If you were to judge this post based on the title, you’re probably thinking this is going to be me ranting about some crappy service I received from some crappy company that I need to vent about. Wrong. I am feeling the need to rant about crappy jobs in customer service, of which I have held my fair share.
You hear “business gurus” lament constantly about how poor customer service can destroy a company. I do not disagree. The gurus preach of the importance of customer service skills for every employee who could potentially come in any sort of contact with a customer or potential customer. Amen! The gurus don’t seem to understand why so many companies can’t provide quality customer service. I think I can help answer this question with one word: money.
Oh, I know, money isn’t everything; job satisfaction isn’t reliant on money alone; there are numerous ways to motivate employees other than with money; blah… blah… blah. The people who come up with these unrealistic views of the importance of money in employment have listened to the gurus for far too long! Money is the reason that most people go to work every morning. If you don’t believe me, think of it this way: if you won the lottery and would never have to work again for financial reasons, would you go to your current job every day and do it for free? If you would, you are either a very lucky person who has found your calling and are able to utilize your inherent gifts and talents in a satisfying manner or… you’re an idiot.
So, back to customer service. I am going to use my recent employment experience with an unnamed cellular telephone company for demonstrative purposes. The unnamed cellular telephone company was Alltel.
For anyone who has ever had to wait in line at a cell phone store to have an issue resolved, I feel for you. For anyone who has had to wait in line at a cell phone store to have an issue resolved and then took out your frustration on the person who finally waits on you… go pound sand! You have a problem; you would like that problem fixed; you’re mad because you’ve been in line for 45 minutes or so; so you yell at or cop an attitude with the person who you expect is going to fix your problem… seriously?!? Remember, this person who you are yelling at has probably already had half-a-dozen other nincompoops yell at him or her and your yelling is getting pretty close to the straw that is going to break the camel’s back. Do you want help or not? If so, please remain calm and speak the way you would like to be spoken to. If getting your problem resolved is not the true reason for your 45 minute wait in line and you really just want to yell at someone and make a donkey-butt out of yourself by causing a big scene to prove to everyone within a 4-block radius of the retail store exactly mad you really are… keep yelling, sap-sucker, ’cause when you finally finish your little tirade, you are most likely going to be told that your problem is unsolvable: “So sorry, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to GO POUND SAND!” And it’s not that your problem is really unsolvable… it’s just that you have caused such a commotion and made such an… uh, to put it in acceptable English/slang/cockney format… “arse” out of yourself that you are beyond help. If your problem is actually fixed, a precedent is being set that people who throw a temper tantrum and behave like an arse get their way just to shut them up… and that is a precedent that is not going to be set. Why, you may ask, is that precedent not going to be set? Why will the squeaky wheel not get the grease? What is going through the head of the customer service representative at that crucial moment when he or she makes that uber-important decision not to help you resolve your problem? I can tell you in one succinct sentence exactly what is going through the mind of that representative: THEY DON”T PAY ME ENOUGH TO DEAL WITH THIS. And Mr. and Ms. business guru, all of a sudden monetary reward is important to get people to perform in menial jobs!
“Well, if current employees won’t get the job done, fire them and hire people who will!”
While I put in my time at Alltel, the turnover rate was over 30%. What that meant was that for every 10 people hired, more than 3 people quit… and this was at a time when Alltel was striving for aggressive growth! Finding someone who is willing to deal with belligerent customers all day (and actually not making any real money unless selling to said belligerent customers) takes more than $8 to $12 dollars per hour, especially when the rules that are put in place to actually take care of a ripped-off customer are ignored by all levels of management from store management to regional management… and rules that actually benefit the customer are few and far between! Let’s look at an example from my personal portfolio of the crappy-life files:
A friend was having trouble with his cell phone. I had recently quit Alltel, but I was still the “go to” guy for friends’ and family’s cell phone questions. The friend had trouble with his cell phone ever since he first got it. He was on his third replacement phone (“replacement phones”, by the way, are often refurbished pieces of crap… as are “insurance” phones). His original new phone and three refurbished phones all froze up. He was about a two-weeks past his original one-year warranty, but he had received his last replacement less than a month previously.
I wasn’t a vast clearinghouse of knowledge for every rule and regulation of Alltel while I worked there. However, I did know every policy and procedure that was beneficial to our customers as far as receiving a POS phone (and there were a lot of POS phones) and what extents could be gone to in an effort to make a pissed-off customer happy. I explained to my friend that, although he was past the original one-year warranty on the phone, each replacement phone (exchange by mail phone, or XBM) came with it’s own warranty above and beyond the original manufacturers’ warranty. It has been over three years since I worked at Alltel, so I don’t remember if that warranty was 30, 60 or 90 days, but I remember that my friend’s was well within the XBM warranty period. I told him that, at the very least, he should be able to get another POS XBM phone. However, since he and had been through three replacements, there was a “lemon policy” that the store manager could apply which would result in a brand-spanking new replacement phone of like value. I told him to go to his local store, to be “nice”, not cause a big stink, and ask politely for the manager if the customer service rep wouldn’t help him. I stressed the “be nice.”
Well, he called me a couple of days later and told me that no one there was willing to help him. The rep and manager who helped her both said that I didn’t know what I was talking about. They told him that the XBM phones had no warranty of their own and since he was past his original warranty, he was out of luck. Pretty much, he got a big, “Sorry, sucks to be you!”
I was furious! I was ready to get on the phone with that stupid manager and give her a piece of my mind… and then I was going to call the district manager and let him know what had happened! Then, in a flashback, remembered what it was like to work at Alltel.
“Did you remain calm and stay nice?” I asked.
“Well… I started out nice.”
“That’s not what I asked,” I said. “Did you remain calm and nice throughout the conversation?”
“Well… no… but they weren’t willing to help me!”
“Did you yell?” I asked.
“Did you personally attack the person helping you?” I asked.
“Well… she was being a bitch!”
Now, I know that this friend can be a little demanding as a customer. He is the sort of person who will hold up a line at Walmart for 15 minutes arguing about a 25 cent perceived difference in the advertised price and the price that rings up at the register… even when he is wrong.
“Yeah, maybe I was wrong about that XBM policy thing,” I concluded. I was not wrong.
When I worked at Alltel, I never screwed a customer just because they treated me like crap, and employees who did abuse their “power” really pissed me off. However, I can think back to what it was like to be treated like complete garbage by an abusive customer. It wasn’t fun… and I tend to blame most of my current stress-issues on the two years I spent at Alltel. Every time I deal with just about any stranger in just about any potentially confrontational situation, I am braced for the worst… which is stressful. I couldn’t handle it, so I quit (and remain scarred from the experience). For those who can stick it out… if they need to screw-over the occasional asshole just to keep their sanity (and keep working there), more power to ’em.
By being the guy who always did everything in his power to take care of the customer, I developed a reputation as being the guy to go to if you had a problem. People would wait an extra half-hour in line just to see me with their problems, which was fine. The problem I had, with the Alltel gig being commission-based, was that those same people weren’t nearly as willing to wait for me when it came to making an actual commission-earning purchase… they went to the first available rep… and those were the straws that finally shattered the spine of the hump-backed mammal… because the money wasn’t there. The district manager told me, when I informed him that I was quitting, that if I just stuck around for four or five more years, I would start to see that loyalty from the problem-solving start to turn into sales. I told him that I would be dead of a heart attack before I would ever reap those benefits.
And you know what’s strange? I really think that if the money had been significantly better, I wouldn’t have minded dealing with the crap quite as much. It’s harder to get stressed about a situation when they actually are paying you enough to deal with it.