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Got Skills?!

Updated on April 27, 2014

When asked as kids what we want to be when we grow up, most of us proclaim to want a career where we can help people. This usually means glamorous yet conventional careers like being a doctor, a nurse, a police officer or maybe a firefighter. I've known a few brave souls who at a young age had visions of patriotism and wanted to join the military and fight for their country. These are all very virtuous careers; Careers that require specialized skills only obtained through education and training.

Some people may not find a career as a Customer Service Representative desirable. This field is usually not associated with being glamorous or even virtuous. Some people don't even see it as a career that requires much training or requiring any particular skill set. They just wake up one morning needing a job; they look on a job search site or through the classifieds and begin the arduous task of searching for that satisfying and rewarding career! They cross off, accountant, brain surgeon, computer programmer and then they come across the Customer Service Representative section and say to themselves, "Hmmm, here's a job that requires basic skills and the company will even train me! I'm bright and I catch on fast, I'm going to apply for this job!" But they don't take into consideration the 'people skills' required to be a CSR. In addition to being professional and having clear communication skills, we must be patient, understanding, be good listeners, be able to empathize with our contacts; In short, we must possess the 'natural' skill set of being 'nice'. This is that 'thing' that sets us apart. That “thing” that can a turn a bad encounter into great one. That “thing” that makes us qualified to be a CSR in the first place. This “thing” cannot be taught in any training class. When a person calls a toll free number or comes to the Customer Service window, they have a reasonable expecation that they will be greeted by a knowledgeable and nice person.

As a call center manager for 14 years, I've interviewed hundreds of potential CSRs. Some of them have had absolutely no call center experience while others are what I refer to as "floaters"- These are CSRs who float from call center to call center. They are experienced CSRs that are so dedicated to providing their contacts with the right answers that they become jaded in that they forget to be nice. They have the 'right answer/wrong attitude syndrome'. I've had to douse quite a few 'fires' because of this! This is why at times; I've opted to hire the inexperienced applicant over the floater” simply because they were nice. One of my mottos is "I can train you for what you need to know to work in our call center, but I can't teach you to be nice. That you should have learned at home!"

Being nice sounds so simple and so easy, but for a lot of people, it isn't. They don't grasp the concept of saying and meaning- "Please". "Thank You". “I understand” or “I'm sorry”. I've actually had CSRs say to me that they didn't think it was necessary to apologize since it wasn't their fault in the first place. (Sigh!) Or they’ve never had a similar experience to their caller so they can’t relate to them! I remember once monitoring a CSR who received a call from an obviously distraught caller. The woman told the CSR that she had just lost her husband in a car accident and couldn’t be bothered with paying bills right now. Not missing a beat, the CSR said to her caller, “May I have your account number”? I almost fell out of my chair! Needless to say the woman became hysterical! I signaled for the CSR to transfer the call to me. I’m not sure whether she was ignoring me or just didn’t get my message so when she didn't comply, I scrambled to get up from my desk, knocking things over including my chair. I ran across the floor in one 4-inch heel. It was not a pretty site! I remember the bewildered looks on the other CSRs faces as I sprinted through the call center ‘whisper yelling’ “Put the call on hold! Put the call on hold”! I was able to deescalate the call and afterwards, I asked the CSR had she heard what the woman said about losing her husband. She replied, “Yes.” I said then why didn’t you acknowledge what she said by offering your condolences”? She replied, “Why? That didn’t have anything to do with her not paying her bill!” Now here was a person who was articulate and before that experience, considered to be personable! I tried coaching her on the call and she couldn't see where she had done anything wrong. That was her last day in the call center. She was immediately transferred to a department that her skills were more suited for! A department where she didn't need to have any customer contact!

Cheryl Renee


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