Customer Service: What’s really going on at the other end of the line?

I’ll admit it:  during a particularly rough spell in my life, I was forced into a lifestyle my parents would be mortified to discover.  It’s not something a girl likes to admit but … I did it.  It was tough, especially at the beginning.  Walking in my door in the wee hours of the morning, all I wanted was a hot shower to try and wash away the slimy feeling my job left under my skin and every day I woke up to a new shift, I felt another layer of morality burn away.  Yes, I was a telephone Customer Service Representative for a Retail Electric Provider.

Oh, you start with the best of intentions.  You really do believe the hype: “Provide excellent customer service”, “Leave the customer smiling”, “Customer satisfaction is priority one”, and so on.  You make sure your station is gleaming, you diligently sanitize everything at the end of each shift, and you carefully center your child’s school photo right where your eye will rest on it as you comfort, console, and assist your customers (and you truly believe they are “yours”). And then, the day your probation ends, your supervisor, who’d been glowing with compliments over your work, pulls you aside to discuss your call handle average, which really should be no more than three minutes from start to finish by now.

A month later, you couldn’t care less if the customer’s hair caught fire while talking to you and you’ve turned your child’s picture to face the wall so the guilt doesn’t kill you.  You’ve taken to using a “professional” name in case somebody you know calls in and recognizes you and when people ask you what you do for a living, you merely reply “Oh, I do telephone work” and give them a broad wink.  Somehow, it feels less dirty.

One of the things customers are always told is to demand to speak to a supervisor.  Let me tell you why that actually doesn’t work much of the time:  the floor supervisors, in the corporate scheme of things, are little more than glorified reps themselves.  In most cases, they don’t have any more authority than the newest agent in the cube farm and, in a rather astonishing number of cases, if you call back to speak to that supervisor, you’ll be informed by the switchboard that there’s no such person.

We did it all the time:  put the client on hold for a couple of minutes and relax.  Have some coffee, now gone cold.  Check the mani-pedi for chips, maybe use an emery board on a few rough edges.  Just relax.  Then, when you hear the agent next to you is off the line, you whisper “Hey!  Wanna be my supervisor?”  Back to the phone with “Thank you for holding, I have my supervisor on the line.  One moment while I transfer you”, put the phone on hold, pass your headset to the next door neighbor and go put your feet up until the customer has hung up on the “supervisor” in disgust.  That’s assuming you’re not acting as your neighbor’s supervisor!

If you truly want to speak to someone in charge, don’t bother trying to go in through the telephone rep.  Their sphere of influence is severely limited and the main priority is getting you off the line ASAP before you kill their average and possibly get them fired.  Instead, hang up and call the main switchboard and ask to speak with someone by name or position.  Remember:  you are the customer and you are entitled to be treated with competence, with dignity, and with respect.