Customer Service

Wow, it’s been 5 days since my last post. I thought it was less than that, but time does seem to fly by somehow. In any case, today isn’t about mental health, but rather something I have to deal with all the time, and which is on my mind because of a publicized Comcast service call – the idea of customer service. Now, I was a telemarketer for a summer back in high school, and it was a miserable job, even as an inbound representative (that is, I took calls, I didn’t make them). I had to follow a script, and make a quota, and the script was almost always mind-numbing – but even if I had a way to say things in a more convincing manner, doing so, even if I got a sale, would get me in trouble. So I was very limited in what I was able to do.

Now, I agree that the call in the link above is pretty crazy – but I would imagine it is because the customer service rep had similar guidelines and regulations he had to follow, and that he would get in trouble if he allowed someone to cancel their service on his watch. So he tried everything in the book – including some pretty bad stuff – to try and get the customer to just give up and thus keep their service. The only reason this is a big deal is because the call got recorded and went viral.

At my job, ‘providing excellent customer service’ is one of our highest priorities. No matter what else we are doing, if we are asked by a customer to help them find something, that becomes our top priority. Which, given that I work in retail, is probably as it should be – the store won’t survive without customers, after all. But this frequently means that the customer, who likely knows that we have to make them our top priority, sometimes also feels like they can treat us like servants. They treat us badly, berating us if we can’t find exactly what they want within seconds, or taking up large amounts of time getting us to look for something they aren’t planning on purchasing anyway, or just taking out their frustration with the store’s policies on us. And, for the most part, we just have to take it.

There is nothing that we can say to unpleasant customers – at least at my level – except to apologize for whatever I have (allegedly) done wrong, and ask if they would like to speak to a manager. And while it can be nice to have a manager to fall back on, they can also just as easily throw us under the bus. We have a return policy of 14 days with a receipt – any longer than that, and I can’t even start up the return process at my cash register. It’s supposed to be a strict policy, but much of the time, when I call a manager to handle it – which I am supposed to do – they almost always make an exception for the customer, making me look like a tool and making them look magnanimous. To be fair, there are definitely some cases where this is justified – 15 days is a pretty easy exception to make. But I’ve seen up to 2 months be given an exception, which is four times the policy. It may be a lousy policy, but Making me follow it if they don’t have to makes me look useless.

I don’t dislike customers in general, but I do dislike that we have become a culture that seems to view treating retail establishments and their employees as places where we can do what we want and suffer no repercussions. Children left screaming for an hour (and I mean constant, high-pitched, grating wails)? Nothing we can do. People pulling out stacks of products and leaving them all over the place? We clean up after them. Customer getting angry at me for not finding a member account, even though they give me the wrong information and I have to make astounding, awesome leaps in order to get the right info from the incorrect things they have given me? I have to apologize to them for, essentially, not being able to read their minds. I’ve seen customers yell at managers for coming in 2 minutes before the store closes (with clearly posted hours at all entrances) and being told they can’t browse for fifteen or twenty minutes.

We get paid minimum wage to deal with things like this, so it’s no wonder that so many retail people are burned out and bitter. Customer service has come to mean something very unpleasant for the people who have to provide it – which is never the people who makes the rules and guidelines for it, and the people making those rules have likely never actually had to provide customer service. And yet the customer service rep from Comcast, above, will probably get fired because he did his best in a terrible set of circumstances. Comcast probably won’t change how they do things, which will remain miserable for the people who have to provide service – they’ll probably just now make them say that they do not consent to being recorded or something like that. And, as poster KingDobbs on the RPG.net discussion of the above call notes, “The result of this is, like has been supposed by others in the thread, employees who are forced to meet standards ranging from “reachable, if you’re really really good at your job” to “borderline impossible”, and who aren’t particularly empowered to actually do anything to help the customer in a situation that is about to go wrong (meaning that it’s often inevitable that the situation will go wrong; people, generally, do not like to hear from a service employee “there’s nothing we can do”), and who *know* that management won’t back them up.”

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