. . .i’m learning in customer service.
when i was a kid, my mom would swear by the book, “All I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten” by Mr. Robert Fulghum. the book, as i understand it, stresses a return to the simplicity of the lessons we learned as little people, lessons on sharing, good manners, and otherwise golden-rule type living.
after nearly 2 full months of full-time work in a customer service position, i have learned one thing: all those things we learned as little children go out the window as we become adults. we don’t expect to wait in line, we don’t need to treat others as we might like to be treated, we are entitled to always be right, to have others clean up our messes, to live, in general, with as little consequence as possible. we want what we want, when we want it, while shushing the voices of little children as they throw temper tantrums over toys they want but can’t have.
it’s no wonder children have such a hard time learning these lessons…there are very few examples of what those things tangibly look like.
but that’s a discussion for another time.
despite the extreme potential for me to be jaded about all of humanity based on my time on the phones, i have come to glean some very important lessons:
1. just keep apologizing.
i have long struggled with apologizing for things that were not my fault, as tho i were somehow responsible for however and whatever the other person was feeling about a situation. even if i did not cause it. it has taken me a great while to realize that i did not have to absorb everyone around me’s emotions and frustrations about things, and i did not have to do anything to try and fix the situation.
apologies, however, are key to connecting with my customers on the phone, for helping them to know and understand i’m on their side and want to help. even if i can’t do anything to change their situation. apologizing smooths the path, calms highly-stressed nerves, helps them feel heard and understood.
even more than that, apologizing keeps me humble. it reminds me that i don’t need to always be right, that it’s ok to admit that things have gone wrong and that i can’t fix them. it keeps me at an equal level to the people i am working with.
2. stay present.
i have a tendency, when i’m on the phone to lean back in my chair, portraying a lazy, couldn’t-care-less attitude. this is when i tend to get the worst calls. when i’m focused on the caller, tho, listening intently to them, my eyes not traveling the room, i have a lot more success.
3. when in doubt, keep your mouth shut.
i had a really rough call a couple weeks ago, from a caller who was extremely irritated and yelling at me. when he made a comment about “you people” having so much money, i made the biggest mistake known to customer service: i took it personally. and then i made an off-the-cuff comment to the effect of “who do you think i am?” fortunately i immediately realized my mistake and was able to round it off a little more by explaining that i’m in the same boat (of working hard for my income) and understand his frustration. still, i sat there shaking my head, unable to believe that had come out of my mouth.
i mentioned this to a coworker and he gave me the best idea yet: when you find they are really flaring up, just sit quietly. eventually they will come down, their voices will lower, they will mimic your silence. when they ask if you’re there, you simply answer, “i was just listening.” this is disarming for them and they feel suddenly worn out from their fighting. or that’s the goal anyway. it works tho, i’ve already tried it. some people not only calm themselves, they thank me for my patience.
i know i have lots more to learn when it comes to customer service, but i do agree with Mr. Fulghum. we desperately need, if we are ever to live at peace with one another, to return to the values we were taught in Kindergarten. alas, i can only expect change if it starts with me.