Rules of Engagement, Part 2 – Customer Service Representatives

I have been in customer service in some capacity since I was about seven years old. I went around my neighbourhood with my little shovel offering to clear people’s walks and front stairs of snow. I sold saltwater taffy and mints to get myself to camp. Later, it was Girl Scout cookies and whatever thing my school wanted me to sell. I got into the wage slave world at about age 13, as part of a school work program, in a god-awful food establishment in the crappy downtown mall our city had. Basically, I’ve got almost 28 years of customer service under my belt. I was born with the kind of blessing and curse that means I’m really good at selling people things, I can talk almost anyone off of a ledge, and I provide excellent customer service. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have to work at it, however, and it also means that I have the handicap of being ragingly jaded and wildly misanthropic. In short, I can’t stand the general public. This can make it difficult to smile and play nice, and at the end of a shift, I will complain that my actual face hurts from smiling at people that I’d much rather poke rather sternly in an uncomfortable place. It also means, however, that when I’m out and about, I expect excellent customer service from everyone else. I provide it, and I feel that I deserve it in return. Granted, most people I’ll be getting service from won’t be getting service from me, but it’s a karma thing. What comes around, goes around.

In this light, I bring to you the Customer Service Representative (CSR) Commandments. There will be fewer of them than there are of the Customer Commandments, but that’s largely because a lot of it can be placed under a smaller amount of headings. That doesn’t mean that I don’t mean them any less, or that CSRs should be exempt from behaving well and using their brains. If I have to deal with people day in and day out, it’s in my best interest to make it a decent experience for those people, because if they all went away, I’d have no job. Same goes for you. Follow these commandments, and hopefully you’ll get to keep YOUR job.

Thou shalt leave thine cell phone in thy purse or back room.
Nobody wants to walk into a store and see an associate sending text messages rather than paying attention to customers. Sure, sometimes it gets boring on the sales floor. Sometimes you think you just can’t resist making one quick little call. Resist. Seriously. This is not your personal time. You’re being paid to do a job, and it makes you look bad not only to customers but to your co-workers as well. If you’re busy texting or making phone calls, you’re not doing your job, and then they have to pick up the slack. That, quite frankly, sucks. If there’s an emergency, and you just HAVE to read that text that just came in, you’d better put that phone away when a customer walks in. Like, NOW. They are your reason for having a job, the reason that your shop is open. They deserve your attention. Give it to them.

Thou shalt not pwn thy customer.
There are seasoned professionals, hardened veterans of the customer service world who know when and how they can be a smartass to a customer. There are those people who can, in fact, tell a customer when they’re being stupid without making it sound like a gross insult. You are most likely NOT that person. Therefore, you need to learn to rise above. You’re not having a dis fight with a friend, and you’re not going to show anyone how clever you are by making an ass of yourself. Even if the customer is being a dick, rise above. I’m not saying that you should endure abuse, nor should you kiss anyone’s ass. But you need to get over yourself if you think that any wiseass comeback you’re going to dish out is going to help the situation AT ALL. If somebody’s being difficult and you well and truly can’t help them, get your manager. Escalate the issue. Telling the customer where to get off isn’t your job. Smile nice and know that at the end of the day, you’ll have some great material to tell your friends when they ask you how your day was.

I once worked for a man who said, “You get one.” Meaning that the people on his staff got ONE customer per 2 month period that they could tell off. The message was to choose your battles wisely, because if you tried to put more than one customer in their place, you would be reprimanded or fired. Most places of employment don’t have this kind of generosity toward their employees, although it’s something I dream about on a nightly basis. Still, think on that lesson. If you can back up why you told off a person, and you think you can make it stick, then go for it. Because in the end, it’s your job that’s on the line. Choose your battles wisely.

Thou shalt fix it.
Something’s wrong with somebody’s product/food/service. They bring the complaint to you. FIX IT. Yes, an apology is great, but it is empty unless the problem is solved. We’re not talking about the morons who scream that you’re not letting them use an expired coupon, or the idiots who bought a Blu-Ray disc and lost their minds when it didn’t play in their regular DVD player. We’re talking, “I specifically asked for a fried egg on this cheeseburger and it’s not here.” We’re talking, “I plugged in this curling iron and it won’t heat up.” We’re talking, “Every time I call my voicemail, it starts talking to me in another language, possibly Tagalog.” Things that can be fixed. Apologize ONCE, and then get to making it right. Bring the burger back, plug in the curling iron, futz around with the voicemail. Sometimes, people really do have a legitimate complaint, and the faster you fix it, the happier they’ll be. If you offer nothing but an apology, they’re not going to be happy in the slightest, and then they’re going to make YOU miserable. Stop the madness! Fix the problem and move on. If it’s something that you can’t fix, bring it to somebody who CAN.

