The customer is always right.   For so long we’ve been taught as a product-buying, consumerist public that this idea is true that we’ve created a culture of petulant, narcissistic people that treat others with a level of nastiness that I have never experienced.  And believe me, I’ve seen a lot over the past 20 years that I have worked in customer service in varying capacities.

We need to get this notion out of our heads immediately!

Take, for example, a recent interaction I observed.  The angry customer calls in demanding, DEMANDING to speak with management because his carpet installer had the gall to have his truck break down and need service.  As a result, the installer told Mr. Customer he may have to reschedule based on when his truck would be repaired.

Never mind that the guy’s scheduled date wasn’t for another 3-4 days, his time was so much more valuable than everyone else’s that he needed to know RIGHT NOW if the installer would be able to make it on time.  I know what you’re thinking. . . .”Okay, no big deal, I’ll just call the guy and see what I can find out.”  Except that Mr. Customer was calling about this at 7 p.m. and he needed answers.  Still though. . . .why not give it a shot?  The manager tried to offer to do that but the customer was on such an angry rant that he wouldn’t stop talking long enough to even hear the offer.  It went on like this for 20 minutes while the manager coolly and calmly tried to diffuse the situation.  When the manager eventually did get to speak the frustration was evident in his voice.  But he finally got the customer to agree to allow him to attempt to call the installer on another line.  And, of course, he got voicemail. When he came back and told the customer that the business was closed for the night, there was another eruption.   I’ll give the guy this much. . .there was no swearing or anything.  He at least did everyone that service.

“How can he be closed when I need answers.”

Um. . .because he has a family just like everyone else and he wants to spend some time with them.  It’s called a work/life balance.  Not that many of us would understand what that concept is all about.

Look, I know what you’re thinking.  Well, guess what. . .yeah, I do.  Remember, I’m a consumer too and I get frustrated just like everyone else.  I’ve had to make the calls about my cell phone.  Or my cable tv.  Or my carpet installation.  Or my <insert product or service here>.  I know it can be irritating to sit around the house all day waiting on someone to arrive only to find out they won’t make it.  But that doesn’t give me the right to berate anyone who had absolutely nothing to do with the actual failure itself.  No need to shoot the messenger.

As I mentioned above, I’ve been in customer service in varying forms for 20 years.  The vast majority of that in contact centers both large and small.  I’ve been on that front line and I’ve taken those calls.  I’ve supervised and stood shoulder to shoulder with the phone rep and coached her through those calls.  And I’ve worked in management when those really escalated people don’t like what the messenger is sending and guess where those calls land.  Right in my lap.  I get the maddest of the mad.

We teach our representatives every day that “it isn’t YOU they are mad at, it’s <name of company>.  These representatives have some of the absolute mentally challenging jobs in the world.  And, sadly, they are generally some of the lowest paid people in large organizations.  And they get verbally abused by several people a day in normal 8 hour shift.  That’s why the attrition rate is so high.

Are there some people in this role who just don’t care?  Punching the clock and getting a paycheck?  Absolutely.  But most of them care greatly about providing you a good service and giving you what you need.  They want to do a good job.  They want to make your lives easier.  The stress is high but it isn’t like they are 911 operators (I know someone who used to be) or air traffic controllers.  That’s some serious stress!  I can’t imagine holding someone’s life in my hands.

But then again, neither is your carpet installation, or your cell phone bill or etc.  These are first world problems people.  They aren’t life and death.  Customer service is not easy.  If you think it is, I’d invite you to come and hang in their shoes for a week. . . .or a day or two.

I know you think your problem is earth shaking but, believe me, I’ve already handled 8 of them today.  So be nice.