A southeast native, Beverly majored in psychology at GSU. She has a strong interest in workplace politics and human behavior.
Everyone Has A Story About Rude Customer Service People, But Have You Ever Wondered What Makes Them So Sullen and Upset?
I work the early shift at my job. I am talking really early. I get off work at nine and decide to go to the local member buying club to get some food for a Sunday dinner I am making this weekend. I am pretty sure they open at 9:30, but am thinking maybe it is ten for non-business members. It is 9:45. I decide to chance it and if I am wrong I can walk over to their affiliate store which is open 24 hours and browse for a few minutes and then return.
As I approach the front door I see a man wheeling out a cart laden with paper towels, rice bags the size of a toddler and an assortment of plastic encased items that are shifting dangerously on the side of the cart. I know the store is open at least.
I get to the front door where the greeter usually stands and am met with the backside of an elderly black woman in a uniform shirt washing down the glass on the double front doors. The doors are shut so I am assuming either they are not open yet and maybe business members go through another entrance or she has pushed the lock door button to keep the door closed while she cleans it. It's kind of hard to clean a door if every time you step in front of it, it slides behind a glass window!
I try to get her attention but she ignores me, so I grab a cart and head back toward the closed doors and stand there a moment until she turns a bit to see me and ask, "are you open yet?" She glares at me and says nothing and turns back toward the door. I am embarrassed and think, well maybe she is going to hit the open door button or something but she returns to wiping off the glass and I am miffed, return the cart and turn around and leave thinking, 'how rude'.
It turns out the store doesn't open until ten. If I had checked their website or located the hours, which were probably on the door she was cleaning or maybe even she pointed to them and I assumed she was still cleaning them, then I would have known. In essence it was my fault for not knowing the hours, but still, she could have been nicer about it right?
I come back at a later time the next day and the woman is there inside the store. I smile and say hello, she glares at me. Okay, I messed up on the hours and I blamed it on her, but still...
I go to the store a few more times over the next few weeks and she never smiles, never says hello, just glares like it is my fault she is working this job and she would rather be somewhere or someone else.
A month later I go back. Another older black woman is at the door. She greets me politely and turns to talk to a coworker as they laugh about a story she was in the middle of telling as I walked in. A man comes in behind me and shows his store card and she tells him, almost exasperatedly that customers do not have to show their cards anymore. I am sure she is tired of saying that. She is not mean about it, but you can tell she thinks he should know this considering the policy changed about eight months ago. Still, her attitude toward me and her attitude toward him were totally different. Why?
What makes customer service people rude or unpleasant? Well, as a customer service worker myself, let me give you some insight into what makes a good, happy, worker sullen and bothered. You might be surprised to learn what they have gone through before you even arrived.
First Five of The Top Twenty Things You Should Know About Customer Service Employees
1. Most customer service people are not paid that well. Their jobs are not considered high-skill jobs, especially door greeters, yet they are the front line defense for management and are sent to fend off swords (angry words) and bullets (threats to their lives and their employment) in order to protect people from things they have no ability to control.
2. Most customer service people cannot leave their stations and have to ask permission to go to the restroom and cannot eat or drink while on the job. You try answering two to three hundred phone calls a day, deal with hundreds of customers in person (most of whom are not happy to begin with) and serve their every need while ignoring your own for hours on end. Now how happy would you be?
3. A well staffed customer service desk usually has three or more workers depending on how busy the area is. When one worker is out sick, being lazy and not doing their share, or the company tries to save money by having one person do the work of three, having an attitude is almost a given. It takes great presence to be nice to everyone when you are under that kind of stress and being told you will be fired if you are not 100 percent polite 100 percent of the time does not make matters any better.
