I think it’s fair to say that I have a great deal of experience in customer service. I’ve worked for Walgreens, where I did everything from receiving truck shipments, to running the photo lab, and I even did a stint in cosmetics (yes, cosmetics… I was actually pretty good considering I’m a guy). I’ve worked for GameStop, where I advanced from a Game Advisor to Store Manager over the course of three years. I worked for a department store called Stage, as both a cashier and a supervisor. I also spent a couple months working in a water park, which was probably one of the worst jobs I’ve ever had.
Now? Now I work for Chick-Fil-A, which despite my initial apprehensions concerning getting into fast food, is actually one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve had. Granted, I still want to do something more applicable to my Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science, but my supervisors have found ways to put my knowledge base to use at the very least.
It’s safe to say that I’ve had a ton of exposure to both the best and worst parts of customer service. The worst parts have become stories akin to the type you’d tell your coworkers or your significant other, where you could compare notes and rant a little about how little appreciation is afforded to you as an employee interfacing with the public.
That isn’t why I’m writing this however. I want to talk about what it’s like on the other end, when you’re the one with the problem and you’re trying to get it solved.
I’m a gamer, through and through. I make full use of my internet connection, and I knew that one of the things I would enjoy about living in a bigger city would be a faster connection, and I was right. Being able to download a full game in less than a day is awesome, and the ability to upload things at speeds faster than 500 kb/s is even better. The downside is that cable companies have some of the worst track records concerning customer service.
Last year, when Jennifer and I moved into our apartment here in Oklahoma City, I signed us up for Cox Cable’s internet service, but the speeds I was promised weren’t quite what I was paying for. So I called up tech support, where they ran the usual gamut of tests and suggestions, offering to reset my modem remotely and whatnot, in addition to asking me to unplug my setup for 30 seconds… I never told them I already tried that; I humored them. It was still no good.
So they sent a third-party technician out to check things out, and he told me the problem was my brand-new modem. I thought “Whatever, it was a cheap-ish modem. It might be defective” and I bought another, nicer one. The new modem arrives and I set it up… Same problem.
I called Cox again, only to be told that they’d have to send another technician out, and while I was glad to have the problem looked at again, I still couldn’t help but feel annoyed. A Cox technician arrived later that week and examined the problem, only to discover that the problem was never on my end; it was an issue further upstream with their equipment. “Cool” I thought. At least it’ll get taken care of now! They fixed the problem later that week and I haven’t had much of an issue since.
That is, until I got my bill in the mail and noticed my charges have increased. After poring over the bill, I discovered that they had added a Cox Protection Plan to my bill to the tune of an additional $6.99 a month. I remembered the tech support automated hold messages mentioning that they’d charge me a fee of $75.00 if the problem turned out to be my own equipment, but it never was, so I was a little confused.
I called the billing department, only to be told that the technician added the protection plan to ensure that I wouldn’t be charged the $75.00, but I thought that was odd since my hardware wasn’t the issue in the first place. So I told the representative that I wanted the charge removed, and while she initially asserted that I should keep the plan just in case, I reaffirmed that I never asked to have the charge added and requested they remove it and give me my money back. She informed me that there’s a penalty for canceling the plan early, so she credited my account for the three months required to bypass the penalty, after which the plan could be removed without issue.
Sweet, problem solved… Right?
Well, not exactly. After the credit had been applied to my account and the three months passed, the plan still hadn’t been removed. They had continued charging me $6.99 a month for a service I never asked for, and would never need. I’m a tech guy. I know when my stuff isn’t working right, and I know how to check to see if the problem is on my end or not. I don’t need insurance against a $75.00 stupidity tax.
I called the billing department again today, rather pissed off, to have the charge removed once and for all. I would’ve loved to have the satisfaction of laying into the representative until I got what I wanted, but a calmer, more sane voice in my head prevailed.
There’s a “made up” word (all words are made up anyway), originating from the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows which I came across when going on a Vsauce binge one day. In the Vsauce video, “The Science of Awkwardness”, Michael talks about The Fundamental Attribution Error, which refers to human-kind’s natural tendency to view our own lives as complex, while others are one-dimensional.
I’m just as guilty of this as anyone else, especially when driving. There’s an intersection near our apartment complex where I turn right onto our street when coming home from work. There’s one left-turn lane and three lanes going straight, but no dedicated right turn lane. That means that any time I pull up to the light and it’s red, I often am forced to wait instead of being able to just turn when it’s clear. I can’t describe how unreasonably (as Jennifer might say) irritated it makes me to be forced to sit there, only about a hundred yards from my home, because someone heading straight is blocking my path.
It’s in those moments that I forget that the person in front of me is just as complex of a human as I am. I’m sitting there stewing, cursing at the driver in front of me. That jackass should’ve just stayed in one of the other lanes so I could turn right. They exist in this world solely for the purpose of blocking people from turning right. Instead, I’m forced to wait until the light turns green and they wake up from the coma they’re in.
But that person is another person. I know that’s a weird thing to say. You’re another person, with thoughts and dreams just as meaningful as my own. I’m not just the words on this webpage, but an actual person too. I’m sitting here writing this post in between my shifts at work, with my dog sitting quietly on the couch next to me. She’s trying to pretend that she’s asleep, but I know the truth… She’s waiting until I look over to her as if it’s an invitation to lay across the keyboard of my laptop or on top of my mouse.
It’s in remembering the unofficial word “sonder” that I find myself calming down when dealing with others, especially when talking with customer service. Often times, whatever issue I’m having isn’t the fault of the person on the other end of the phone, or behind the counter. It’s just a confluence of events that led to whatever circumstance I’m experiencing. That extra charge being added to my bill wasn’t the billing department employee’s fault, which is why I treated both of them with respect despite being extremely irritated. My order being wrong at a restaurant is (hopefully) not the result of a vindictive employee; it very well could’ve just been an honest mistake. The police officer at the window isn’t there because he felt like being a jerk, but because I was speeding (don’t worry Jennifer, my last ticket was from before we got married).
As someone who has had years of experience behind the counter and on the other end of the phone, I only have one thing to ask of you. Try to remember that even when you’re forced to talk to someone about fixing a problem you’re having, that the person you’re talking to is just as important as you. You never know what sort of day they’re having. Sure, they might be having a relatively good day, with your outburst being a minor blip, but it’s also possible that they’re having a day as rough as yours, if not worse. I’m not saying that you should let them walk all over you, but at least give others the benefit of the doubt. It’s entirely likely that you’ll get what you want even if you’re courteous and kind. Hell, being assertive yet nice likely will ensure you’re going to get your way. Of course, you might still get your way by being an ass, but that won’t do anything for you besides making you into the antagonist in a story told by the person you’re targeting.
Don’t be that person. That just makes you the laughing stock, the horror story, that customer, the person met with groans as you enter.