so let’s take the approach they would take to address the problem.
Let’s pretend that as customers, we’re all part of the “Customer Corporation” and we need to improve our image, which is currently viewed as us being a large group of idiots that have to be tolerated on a daily basis. I’ll act as a consultant to help us along this journey. Most of the negative interactions happen when there’s a problem so we’ll focus on how to improve those events. Corporations spend time training their employees on how to deal with problems, so maybe it’s time that we, as customers, learn how to best deal with these situations as well.
When you have a problem, don’t become the problem
We all must realize that there are times when we might be the person who is causing the problem. You might not know it at the time but if you’re getting upset and escalating a situation without thinking about your comments, at that particular moment, you are the problem. Did you know what you wanted when you started this transaction? Was that a reasonable thing to ask for? Are you willing to accept a different outcome? Just being angry isn’t going to get you anywhere.
Example: You book a hotel room that was supposed to be ready at 3PM but you arrived at 11AM. Should you get upset that there are no rooms available? What if you have to wait all the way until 3PM? Maybe you don’t get a room until 3:19 PM. Do you deserve some type of compensation for your inconvenience? Ask yourself if you are being reasonable?
People often fall into the trap of expecting more than they should and that’s really easy to do with the amount of information available to us today. The “But I read that someone else received this so why aren’t I getting the same thing they did?” logic just doesn’t make sense. You have no right to complain when you received something less than another guest as long as you received what you were originally promised. Just because one person got a little extra treatment doesn’t mean you’re entitled to the same. You might not get that suite upgrade if the hotel is full and it doesn’t matter if you read this hotel usually provides them. Getting angry about it doesn’t help our position as customers. Expect to get what you paid for, nothing more.
Be an active participant in solving the problem
Act as if the person just before you was an idiot and try to remind the employee that you are talking with that not all of us customers are like that. That doesn’t mean you have to say, “Wow, that person was really an IDIOT! How do you deal with people like that?!” Confirming what they already know is nice, but it also reminds them about the angry customer they just finished dealing with. Instead, try to act friendly even if you’re having a problem. If you’re just looking for some help with a transaction, be clear with what you want. Nothing is more frustrating for an associate than listening to your story for five minutes and still not knowing what it is that you’re talking to them about. If the story is important to your request, you can still tell them the story AFTER you spell out why you’re talking to them.
Then you need to listen to what the employee says back to you. Maybe they need more information to help you. Don’t get upset at these requests and ask something like, “Why do you need to know that?” The whole point is to convince the employee that not all customers are bad and we all shouldn’t be treated like dirt. In order for the employee to help you, you need to be clear about what you need but they also need the information required for them to do their job. If they didn’t need to ask you for your address, they wouldn’t.
Avoid roadblocks and keep working to a resolution
When there’s a problem, it’s OK if you need to stand your ground, but be understanding. Your problem might not be able to be resolved right away. Listen to any alternate solutions that are provided. Will that be sufficient until a better solution can be found? Maybe the car you reserved isn’t available – will you be willing to take a different car? If not, explain why so that your situation is clear. Can you return the next day? It’s OK to ask what type of compensation will be provided for you accepting something different that you expected but don’t be unreasonable.
This is another area where customers often lose sight of what’s important. When things don’t go right, what is it that you want? Saying that you want what you want is nice and all but sometimes that’s impossible. So what is it that you need? If it’s an airline, you need to get to your destination. If it’s a hotel room, you need a place to stay. If it’s a car rental, you need transportation. See where this is going? The final outcome will hopefully be the same but maybe not in the same way you originally planned. No company wants to fail to provide a service. It’s also important to not focus solely on compensation first. That will just make you look greedy and like you’re just in this for the payday and don’t care about solving anything. Come to a solution first and then you can ask what they’ll give for you accepting something different than promised.
Most importantly, AVOID THIS PHRASE AT ALL COSTS! “I always have a problem when dealing with your company.”
Firstly, the employee you’re talking with had nothing to do with any of the previous problems. Blaming him/her for prior issues will get you no closer to a resolution. Also, by making a statement like this, it’s more likely you’ll be marked as a “perpetual complainer.” People who work in customer service will know exactly what I mean by this. There are people who, no matter how well an interaction goes, will find something to complain about. There is no way to appease these people and all you want is for them to leave. You might not be this person but by bringing up prior issues, you’re setting yourself up to be treated as such. On a side note, if you always have problems with a company then why are you still giving them your business? Just think about how dumb you make yourself look when you openly admit that you keep coming back knowing that the service is poor.
We’ve gone over three ways to be a better customer.
- When you have a problem, don’t BECOME the problem
- Be an ACTIVE participant in solving the problem
- Keep your sight on the goal and keep working to get to a resolution
Simply keeping these three points in mind will help you when faced with these situations. It also will hopefully prevent you from becoming the example the employee gives when talking to co-workers about the idiots they had to deal with today.
Maybe, just maybe, if more of us act in a way where we don’t look like greedy, unreasonable jerks we can turn the tide so people in customer service jobs will no longer be able to say that, “The customer is always WRONG!”
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary