Ducks and customer service, it’s a unique Venn Diagram, but one that’s relevant

There’s nothing worse for me than running late for a meeting, especially if I’ve spent the time planning so that I’ll be early. But, my ever increasing reliance on public transport, particularly trains, means that I can sometimes find myself sitting on a platform waiting for a train to arrive late.

So, as I sat on the train a few weeks ago, idly scrolling through Twitter, I came across a Tweet from a train company (I know…the irony), stating, ‘Here’s a gentle reminder…Being aggressive, swearing at us or calling us “liars” is not appreciated. We’re only human and we’re doing our best…‘.

And it started to make me think about the colourful interior monologue that had been playing through my head about me being late and it being a train company’s fault.  

Now, I have to admit to limiting the number of things I complain about, because putting it simply, it feels like a Busman’s holiday when I do. So, when I have actually complained about something, I’m very polite but firm about the whole thing, despite the interior monologue going through my head being anything but. That’s not to say I’ve never lost my rag, but when that happens I try to keep it together enough to ask for a manager.

Why is that? Because I have worked in call centres and I’ve been on the receiving end of a lot of verbal abuse in my time. And let’s face it, regardless of whether you’re being paid to be there, no amount of money can compensate when a customer who doesn’t know you, screams or calls you the most unrepeatable names. Speaking from experience, it can leave you (or your staff) feeling utterly flat and as though you can’t do your job properly.

But this was over the telephone and since this time technology has moved on at a pace, which means that people can make complaints by email, Twitter or even Facebook. This is often a good thing, making for a quicker dialogue between the parties and quicker resolutions. But, on the flip-side it can also go pear-shaped, as the train company referenced above experienced.

We’ve all heard of Trolls, but often when it comes to complaints, it’s one human’s frustration at a mistake with massive implications, or a series of mistakes with ripple effects each time, that can lead them to boil over. And when they make contact with another human being, with technology, the human factor can be lost entirely.

For me technology, and I include phones in this, means that often the person giving the abuse doesn’t see the very human fall-out from what they’ve said. They get to off-load and then they feel better, but the human on the receiving end, is left carrying the shitty stick. I remember that feeling and it can stay with you for minutes, hours and sometimes days. But, if I’m honest, this duration was always down to the company I worked for.

Put simply, if the business doesn’t have the training to help the front line staff in these situations or at the very least a process to allow them to get rid of said stick, you’ll end up with a valuable member of staff feeling de-skilled and looking for employment elsewhere.

So, what can you do? No business will get it right 100% of the time. And as a business, you can’t expect to be the proverbial Teflon and avoid any and all complaints. That’s not realistic either, but failing to set procedures for this type of thing, or even to manage your staff member’s expectations in terms of the support they can expect, deskills them and makes them feel that they aren’t valued.

However, the thing that is very in your power to do, is support your staff, with the right training to provide coping skills, as well as technical knowledge. Provide them with the tools to ensure that they are resilient and able to bounce back from communications that could leave them reeling. Provide them with the space to vent about an experience they’ve had and provide meaningful support which includes a degree of autonomy for them to be able to choose when a communication is terminated. It also means giving them the choice to get away for 10 minutes after a tricky communication to clear their head, something I wasn’t always provided with the luxury of after being called all the four letter words you can imagine…and here I am still talking about it some 20 years later. That’s how long this stuff can stick with you. 

Because, day to day customer service and complaints handling isn’t always water off a duck’s back (There it is…).

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