Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dignity in Customer Service

I called a company's customer service line this evening in an attempt to find out when the item we ordered is likely to arrive. Their original delivery estimate on the purchase receipt was an eight-day window. Eight days! I can make some adjustments in my schedule to be home for a shipment, but... eight days?? That is much too broad.

The guy on the other end was patient and polite as he examined the details of the order and explained their shipping procedures. Unfortunately for me, their shipping procedures are quite unhelpful. That huge window is built into the system and they have apparently decided it is acceptable. Even when explained by a persistently personable customer service guy, the attitude portrayed by this company's system is that if I really want the item, I'll do whatever it takes to make sure I can be home whenever it is that they decide to show up with it.


I asked clarifying questions, trying to narrow down the possibilities at least a little bit, and the agent on the other end gave another lengthy explanation of the same information. He was still patient, still polite. Just not helpful.

I became more annoyed and actively fought the temptation to take it out on the customer service agent. After all, the company does not meet my expectations and he represents the company, right?

Thankfully, a brief article by Gordon MacDonald came to mind and, as I paused a moment to consider the situation, MacDonald's words helped me gain some perspective and respond more appropriately.

The issue I was having wasn't the fault of the customer service representative. He didn't create the system. He doesn't adjust the system. He's just the one stuck explaining the system. Over and over, to unhappy people, especially in a high-volume and extra-stressful shopping season. Ugh. I do not covet his job.

And I was impressed by how he conducted himself in it.

My issue was not with the customer service person, but with the customer service system, and I decided to acknowledge that. I summarized briefly that I'd called for more precise information about shipping and would end the call feeling frustrated by the situation. I told him it would be unfair to demand more information of him than the company's system provides and, at the same time, I wanted to express quite clearly that their system is inadequate.

My message was clear -- I am not upset with him personally, I am definitely dissatisfied with the company he represents, and there is nothing he can do to fix it.

That's why his response is all the more interesting. He seemed to relax as he spoke with new warmth. "Thank you," he said. "I wish I could give you more information, and I appreciate your understanding." He did not complain about the company, about me, or about other customers. He spoke with dignity. And he sounded genuinely grateful.

I find myself in all of this feeling a little more sad about a cultural trend of treating others poorly, even as objects, because I can't help but wonder how much of this guy's work time includes being berated for issues he cannot fix within the company.

It is sometimes reasonable to be dissatisfied, but that is not reason to be unkind.

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