4. Customer service reps are the first line of defense, protecting management from the wrath of unhappy customers and listening as customers complain to them about how they are the ones at fault even though they have done nothing wrong. Often the customer does not want them to respond, they just want them to listen to them rant and give them whatever they are asking for, even if it is unreasonable or actually the fault of the customer for not following policy (like signing a waiver that states they know they will be charged extra if they do not pay as scheduled or that if they put the plastic decorative bowl over a hot light as a lamp shade for which it was not designed, it could melt or cause a fire hazard which would not be the fault of the seller, but of the buyer).
5. Most Customer Service Reps have to follow company policy without waiver, down to the script of, "Hello, Welcome to ______. My name is _________. How may I be of service? Thank you and come again!" Try doing that four to five hundred times a day and see how chipper you are at the end of a shift where you had one pee break and no food or water and were given 200 forms to file, all the while attending to your other duties without waiver and being told, "well, if you can't get the work done, then we will replace you with someone who can!" rather than being thanked for taking on the extra workload and being told to get as much done as possible, but don't stress too much if it can't all be finished.
Last Ten of Top Twenty Steps to Get the Most From Your Customer Service Experience
1. The number one thing you can do is educate yourself in advance. Know the type of payments accepted, the hours of operation, programs offered, what you need to bring with you to complete paperwork, the time line to receive service or return payment, whether you have to have a receipt or when the lines are shortest. If you come unprepared at five minutes to closing and demand a company serves your long list of needs because you got there before the doors were locked, do not expect the best service the company has to offer and if you do get the best service, be grateful for it, not nasty.
2. Do not come in with a bad attitude and expect to be treated like a good friend. Your attitude can set you up for a good or bad experience. If you were treated badly in the past or yelled at the person trying to help you, it will form an expectation of tension and makes it more difficult for you to get the results you expect. Both you and the person trying to help you will feel combative or defensive and neither serves either of you well.
3. If you get a customer service person who seems to have an off day, be a bit sympathetic. While it is not your job to cheer them up, you can try to smile and be nice and express concerns that they seem to not feel well. Often that is all it takes for the person to turn their attitude around and be equally as nice and caring toward you. Everyone has bad days. If they are really surly, ask if there is someone else who can help you since there seems to be tension between the two of you. Sometimes that is the best solution for both of you.
4. Talk to the manager if you see the person at the front counter needs help rather than report the person for not moving fast enough for your liking. When the customer service person tells management they are overwhelmed, often the blame will be placed on them for not working faster, but if customers complain that more staff is needed then more help will more likely be provided, even if management has to step in and relieve some of the pressure for a bit. Don't yell, drum your fingers on the counter, sigh, roll your eyes or ask if the customer help person knows what they are doing and insinuate it is their fault you are late for work. Be patient and understanding, please!
5. Listen to instructions. Tammy M. worked at a counter where people would be directed down the hall toward different offices and was amazed at how often she would tell people to go right and press the button on the door to enter, only to have people go to the left or snatch on the door and then demand someone let them in because the door was locked! Sometimes you may not see the button or you may be dyslexic or daydreaming: It happens, but try to pay attention and don't get mad when you don't and things go wrong!
6. Don't ask employees to break policy to help you. Many companies will fire employees who do not follow protocol exactly. They will lose their job if they help you sign up for a program without turning in the necessary legal documents and if something were to happen to you or your child, it could lead to a huge lawsuit that might even cause the company to go out of business, so don't see workers as cruel or heartless because they follow protocol.
7. Do not assume someone is being prejudiced, ageist or sexist and demand they are doing an injustice because you aren't happy with the results or failed to follow policy. Again being nice and asking politely to see a manager will generally get better results than trying to get someone fired for acting in a way you feel is unjust when that was not their intent.
8. If you are unhappy with the customer service person, do not attack them personally and call them fat or stupid or lazy. That person working the night shift at the hotel may actually be working on their doctorate degree or be a single parent raising three kids and working two other jobs to survive. Stick to professional attitudes and don't resort to name calling if you want to be taken seriously.
