Thursday, August 12, 2010

Oh, please

Every where I turn, people are talking about Steven Slater. I confess, when I first read the story, I laughed. He really acted out a fantasy for almost everyone who's worked in customer service. Having worked in customer service fields for a long time, I definitely understood how he felt.

Once at the end of a long work day, I literally had to spit out a tiny piece of tooth enamel, because I'd been grinding my teeth to keep from saying what I dearly longed to say. While I looked at that chip in my hand, I remembered that Bill Cosby once said that the key to failure is trying to please everyone. My job in customer service was trying to please everyone. The inevitable conclusion was that being a failure was my job.

That was just a bad day though, and I'm proud of what I do.

I've worked in a variety of customer service jobs throughout my career. Some have been seen as serious career jobs that require a solid base of knowledge and professional skill before service could be provided. I'm glad I've spent more time in those than the other type. Those are the customer service jobs where the people like me are just seen as the flunky you get stuck dealing with. Throughout both types of jobs though, I've come to hold a lot of respect for good customer service people everywhere.

It's not an easy job. I've worked in marketing, sales and public relations as well as traditional customer service, and frankly, customer service demands a higher level of communication skills than any of those fields. You have to be able to listen effectively, promptly identify a customer's real need, and present a problem solving solution in a clear way that makes your customer feel good and want to do business with your company again. A good customer service rep has to think quickly and master the art of emotional alleviation. She has to thoroughly understand company policies and procedures and have the ability to adapt those procedures to individual needs, while pleasing both the customer and the company. Let me add, either company or customer could have caused the problem you're trying to solve. Talk about being in a hot spot.

Since the people you're frequently dealing with are sometimes upset, they can often be long winded and short tempered, and you have to be able to sort out the verbal chaff from the essential information. This requires patience, but beyond that, it requires an emotional maturity that is becoming increasingly rare. On a bad day, it's not just maturity that's needed, it's emotional teflon. I haven't met too many people made of synthetic polymers, but every day I see more evidence that the loss of civility is not limited to the political realm.

Yes, there are days when I've really wanted to make a bold "F... You" statement like Steven Slater, but some fantasies need to stay in the land of daydreams. His flamboyant reaction was another loss of civility, maturity and self-control. It was no better than the customers who put their desires before any one else's needs, and the biggest part of me wants to tell them all, "Grow up!"


marigolds2 said...

Right on, Cynthia. I'm with you all the way. I worked long years in retail, and know what you mean when you say "emotional teflon." The public grows increasingly rude, demanding, unreasonable. And those who have to deal with and soothe them need to find pride in remaining calm, even-tempered, sane, and ultimately - polite. It's not for the faint of heart, as you so eloquently point out. This is a fine piece - I think it deserves a wider audience. Send it to your local paper, at least.

Lisa :-] said... job is essentially all about customer service, and I have been in this field for a really long time. This is not my strong point of the best of days (being the introvert I am) but i have noticed that in the past five years, people have become exponentially more demanding, rude, and difficult to deal with. Makes it very difficult, for me at least, to run a service business. Sigh!

Kathy said...

I pride myself on being courteous, polite and calm when I may make a complaint. Afterall, it's really not the service reps fault that I'm having a problem.

Being in the service field brings so much to your life. Good and bad, admittedly, but I believe more good than bad.

I wanted to shout out to Steve Slater. "This is a moment you may be proud of, but your mother? Not so much."