Are You Guilty?

By Nancy Friedman, Telephone Doctor

What’s your definition of good customer service? What unprofessional behavior irritates you the most when you are interacting with another call center? Sometimes, customer service that is perceived as rude is not intentional. It is often the result of absent-mindedness or carelessness on behalf of an agent. Either way, bad customer service can translate into lost business and upset callers.

Based on our surveys, we’ve compiled the top customer service no-nos. They are listed below, along with our recommendations (in parentheses) on how to do it right. If your call center’s managers and agents are guilty of any of these, it’s time for some action. Otherwise, you may have an image problem that could sabotage your efforts.

  • Agents are having a bad day and their foul mood carries over in conversations with callers. (Everyone has bad days, but call center agents need to keep theirs to themselves.)
  • Agents hang up on angry callers. (Ironclad rule: Never hang up on anyone. When we hang up, we label ourselves as rude.)
  • Agents put callers on hold without asking them first, as a courtesy. (Ask callers politely if you can put them on hold; very few will complain or say “No!”)
  • Agents eat, drink, or chew gum while talking on the phone. (A telephone headset mouthpiece is like a microphone; noises can easily be picked up. Agents need to eat their meals away from the phone and save that stick of gum for break time.)
  • Agents refuse, or forget, to use the words “please,” “thank you,” or “you’re welcome.” (Please use these words generously, thank you.)
  • Agents hold side conversations with friends or each other while talking to callers. Or they make personal calls on cell phones. (Don’t do either of these.)
  • Agents seem incapable of offering more than one-word answers. (One-word answers come across as rude and uncaring.)
  • Agents use a lot of the words grounded in jargon that many callers don’t understand. (If you sell tech products, for example, don’t casually drop in abbreviations such as APIs, ISVs, SMTP or TCP/IP.)
  • Agents request that callers call back when the agents aren’t so busy. (Callers should never be told to call back. Request the caller’s number instead.)
  • Agents rush callers, forcing them off the phone or out the door at the earliest opportunity. (Rushing threatens callers; take your time.)
  • Agents obnoxiously bellow, “What’s this in reference to?” effectively humbling callers and belittling their requests. (Screening techniques can be used with a little more warmth and finesse. If a caller has mistakenly come your way, do your best to point him or her in the right direction.)
  • Agents freely admit to callers that they hate their jobs. (This simply makes the entire organization look bad. Don’t think such a moment of candor or lapse in judgment won’t get back to the boss.)

In defense of call center agents, callers can be rude too. Plus call center jobs can often be thankless, with little motivation or incentive to do the job right. Life for call center agents is not fair. Callers can be rude and get away with it; agents cannot – if they want to be successful and keep their jobs.

Nancy Friedman is president of Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training.

[From Connection Magazine June 2005]