Recently, I had a problem with a streaming app for a pay TV service that suddenly wouldn’t recognize my subscription. The app was tethered to my cell phone account as an added benefit, because I’ve maintained a higher-level data plan. The relationship always seemed a bit complex, but it worked… until it didn’t. And of course I realized my subscription had prematurely ‘expired’ right when I pressed play for a family movie night presentation of Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.”
After I wiped egg off my face, I switched apps, and we found something else to stream. Later, I picked up the phone in search of a solution to my misbehaving app.
We all know the proverb that you’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. But it’s also easy to forget when having a frustrating moment with a customer service representative.
Customer Service 1.0
While growing up, I often observed my father apply negative pressure in any number of customer service moments to help mold his desired outcome. I think it was a simpler time when resolutions seemed more achievable, and customers had more power to influence them. But getting angry and threatening to take your business elsewhere is never a sustainable strategy. Even as a kid, I remember feeling that.
Customer Service 2.0
Not to over-generalize, but eventually business trends changed and customer service shifted. We can debate this decline, but I think a key ingredient is added complexity as a result of business efficiencies. Plus, much of the decision-making power has been taken away from the front line of customer service and replaced by the weight of following process.
Your dissatisfaction is likely not the fault of the person on the other end of your phone call. Sure, you may feel a sense of genuine disconnection with the conversation, but there could be other factors you’re not aware of, such as computer systems containing your account info that move much slower than the human mind (how ironic).
Customer Service 3.0
While I’ve been mindful not to practice my father’s bad customer behaviors, that doesn’t mean I’ve succeeded at living on a totally Zen plane when calling customer service. Sure, I get frustrated, just like the rest of us.
But when I made the call to fix my broken streaming app, I had an amazing ‘aha moment’ that changed my entire perspective.
Yes, I ended up speaking to three customer service representatives across two separate phone calls spanning two hours (including waiting on hold for 30 minutes for the first call to begin).
No, it wasn’t a great start. However, the three people I spoke with were all stellar in their positive disposition. They all truly wanted to help me out. Unfortunately, I think none of them had access to all of the information they needed. The third rep had the greatest understanding of the issue, but was still confounded why her technical fixes weren’t working exactly the way they should. Eventually, she moved around a final glitch to MacGyver a solution for me.
It was entirely imperfect, but I appreciated that all three were totally focused on working the problem for me. And, yes my app was reborn.
Throughout this experience, I didn’t see them as adversaries, even though the first two couldn’t solve my tech riddle. Instead, I felt they had joined me on a spontaneous road trip together. And that shifted my attitude.
Together, we needed to locate a hidden variable, and it was buried somewhere in the computer system. No person could totally solve my problem. The machine would need to play nice too.
Make a New Friend
The reality is the computer controls much of the customer service conversation. And if you’re open to this cold truth, that should shift the fundamental relationship between you and the customer service representative. In fact, it should create an alliance. Because it may take both of you to figure the problem out… together.
Your impersonal connection can magically shift. Now, it’s the two of you against the machine. This momentary alliance is powerful, and it can wash away all of the negative impulses you may be feeling.
Because, you can’t get angry at a inscrutable computer system that won’t behave. The only solution is to team up with that other human being on your phone call.
Then, you’ll have a fighting chance to resolve your problem.
Nice is the New Mean
Being civil as a customer is no different than how we should strive to act throughout life. But that’s easy to forget, especially during these pandemic years when patience can be even harder to maintain.
And if you can put aside your past frustrations with customer service, you’ll realize your perceived enemy can be your ally if you actively reach out to create that alliance with the other person.
Your most powerful weapon is simply showing your humanity.
And as we begin another year, remember that this truth applies far beyond customer service interactions.
Treat everyone well. See the big picture. We’re all in this together.
Make a friend.
Happy New Year.