A difference of perception when dealing with customers

img_6216.jpgMaybe it’s just a coincidence associated with moving that brings me to wonder how customer service representatives relay their particular war stories of having to deal with difficult customers? Perhaps it is that I have had to make more than an average  number of phone calls to various organizations directing new phone, electric, cable, and gas services than most of us regularly have to deal with, or maybe poor customer service is just average, and just more concentrated because I’m dealing with everyone in a compressed time period.

Nonetheless, a writer from the New York Times once called customer service representatives out on their self-reported experiences dealing with angry customers stating that the objective, actual experience differed greatly from the representative’s version.  These perception “deficits” made for good lunch room or cocktail hour stories, but didn’t seem to serve any constructive purpose. The report also brought out that customer service representatives commonly overstate the frequency of angry customers and the number of conflicts they handle in a typical work day.

Of course, negative experiences tend to be more memorable than the routine calls, but when fellow employees dominate conversations with the war stories of the clients from Hell, isn’t that a preamble to growing negative perceptions for other employees? And how does that make other employees deal with angry or dissatisfied customers?

As an example, I called DirecTV and instructed them to turn off my television service as of the end of the month. Yesterday, after a long day, I turned the television on to find out that DirecTV had turned my service off prematurely. What was obviously their mistake and what should have only taken moments to correct turned out to be a drawn out debacle until I finally was fortunate enough to make contact with a customer service agent who immediately figured out the problem and reinstated my service. So was I a client from Hell? I don’t think so, but I am sure the perception “deficit” of the two previous agents who were unable to solve my problem because they had no idea what to do in this particular circumstance, will embellish the story to make it more significant as their own cathartic experience.

So how do we help our customer service representatives be more productive and constructive? From my own experience, representatives need more front line classroom training. Supervisors need to raise the bar on performance, but that’s impossible without giving employees the tools, education, and experience to be able to deal with the unusual. Once an employee is empowered to identify problems, trained and educated to delve a little bit further into possible problems and solutions, customer perception “deficits” are eliminated.

Customer service personnel learn from being monitored, measured, managed, and rewarded. Those who will rise to the occasion have the confidence and desire to help clients and customers solve their problems with a minimum of drama. Perhaps the worst statement I heard yesterday was, “I’m sorry I understand why you are angry, but I can’t help you.” Fortunately I mustered up the stamina to call back and luckily connected with a customer service representative from West Virginia. That wonderful lady saved my evening so I could watch the finale of  Dancing with the Stars.

photo credit: pcutler