A Customer Service Worker’s Confession

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  1. Avatar James Hanley
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    I’ve done my share of customer service jobs as well, and as much as I generally hated dealing with the public, it’s left me with an appreciation for the job. Just this evening I picked up a bag of ice at the gas station and had to wait a few minutes at the counter while the two clerks had a serious discussion about what had just happened with a customer before I came in. Somehow some confusion in the transaction had, they, thought, led to the one probably giving back too much change, and she thought her cash drawer was going to be about $8 short. There was nothing they could do to rectify the situation, with the customer gone, and no way to figure out the actual shortage until she closed out her shift and counted her drawer, so I guess they “ought” to have shut up and helped me. But I’ve been there, and it sucks, and I don’t know if the poor clerk will have to make up the difference or not. So when the other clerk turned to me and apologized for the delay, I smiled and said, no problem, I’ve been there, too.

    It doesn’t really cost a customer to be nice, and my experience–on both sides of the customer/customer service divide–is that you generally get a lot better service by being nice than being a blowhard.

    My main aggression to customers came when I worked phone sales for a pool supply company. On weekends it was just a few of us customer service reps there, with no supervisor. So what to do when an unhappy customer wanted to talk to a supervisor? You can’t really tell them to call back Monday without making them more unhappy. So we each played supervisor for each other. When another rep muted his mic, turned to me and said, “she wants to talk to a supervisor, I’d ask what he or she told the customer, take the phone, claim to be the supervisor, listen politely, then almost always tell them the same thing the other rep had, and it almost always satisfied them to hear it from the supervisor. We weren’t ripping them off, and when they had a legitimate complaint we’d do what we could to make it right. I think sometimes they just needed to know a higher up had heard their complaint. A higher up never did, but they didn’t know that,mand they felt better for the conversation. And they wouldn’t have gotten anything more from the real supervisor. Still, it was a bit if dishonesty.Report

  2. Avatar Gabriel Conroy
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    says:

    When I worked fast food, even $5 short was a serious thing. We weren’t theoretically allowed to make up for it, but we could be written up. (Being the weird person that I am, I usually snuck in a few dollars to the drawer because I preferred not to be short.) When I was a teller, I was surprised that we could be up to $10 short and just write it off, and $50 before it was a big deal, and even over $50, it wasn’t necessarily a write-up-able offense. Of course, if someone was $49.99 short for 10 days in a row, that would be cause for concern.

    I had a reference call a couple months ago in which the patron and I just didn’t understand each other. He or she didn’t seem to know how, for example, an archives operate and that the reference person didn’t just have a reservoir of facts at hand, and I failed to ask the appropriate questions to find out what he or she really wanted to know. It was a communication fail, probably more my fault because it’s my job to communicate. Anyway, she asked to speak with someone else, not a “supervisor,” but someone else, and I just had to transfer the call to a coworker. Not exactly what you’re describing, but in some ways related.Report

    • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Gabriel Conroy
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      says:

      Err….that was meant as a response to James at 9:28 pm.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Gabriel Conroy
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        says:

        “Failure to observe proper comment nesting.”

        I’ll let it go this once, but next time I’ll have to write you up.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Gabriel Conroy
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        says:

        Thank you for writing that comment. I hope you have a great day.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Gabriel Conroy
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        says:

        (((Also, thanks for re-nesting.)))Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Gabriel Conroy
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        says:

        I don’t know if this helps or not, but when I call (say) the phone company, and am greeted with something like “Thank you for calling AT&T, and how may I offer you excellent service today?” I always sympathize. “My gosh, do they really make you say that?”Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Gabriel Conroy
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        says:

        When I worked at the call center, we were always supposed to end with “thank you for calling [name of the bank].” The goal, probably, was 1) just to give us a script to make it easier, or 2) repeat the name of the company so that customers wouldn’t forget. Most of the time, that sounded so canned that I didn’t say it. (Also, if someone has an account at a bank, are they really going to forget it’s name?)

        It’s been a while since I’ve taken a Greyhound, but I recall when I used to call to buy tickets or get information, the first thing the rep said was something like “Greyhound, destination city please?” One time I asked the employee why, and she said they were required to start that way. To me, it seems a very abrasive way to begin a phone call. Even if one assumes that everyone calling is calling in order to buy tickets, sometimes it helps to make the conversation flow better to start with a “thank you for calling greyhound, how can I help you?”Report

    • Avatar kenB in reply to Gabriel Conroy
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      says:

      I worked as a cashier at a seafood restaurant, and while I don’t remember getting a specific range, my sense was that anything over a couple of bucks would be questioned (and of course any underages would be expected to be balanced out by overages in the long run).

      The person who trained me also taught me to feel free to pocket any significant overage (after all it would just end up in the boss’s pocket otherwise). One night I thought I was $60 over and took it home, but somehow I completely forgot to count a pile of money, and I got a call next day asking what happened. I professed ignorance and it was chalked up to some unscrupulous person swiping from the cash drawer when no one was looking. Not my proudest moment. Especially since the money I legimately earned from the job was windfall enough for teenage me and I hardly needed the extra.Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to kenB
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        says:

        I was and probably still am much more of a goody-two-shoes stakhonovite than my OP suggests. Therefore, I’ve never taken cash from my employer. I’m not trying to sound all high and mighty, but that was something that I just never was really tempted to do.

