The Customer Service Whisperer


-by Michael!
I have a super power.
It’s honestly not all that exciting. We’re not talking flight or magnetism here. (Or weather control.) But it is useful.
I can get customer service people to give me what I want.
This is a super power that is, in fact, sharable – so here goes.
First, realize something: most of the time, the person on the other end of the phone call is a person. Treating them as such is the first step. Yes, they may be representing GiaInsuraElectroCompuCorp, but they are doing this to put a roof over their head and purchase food, not because they have a thrilling love of the company that purchases their time.
You, as the customer, are not angry with them.
You are angry with GiaInsuraElectroCompuCorp.
Stress this. It’s always the second thing out of my mouth (we’ll get to the first in a sec): “You didn’t do it, I’m not fussing at you, please forgive me if I’m short or exasperated, it’s just that this is SO FRUSTRATING! And it doesn’t help that this is NOT the first time I’ve had to call you guys about this.”
That last bit is crucial. There is only one possible substitution for this: “This thing is brand new!” Saying either thing raises red flags in the head of any customer service representative that they have been trained to address – just ups the urgency level, so to speak.
The actual “first thing” I say is: “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name?”
Nevermind whether or not I heard their name – I want to do two things off the bat. First, get them off of the script, take the ball out of their hands for a second, make them view this as not-just-another-call. Second, impress upon them that I actually give a damn what their name is. I usually write it down so that I can keep calling them by their name throughout the process. Again: they’re people. If you treat them as such, they’re automatically inclined to treat you better.
Once we’ve passed these two points, the rest of it is fairly simple: tell them what’s wrong in calm, reasonable tones; refer to them by name frequently, but not enough to be creepy; do not hang up until you get some version of what you want. Believe it or not, you can accomplish the last part without getting angry – just force yourself to smile and, as you keep asking for the same thing in ten different ways, repeat the words “pleasant persistence” in your head.
It works.
I promise.
But the moment you yell at them, you lose. It’s over. They’re not on your side any more. They’re certainly not on the side of GiaInsuraElectroCompuCorp, because let’s face it – anybody working the phones at GiaInsuraElectroCompuCorp hates GiaInsuraElectroCompuCorp more than you do. (Most of the time, they’re not even hired directly by GiaInsuraElectroCompuCorp – they’re hired by third party call-center specialists who deliberately create massive turnover in order to keep salary costs down.) But if you yell at this person – no matter how stupid or stubborn you think they’re being – you’ve turned it from “us against GiaInsuraElectroCompuCorp” into “you against me.” Don’t do that.  It will not work.
Another thing that doesn’t really work – asking to talk to the manager. It might work in, say, 2% of the cases where the original rep can’t help you out, but usually you’ll just sit on hold for about half an hour to be told the exact same thing by somebody whose voice may or may not sound suspiciously like the first person to whom you spoke.
If my experience is any indication, this is because “your manager” at a call center is usually concerned with one thing only: not taking any customer calls. They’ve worked hard since they started six weeks ago to become managers specifically so that they can avoid talking to customers, thank you very much. I know people seem to think that “your manager” has some sort of magical powers (akin to how “The Back” of any retail store must invariably be a cornucopia of riches zealously guarded by greedy retail workers), but they really don’t. Set some more reasonable expectations for your call and go from there.
It’s really not rocket science, I know. It all boils down to separating the person on the phone away from the company for which they work. But if you can convince your brain – and, more importantly, your mouth – to do this, then the secrets of customer service whispering shall be yours.

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