Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Here's to the Customer Service Reps

Last Thursday, I was invited to speak to customer service representatives at the Harlequin Distribution Centre in Depew, NY, at their annual customer service appreciation luncheon. It was a great privilege and honor for me. There are about forty men and women on the force who answer calls and emails from readers and deal with everything from book orders to complaints and compliments. This group of wonderful, dedicated workers—some of whom have served for more than ten years—are the face of the company, working on the front lines interacting with readers.

Having worked in retail for many years, I know it’s not always easy dealing with the public, which was why I was so happy to go and express my personal gratitude to these awesome folks. Being a proofreader by day and an author by night isolates me from the public, so I sometimes forget that people can be incredibly kind and incredibly cruel.

In my years public service, I’ve seen customers and patrons assault workers, verbally abuse them and generally treat them as less than human. Some people feel as if they deserve to be kowtowed to, as if the mantra “the customer is always right” actually means “I am better than you” and was written in the law somewhere.

Of course, I’ve received poor service, as well. I’ve been given dirty looks and I’ve been treated with less than respect in some establishments. The words “customer service” always seem to bring out the worst stories, as well as the best, especially when it comes to dealing with big companies. And opinions on customer service can do a full 180-degree turn with one experience.

Phones and email have separated us from dealing with people face-to-face, and the age of internet overshare has removed the filter that once kept us from saying things we’d regret. Customer service agents can’t give us everything, and their hands are tied by company policy. Some people take that personally, and that’s when the sparks fly. The customer says some poorly thought out things; the service rep is put in a bad mood, which can get passed on to the next customer... Poor behavior begets poor behavior, and in the end, no one is happy.

That’s why I’m dedicating this blog post to all the customer service representatives out there, whether you work in retail or on the phones or online. Your job is hard, and is often thankless. I salute you. Thank you for everything you do, and for dealing with the public so I don’t have to.

Do you have good customer service stories to share? Comment below!


Anonymous said...

I worked in Customer Service in a call center for a retail store. And over half the customers weren't nice, but we would have to curb our tone and make sure we stayed pleasant when in reality we wanted to talk them the same way. I now work with the billing inquiry - which in layman's terms Disputes. As in, I ordered something and didn't get it or someone used my card or I had work done on my car and the merchant did a crap job. We deal mainly with letters and customers can be just as mean with the written word.

Customer service is not for the faint-hearted.

Thanks for your thanks because I needed that today!


Pamela Hearon said...

What a thoughtful post. So often, we forget that's a living, breathing person at the other end of the line. Thanks for the reminder, and kudos to all those people out there who serve with a smile!

Anonymous said...

I am a Customer Service Rep for a Thread company. I have worked here for 18 years.

It is a challenging job, but I love it.

Thanks for the recogniton. It is nice to be appreciated.

Kristina Mathews said...

I hate to admit it, but I prefer to shop without someone bothering me. Overly friendly clerks make me uncomfortable. But I do try to be friendly to the cashiers. They work long hours on thier feet and probably get more complaints than necessary.

I was at the grocery store the other day and the woman in front of me complained that her ice cream was melting because the customer in front of her was taking too long. Then she proceeded to make the same complaint to the cashier who sent the courtesy clerk for a replacement ice cream- which held up the line. Then to top it all off, I ended up with the lady's carton of cottage cheese. I paid for it, but I can only imagine the woman went back to the store with a complaint. I don't know what I'm going to do with the cottage cheese, but I'm not going to go back to the store over an honest mistake.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely post, Vicki, and well-deserved by customer service heroes and heroines everywhere! :-) Customer service is definitely a challenging place to be. I'm often impressed by the baggers at our local grocery, who don't hesitate to chase after a customer who has left something behind. Thank you for helping us focus on the positive instead of the negative! :-)

Laura said...

I agree that Customer Service reps get a bad rap most of the time. It must be really hard to work somewhere where most of your job is dealing with problems and unhappy people. Thanks to all the patient people out there for putting up with the rest of us!

Snookie said...

good post Vickie. For the most part, I usually don't have any problems with customer service agents, but I have had some bad experiences. I try not to get upset with reps who seem to have a chip on their shoulder (you never know how their day/life is going), but when a rep continues to talk to me in a condescending manner/irate manner, my ire goes up and then the matter can get heated. At that point, I usually ask to speak to a supervisor because once the matter is heated, you probably won't get any resolution. I do know I would never want to have to work in a job where I had to deal with irate customers all the time and face it, most times you call a customer service rep it's because you have a problem that needs resolution. Hardly anyone calls to tell you great job, you took care of all my needs!

Beth Andrews said...

Vicki, I went to the Distribution Center last year and had such a great time meeting the customer service reps *g* I loved the tour of the facility, too.

Rogenna Brewer said...

I'm such an introvert I can't imagine a job that involves being on the phone and talking to people 8 hours a day.

Bravo to those who have it in them.

Karina Bliss said...

We just had our house exterior water-blasted. The guy did a portion of roof under a tree simply because he noticed it needed doing, at no extra charge. I made a point of emailing his boss with thanks figuring these rare individuals need encouragement.

Mary Preston said...

I do appreciate it when an individual or business treats me with a great deal of respect. Today I had two experiences at opposite ends of the spectrum. The first surpassed all expectations & the second was snippy & rude.

mary sullivan said...

Great post, Vicki!

I put myself through college working as a cashier in a large chain grocery store, and have had jobs since then in which I've had to deal with the public. It can be no picnic, that's for sure. The frontline workers take all the flak while the people who make unpopular decisions are isolated from repercussions in their offices.

Nice to see customer service reps getting recognition.

linda s said...

Great blog. I call Harlequin customer service at least once a month to deal with my account. The ladies I've spoken with have been unfailingly kind and helpful. A wonderful group of people work there. My appreciation of a job well done!

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