The Customer Service Agent is Beleaguered – And It’s Not THEIR Fault
Last week Shep Hyken, a friend, author, and noted customer service speaker, wrote
The Customer Is Angry – And, It’s Not Your Fault (you can follow the link to Shep’s blog post). While I agree with everything Shep said, I wanted to present an empathetic view of the beleaguered customer service agent with some thoughts about what customers can do to earn better service.
Sure, that front line employee is paid to do their best to make the customer happy which means fixing a company mistake or helping a customer who is upset by something completely unrelated to the company or the situation at hand. But as customers, let’s put ourselves in THEIR shoes for just a moment. That person from whom you expect top notch service is human, too. If they need to excuse our temper tantrums and make things right perhaps we need to understand that maybe they had a flat tire on the way to work, didn’t sleep well the night before, have a sick child or have some other unavoidable stressor in their life.
Perhaps the customer could start with a bit of kindness and empathy for the person behind the counter. I was recently returning from a ski vacation and flying back from Denver to St. Louis. This was the week after a major snowstorm in Denver and the Boeing Max 8 grounding. A few days before the trip I awoke to news that my outbound flight was canceled. I managed to get everything (flights, rental car, lodging, etc.) rebooked. After rebooking my return flight several times I was lucky enough to finally get the flight that I wanted (a Saturday evening non-stop) but with the last three boarding positions which meant my wife, son and I wouldn’t be sitting together. When I got to the gate, I decided to try my luck and see if I could improve my boarding position (I was not optimistic). As I approached the counter, I thought about the week the gate agent must have had. How many people had to rebook flights? How much overtime had she worked? How many people had yelled at her?
As I got to the counter, I asked her “How are you today?” She responded with “OK” and I followed up with “I’ll bet you’ve had a tough week.” That simple comment changed the relationship. Suddenly, she was talking with someone who wasn’t going to make her day worse and showed just a little bit of empathy. I explained my situation and asked if it was possible to change my boarding assignment and asked how much it would cost. The price wasn’t too bad, so I said, “Let me ask my wife” (which as a good friend is fond of saying, is a convenient excuse except when it is actually true). Then I said, “I’m going to Starbucks for some tea, can I get you anything?”. She said “No, but thank you” and then as I was walking away she called me back and gave me special boarding at no charge.
Think about how many people yelled at that gate agent during the past week as opposed to how many people asked her about her day and offered to get her something from Starbucks. Often, when you’re in front of a customer service agent, you might as well be in front of the CEO. At that moment, they are among the very few people who can change the situation. Why not at least start the conversation by being nice?
I wish I could say that I’ve never raised my voice at a customer service agent. But as my mom used to say, “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”
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