        However, I did, sometimes, toy with the idea of what it would take to rob the bank and leave the country. Short answer: too hard to be worth what money I could get away with.Report

  3. Avatar Maribou
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    says:

    As a customer service manager for more than a decade, 1 and 7? Are just fine. Like, if I “caught” you doing them (mostly, with my students, I don’t catch them doing things, they come tell me and see what I think about it), I would see them as appropriate responses to inappropriate customer behavior. I have found that in most cases, the customers in #1 don’t even notice, or if they do, they feel satisfied that people are treating them right. (I have occasionally been embarrassed to be WITH someone being the butt of #1, and hissingly explained to them later that NO, you didn’t set that young lady straight, AT ALL, you were being a jerk and she was expressing it the only way she could, by treating you like a person-bomb instead of a real person.)

    2 through 6 range from *major side-eye* to shrug, enh, well, if i were your manager, i hope I would realize I (or the company) was asking for that one, and change our processes / my own choices … but I’m sure a list of my transgressions would garner equally critical reactions.

    (This was an excellent post and you certainly don’t need my opinions! I just felt like sharing.)Report

  4. Avatar Kim
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    says:

    Spitting in someone’s food (if it’s sent back) is “traditional” [generally before recooking.]
    This is why it’s not a good idea to send food back (unless there’s a serious forgetfulness issue — still frozen hamburger or something).

    Instead, buy another entree. This way you aren’t insulting the kitchen.
    If you think that the next entree is likely to be just as bad, stand up and leave.

    I went to a restaurant once with someone who decided that the “strawberry chicken” they had ordered looked “raw” and thus wouldn’t eat it — sent it back to be recooked, and then had the temerity to not only not eat it, but “share” with her neighbor rather than ordering something else. Never Again.Report

  5. Avatar zic
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    says:

    When I had a coffee shop, I did a bit of everything. Mostly, I ran the kitchen. But I also did shifts on the counter, cleaned the seating areas, the bathroom.

    Cooking was back-breaking labor; constant motion, often a hundred different tasks going on at once. But it was much less draining than the counter customer service. Most people are delightful, and a moment of banter sprinkled with some local knowledge of what was worth their time would bring them back again and again while they visited here. But there was always that small percentage bent on spreading misery, here to tell us how inferior we are because we didn’t have major franchises in town and there were a lot of house trailers sprinkled amongst the million-dollar second homes. And while the drain of constant giving-of-yourself to kind people is tiring, the energy suck of mean people is soul depleting. It’s healthy to find some way of recognizing how pitiful they are lest they turn you pitiful and surly.Report

  6. Avatar Citizen
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    says:

    There was a time that a simple start-up batch file pointing at a official looking executable could wipe all the system files of an operating system.

    The comical part is if the batch file and executable are not over written when the operating system is re-installed, it happens over and over….Report

  7. Avatar Mike Schilling
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    says:

    On a recent business trip, I stayed at a hotel that only had valet parking. I came back there one night about 10:00 PM, and started chatting with the young guy that met me at the curb. He seemed to be enjoying the conversation, so we spoke for several minutes. When I got to my room, I realized I’d left my reading glasses in the car, so I went to the front desk, feeling a bit bad about asking him to retrieve the car I’d just dropped off to be parked, but having no real choice. Fortunately, the car was still where I’d left it.

    On the way back past the desk I said “I’m glad I didn’t cost you an extra trip”, and he smiled and said “Oh, that’s a good one, sir.” Which made no sense as a response, but did make me realize that he hadn’t enjoyed the previous conversation; he’d been listening with at most half an ear, humoring the old geezer. And no doubt thinking he’d been providing excellent customer service.Report

  8. Avatar Don Zeko
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    says:

    I used to wait tables at a country club. In the computer system we used to log orders, the daily specials didn’t have set prices; you had to enter the price manually when you keyed in the special on an order. So if you wanted the special to cost $5 more for a guy that was being obnoxious, you could, and nobody would catch you. My friend referred to this as the “asshole tax.”Report

  9. Avatar veronica d
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    says:

    Just want to say, this was an excellent post.Report

  10. Avatar Damon
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    says:

    God, I sympathize with anyone who’s done customer service, even though I do have customers, they are not “external”.

    The thing that gets me is this whole “excellence” movement. I got a call a while back from a car rental place who wanted me to rate my “car rental experience”. I’d gotten calls or emails asking the same from numerous places. When given the ranking, 1-5, 5 being highest and “excellent”, I gave a ranking of 3. The caller was quite taken aback, and asked how the experience could have been better. I told him that I had a short wait in line, got the car type I had reserved, been handled efficiently and quickly and had left the lot in about 20 minutes from start to finish. I told him that the service I got was exactly what was expected, and therefore, perfectly satisfactory, but had no answer to how it could have been “excellent” given my expectations. “Err maybe getting a BMW instead of a Nissan? Maybe a lower price” Nothing I could come up with that might have moved the experience to “excellent” seemed possible given the rental car process. Boy he was disappointed.Report

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