9. Get off your cell phone! Seriously, how can you have a conversation and understand what someone is telling you when you are on the line with someone else? On that same note don't try to do business for the person on the other end of the phone. Either have them come in or have the customer service person call them back, don't expect them to take your phone and talk to the person on it and then talk to you and hand the phone back and forth. This causes more problems than it solves.
10. Lastly, understand that while you may be calling in to ask if someone has a certain item or is going to be open on the holiday, chances are the phone has been ringing non-stop with hundreds of other people asking the same question. This is where cell phones actually serve a purpose as most companies post their holiday hours on their website or social media and even let you know if certain items are still available, whether you can pay over the phone to hold them or if they are sold out, saving a you a trip.
Just be nice to people and understand that they may not actually mean to be rude to you, but are overwhelmed and overworked and still expected to be cheery and happy when all they really want to do is bolt out the door yelling, "Free at Last, Thank God Almighty, Free at Last!" There are some customer service people who are genuinely rude all the time and others who just have bad days. I can remember dreading going to the post office to mail a package and feeling like I was going to be stuck in a corner balancing an eraser on my head with my nose in a chalk circle because I was short two cents postage! Then I saw what postal service people had to deal with and I understood. It is the equivalent of a mom with six kids all wanting her attention at the same time and not caring if she needed to take a break and have someone get her something for a change.
My former boss at a customer service position where everyone waited to pay for programs until the very last minute and got upset with any delays used to say, "Your failure to come in early when we could have easily processed your paperwork and gotten your child started in the program does not constitute an emergency on OUR part." She would then remind them that the programs had been open for two months and they waited until the day of to register, so they should not be getting mad at her, but at themselves.
It is little wonder she did not last long as the manager, but at least she was honest. Do your best to do your part, understand the language used. For instance if you ask for billing at a large company, you may be sent to the business manager who orders and pays for supplies from businesses when what you wanted was customer billing to check on what you have paid or still owe.
Don't assume the counter person knows all your information by heart including your child's shot record history and your credit card information! Come prepared with all the necessary documents. You would not walk into a car parts place and ask for lug nuts for your car without knowing the year, make and model, so why place an order for something and ask the sales clerk to tell you what size your nephew wears. Yes, this happens!
The Short, Though Not Definitive Guide to Better Customer Service
1. Try to pick a time where it is not as busy. Don't go in as soon as the place opens or right before it closes expecting expert attention. A half hour after opening and an hour before closing is generally your best bet, but keep in mind that after work hours and lunch breaks are usually going to be pretty hectic, so be patient and be prepared for some delays.
2. Do not go in with a bad attitude. Do not use words like "you people" or belittle the person trying to help you. If you do not get good customer service simply ask to speak with a manager
3. Be prepared. Have all necessary documents and paperwork ready. If in doubt as to what to bring, check the website or call in advance. Most companies have detailed brochures and check sheets to make it easier on you and them.
4. Know or learn the language specific to your problem - if you ask for a muffler when you want an axle, don't get mad when you get a muffler.
5. Be patient, but make it known that you are waiting and have a limited time to get the job done. If things are really busy, ask if you can register on-line, take the necessary paperwork home and return it at a less busy date or wait your turn and try not to tap your fingers on the counter or sigh loudly or make negative comments about slow service. This will generally slow things down more rather than speed things up.
Above all be polite. Mirror in yourself the kind of attitude you want reflected in the person helping you and you will be surprised at how much easier your experience becomes. Remember that most workers are under a lot of pressure to perform, so if you add to that pressure they are going to be less likely to look forward to your next visit and even dread seeing you walk past the door.
Customer service agents actually refer to the latter as the cringe factor which includes people with thick foreign accents and customs which are hard to understand, single moms who yell at you and at their misbehaving children who are using your desk as a jungle gym and snatching handfuls of candy out the candy jar, and slow moving older adults who have difficulty communicating their needs without wanting to share their current woes, ills, and personal stories you might actually love to hear about if you did not have 20 more people waiting in line impatiently behind them and giving you the stink-eye.