Lessons learned from working in the customer service industry.

July 15, 2011

First of all, I would like to say that I think everyone should work in customer service once in their life. It teaches you life lessons that can not be learned in school or an academic setting. It teaches you to be polite, assertive, and most of all to treat everyone with respect.

Like everyone, I have worked in my share of customer facing roles and  I would not replace that experience for anything.  As time goes on and I see more and more people being rude or struggling with basic common courtesy, I remember my days as the representative on the other end of that transaction being yelled at. Let me say that are a lot different people in the world, some with different intellect level than others and if you are good at your job, you are able to translate any  given information to any individual with much resistance.

Yesterday, on my way back from a business trip, I witnessed that most disgusting interaction at the airport. I am sad to say that it is possibly a very common incident. A passanger had missed his connection, (clearly his fault as he was hanging out at the airport bar) and wanted to be put on the next flight which was full and wanted someone else bumped for that to happened. He was yelling at the top of his lungs standing at the counter at the station attendant. I am sure most of us have travelled before and understand that delays/lost baggage/ sitting next to a crying baby is a part of life. What truly shows your character is how you deal with said issue. That’s what defines you.

So everyone comes across situations that irk them, please remember that it is not the person at the counter who made your situation that way it is. They are lowest paid staff who  stand there and get yelled at. I understand that they are representing the company that they work for, but trust me. THEY HAVE NO POWER. THE PEOPLE WHO MAKE THE DECISIONS DO NOT CARE THAT YOU WILL BE UPSET AND WILL NEVER SPEAK TO YOU.

I want to point out a few things that may help diffuse situations in the future. These may be common sense to most people but you would be surpised as to how many people forget.

Always speak to everyone with respect.

It is very important to understand that the person in front of you is on your side. If you yell and embarrass the representative, they will shut down and refuse to do anything for you. I can promise you that. But if you speak politely, voice your concerns and use words like “frustrated” and “disappointed” , watch how quickly and passionately they will find a resolution for you. You become part of the team.

Always ask for things politely.

I went shopping for a dress 2 days ago as I ruined the one that I had packed and need something in a hurry. I found that one that I wanted and it was the last one in the store. I tried it on and it fit perfectly, but there were 2 very small areas that needed mending. I walked up to the cash, chit-chated with the cashier, not realising that she is the manager and pointed out the issues in the dress. Having worked in a retail setting before I know that most stores offer a 10-20%  off on top of the sale price for damaged articles. I asked what the best price for the dress was in a casual manner, and to my surprise she offered the dress at 75% off (there was already 25% sale going on). I think part of it was that it was last article in the store and the part was because I was nice.  This happens all the time. I love asking for discounts at the counter as part of the conversation. More often than not, most stores offer them.

Be willing to work with them.

I can’t count how many of my seats on flights have been upgraded because I have approached that counter early enough and just told them that if the flight is full and they need to bump anyone, I don’t mind waiting. ( I love airports. I am strange that way). This makes their job easier and helps them avoid that eventual awkward conversation with someone else. Sometimes I get put on a different flight with an upgraded seat and other times on the same flight but with a better seat.

Be a human being.

I used to hand out discounts to anyone who would speak to me as a human being, not just a voice at the other end of the phone. Sometimes people needed to just to someone and I was on the other end of that line and they would open up. I heard stories that have made me laugh, cry and break my heart. And while I am listening I look through their accounts to save them money. Sometimes they had called for something completely different but they would hang up with a better package. The company that I worked believed in wanting to keep their loyal clients and allowed us some wiggle room with promotions.

Most importantly, be realistic and reasonable.

There are times when a company wrongs you and they admit their mistake. This happened on the rare occasions with my previous job and while most clients were reasonable, some would want  the moon and a rocket to get there and it just wasn’t feasible. We would give the standard offer and pretty much laugh it off, but if you come with a well thought out plan and more often than not, we would make it happen. For example, if we were late for an appointment to house by an hour, that does not qualify you for free service for a year, it gives you a month at free or at half price. Do not ruin chances by asking for something you cant get. And remember to be polite. Know what it is in your scope of things, like doing your taxes with Turbo Tax, which is free, yourself, or paying your accountant and getting upset at them for not getting you what you think you should get back.

Asking for the manager does not always work.

I hated when people would call in and ask promotions that didn’t exist and then want to speak to a manager.  The managers have better things to do and don’t want to talk to you. A little known secret is that the manager rarely knows more than the representatives, they are there to handle the other side of the business and usually will stick to what the first person told you. Your best bet is the make your case to the first representative, and see what they can do.

This is the longest post that I have written  because I am really passionate about the subject.

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  • Niki July 15, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    I like your list. These are all things you should do to be a polite person anyway. I have seen some belligerent people, I am always amazed at the lack of common courtesy.

    There is a reason they say you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

    • Marissa July 16, 2011 at 10:54 pm

      Definitely agree!

  • Financial Success for Young Adults July 15, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    I have worked in customer service for many years and I think that everyone should work in customer service. Because at the end of the day, we all have some aspect of service in our jobs or daily lives.

  • retirebyforty July 15, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    I also believe in being nice to everyone. It’s a much better world to live in.
    That guy at the airport sounds like a jerk!

  • Sustainable PF July 16, 2011 at 2:59 am

    Couldn’t agree more. It is interesting, whenever you’re in a conversation with a person who never worked customer service – it is so obvious!
    I spent about 9 yrs during my high school and university and college years doing customer service. I do my best to work WITH the rep, not against them. They personally, 98% of the time, didn’t screw up – it was someone else (a diff rep., the policy, the tech support – whoever). They deserve to be treated well MOST of the time. But when they get anal, I must admit, they get a hellacious caller as I know all the ins and outs of this industry.

    • Marissa July 16, 2011 at 10:55 pm

      I love when people know what they are talking but do it politely. I have so much respect for that.

  • SB (One Cent At A Time) July 16, 2011 at 4:24 am

    I develop software for these customer care professionals. interact with them almost daily at work. I know how hard they try to keep customers from cracking them apart.

  • Rafiki July 17, 2011 at 3:19 pm

    You are absolutely correct. I have had the same experiences as I have also worked in customer service.

    One more thing I would add is that reps should always try to give service with a smile, even if over the phone.

  • Daisy July 27, 2011 at 3:14 am

    I totally agree with all of this. I worked in customer service for years out of high school, and I hated it. People, in general, turn in to monsters when they interact with store staff.

    Working in customer service wore down my spirit and made me hate work in general. It made me resent people.

    I think it’s so important to treat everyone with respect. If everyone worked in CS for awhile, they’d never be rude to people unnecessarily again!