Thou shalt admit that thou dost not know every single thing in the world.
If a customer asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, it is perfectly okay to say, “I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I don’t have that information. Let me get somebody who can answer that for you!” It is infinitely better to admit that you don’t know than to give out the wrong information. You WILL get called on the wrong information sooner or later. People are generally a lot more understanding if you just fess up. Especially if you’re new, or you’re working in an area that’s different from your normal area.

That being said, Thou shalt know thy products and promotions.
If you’re selling things, it’s probably a good idea to know your products. Now, if you work the checkout line in a grocery store, I don’t expect you to know fifteen recipes for gefilte fish, but I DO expect you to be aware of the promotions going on in your store. Yes, it may be a bit much to ask you to memorize the flyer that goes out every week, but if you’re running a special right there at the checkstand, and there’s a giant sign there for ME to read, I expect YOU to know about it as well. If you’re working in any kind of retail shop, knowing what’s on sale and what the terms of that sale are is the least that can be expected. Sure, products change all the time, but be aware. Are you offering rain checks, or is it only good while supplies last? Is there a limit to how many of a thing a person can purchase of a certain sale-priced item? Are the things on the clearance rack 50% off of the MARKED price, or has the discount already been marked on the tag? Does the return policy differ for the sale items? KNOW YOUR PROMOTIONS AND YOUR PRODUCTS. As much as you possibly can. Knowledge IS power, Schoolhouse Rock was right on that one. The more information you can cram into your noggin, the happier you’ll be, because you’ll look astonishingly clever and professional to your customers. (It will also help protect you against scammers. If you know what something is usually priced, it’s very difficult for them to switch tags or try to dupe you into thinking that it’s a sale item.)

Thou shalt not antagonize a customer for the purpose of getting them to curse at you.
The rule generally is that once a customer swears at you or says something abusive, you’re free to walk away, ask them to leave the store, or disconnect the call (in the case of call centers). However, if a customer calls or comes in with a legitimate complaint and you just don’t feel like dealing with it, you don’t get to egg them on with your nasty or obstinate attitude for the sole purpose of getting that person so riled up that they lose their temper and finally curse at you. Your goal should be solving the person’s problem, NOT seeing how mad you can get them before you can merrily kick them out or hang up on them. If you employ this method, you’re just being a dick, and you probably shouldn’t be blessed with employment.

Thou shalt not steal another CSR’s sale/customer.
This is more for your co-workers than it is for the customers’ sake, but y’know what? It’s always obvious when you’re just cashing in on somebody else’s hard work. You WILL be found out, and even if you aren’t fired or written up for this kind of thing, your co-workers will do everything in their power to make sure that you don’t have a lot of opportunities to continue this behaviour. Go out and make your own damn sales, woo your own customers. If you think that the customer won’t notice that you’re just letting your co-workers do all the work, you’re dead wrong. It’s also obvious when you’re busy lurking around the big ticket items and don’t pay any attention to the customers who are looking at lower-priced things. Sometimes, those people will buy a LOT of lower-priced things, and nobody at all will fall for your pitch on the big ticket items. Then, when the store looks at who’s selling what, you come up as a big zero. Way to go, champ!

Thou shalt do thy job.
In the end, this is what it all comes down to. You’re being paid to be there. To deal with people. Your company may suck. Your job may be largely thankless. Your customers may smell bad. You are being paid to do a job. If you do it well enough, you will continue getting paid to do it, and you might even move up in the world, should that be your ambition. It’s not the customers’ fault if you’re having a bad day, or you forgot your morning douche, or you have really bad hemorrhoids that are acting up. Do what you need to do to get through your day, and don’t take your crap out on the customers. Do a great job, deliver some excellent service, and when you go to get your lunch, smile at the person behind the counter and say, “Thank you”. You know what kind of people they have to deal with, because you deal with them too. Good customers follow good CSRs. When you leave a place, they’ll try to find out where you went, so that they can give you money there, too. This is how hair stylists, caterers, and bartenders (just to name a few) make their livings, by having a following. Smile wide, play nice, and do everything you can to make the customers happy. Fix their problems, sell them what they want, and generally be a pleasant person to deal with. Do. Your. Job. Because if you can’t, there’s always somebody else out there who can.