Customer Services – A dedication to those at the “front end”

The phone rings, rings and rings again. There’s a pause and the feeling of anticipation grows throughout your whole body – and then the sound of Bach’s “Orchestral 3rd Suite in D” reverberates through your ear and rebounds off the inside of your brain. Your head is currently empty of all thoughts other than the immediate issue you have  – “your internet is not working”,  “you have received an over-estimated gas bill of £10000” or the fact that your cold water tap only produces the sounds of a “babies fart” and not the customary clear “nectar of life” that it is supposed to deliver. Your temperature rises, your hands sweat and your heart pounds – “for “fucks sake” you shout down the phone – are you really expecting Beethoven to cease conducting his amassed musicians to answer your enquiry – I think not!

How many times of have our hopes and aspirations for a quality customer service been doomed from the outset–from the point that we actually attempted to raise our query.

“We are here 24hrs a-day to answer your call” – that’s if you can actually get someone to “answer your call”.

“I’m sorry we are experiencing an unprecedented high volume of calls currently, please try later” I like this one as it is normally as a result of you already trying to make contact and getting a similar message earlier. So you have set your alarm clock for 3am and got up to ring again. Obviously the same idea that 1000 other people chose to do at that very same point in time.

However my blog is not directed at those nameless Businesses who have no qualms in taking our money off of us on a regular basis and then provide a staggering appalling to service to us in return. I want to focus on the millions of people who are at the front end of our wrath – those actually working as “customer service” representatives.

Bad customer service is certainly “bad for Business” – any business. If your business has a monopoly it sometimes is not that easy to take direct action and go elsewhere. We need electricity for instance – so we have to go to an electricity supplier. Nobody is going to convince me that there is anyone of them that is reliably better than the other at customer service. We all have had good and bad experiences with many of them – and if you haven’t, consider yourself lucky.

Having worked in the Water Industry for many years I can assure you that 99% of the people who contact us either want something, or want to complain about something. The call that goes:

 “I thought I would contact you to thank you for my recent bill, it’s a very good deal and I hope you have a wonderful day”, doesn’t happen regularly, if at all.

I once took a call from a lady on a Sunday afternoon to complain that she had no ELECTRICITY. When I explained that she had contacted the Water Company she responded with “yes I know, but I can’t get an answer from the electricity company”. On another, a night shift, I received ten calls from the same lady who was convinced that the government was poisoning the whole country through the water supply, and what was “I” going to do about it!

On a regular basis we often find ourselves as individuals, either expecting someone to deliver a service to us, or actually having to provide a service to someone who has high expectations of us. Of course those two events are often computed separately in our brains. When we are expecting a service form an individual or a Company we apply a different set of criteria on the merits of those expectation to what we apply when the boot is on the other foot.  How often do we find ourselves trying to justify what we haven’t done with such responses as:

“Yes, I’m sorry but I will get to it shortly”

“I wasn’t in yesterday”

“I had to take the dog to the vet”

“Our engineer has gone sick”

For many, the applying of differing standards or expectations comes naturally, when it comes to the providing of a service.

It is frustrating for us all when the service we receive falls short of our expectations. The reality of course is that many organisations cannot provide the service we expect for financial reasons, for others it’s a choices of a different kind.

What aggrieves me more is the degree of criticism that is continually directed at those staff in customer service roles, many of whom are good hard working individuals, who often find themselves with little or no  support. I have been there when individuals have been reduced to tears by the abusive comments received via the end of a telephone. Calls made by people who have no concept of who they are directing their venom at. The worse kind of abuse is that which is directed as a result of gender

“I want to speak to a Manager”.

“But, you are talking to a manager sir”

“No- I want to speak to a man!”

It has been a privilege for me to work with some fantastic ladies in my career, at all levels. I have never believed for one moment that gender is relevant in the workplace – however competency is.

If companies want to provide a high level of customer service then they need to invest. I’m pretty pissed off with this general concept that we can “make efficiencies and improve customer service at the same time”. Especially when “make efficiencies = headcount reduction”.

So this blog is dedicated to the millions of people working in customer facing roles. In particular it’s a tribute to those staff who I have worked alongside over many years – all of us trying to meet the expectations demanded of us, and sometimes, just sometimes – managing to do that.

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