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How To Make a Positive Impression at the New Job - Customer Service is Key

Updated on April 20, 2012

Dear Veronica,

I lost my job of 20 years last year. After a year of trying to find another job like it I have recently accepted a customer service position. I need help.

The job I had involved a specialized skill. Without getting into the details, it involved mostly working independently. I was successful with it and did well for myself. But now I’m in my late 40’s and I’m in a customer service position. This job involves a great deal of contact with customers, plus a lot of working with other employees, supervisors, sales people and others. I’m not used to this at all and find myself constantly lost and struggling. The job itself isn’t hard, it’s a lot of information and processes to learn. It takes a lot of training and practice and time. The really hard part is learning how to deal with people without looking like an idiot all the time.

Everyone at this job is significantly younger than I am, and aware of my prior career. I don’t know if it’s that they assume I must know more than I do about basic customer service and corporate ladder -slash- office decorum. Or perhaps they are trying to show me respect by not constantly looking over my shoulder. But I feel like I’m left floundering. If they’ve all assumed I must know what I’m doing in an office then I don’t want to break it to them that I’m even less experienced than they think. If they’re being respectful to me because of my career and my age, I don’t want to ruin that by telling them I need my hand held more.

I have to make this job work. I can’t be unemployed. It is a nice company to work for. Everyone has been nice to me. But between my not knowing what I’m doing yet and not knowing how to deal in general with people in business, I’m afraid I’m going to fail at this. I’m seeing the frustration in people’s faces even though they’re being polite and kind. I know I’ve made many customers upset because I didn’t know what I was doing.

Is there any advice you can give me in general? I know this is vague but if you have any ideas I’d really like to hear them. I am leaving this for you in a comment on this office advice article because I don’t know how to reach you a different way. I know you get a lot of questions on this site and that you can’t answer them all, so thanks for your time.


Dear Jerry,

Congratulations on finding a job. I admire your work ethic and determination to succeed in this new venture.

Yes, I do have advice for you. In all your current and future business relationships, whether you’re dealing with a client, a customer, a coworker, a boss, or an employee, mind this simple rule:

  • Never say, "I don't know."

The No-No of "I Don't Know"

When a customer hears “Um, I don’t know,” it tells them many things. It tells them your company doesn’t train staff properly. It tells them not to have confidence in the company. It tells them they aren’t finding the assistance they need, that they’re wasting their time, that you don’t know what you’re doing.

When a workmate asks you a question and your response is, “I don’t know,” it tells them they have more work to do because you don’t pull your weight. It says you aren’t a team player. It tells them that you have let customers down. If they’ve already instructed you on the subject it tells them they wasted their time.

It tells a boss that you don’t take initiative, that they can’t rely on you, that you aren’t a go-to person. That you’re a liability not an asset.

“I don’t know.” It creates a feeling of disillusionment. It creates an environment of unsatisfactory communication. It makes the person you’re speaking with feel bad, and it makes you feel bad about yourself. Nothing good comes out of that.

Think about how you would react as the customer.

How would you feel if you were the client receiving responses like these 5 examples from a customer service representative:

1 - Customer: “How do I go about filing a claim?"

CSR: “I don’t know.”

2 - Customer: “I’m calling to check the status of my return. Did you get it yet?”

CSR: “I don’t know. Um, hang on.”

3 - Customer: “What happens if I’m not happy with this purchase in a few months?”

CSR: “Umm, I’m not sure. I think you have to speak to my boss.”

4 - Customer: “How late is my local service station open?”

CSR: “Oh, I don’t know. I think you have to call them. I don’t even know which service station is closest to you.”

5 - Customer: “I’ve been charged twice for this purchase. What are you going to do to correct this?”

CSR: “Oh, I don’t handle that. I don’t know anything about billing.”

Those non-answers make you as the customer feel frustrated. They make you lose confidence in the ability of this company to assist you. They make you feel like you have to get angry to get satisfaction.

Confidence vs Confusion

Now think about how you’d feel to have heard these 5 responses instead:

1 - Customer: “How do I go about filing a claim?”

CSR: “I know exactly where to go to get that information for you. Would you prefer to hold or would you like for me to call you back in a few minutes?"

2 - Customer: “I’m calling to check the status of my return. Did you get it yet?”

CSR: “I’m happy to help you with this. My name is Nick. May I put you on hold while I gather some information for you?”

3 - Customer: “What happens if I’m not happy with this purchase in a few months?”

CSR: “Let me invite my supervisor to join us in this conversation. I want to make sure your concerns are addressed clearly and I need to verify some of it before presenting it to you.”

4 - Customer: “How late is my local service station open?”

CSR: “Excellent question. Let’s find out together. First let’s determine which station is the best one for you to be using.”

5 - Customer: “I’ve been charged twice for this purchase. What are you going to do to correct this?”

CSR: “Well the first thing I’m going to do is apologize to you for this inconvenience. On behalf of the company I’m so sorry there’s been some confusion with your order. But the good news is I’m sure we can get this rectified for you.“

It makes all the difference.

Technically, the information was the same.

In each of the two sets of examples the customer service representative “didn’t know” the specific answer. But in the first examples the customer service representative sounded vapid and helpless. In the second set, the CSR sounded professional.

Obviously you should never make up an answer. You should never say you know something you don’t.

But you can always say something that reflects your professionalism and lets the client know you’re the right person for the job.

Try the same approach when you go to a coworker or a boss for help. Which would you rather hear from the new guy at work? Which employee sounds like they're going to work out just fine? -

“Hey. Sorry to bother you. I don’t know how to help the guy on the phone. What should I do? Can you take this call?”


“Excuse me Carl. I’m speaking with Mrs. Someone. She leased one of our Blah-blahs and has a repair question. Here’s a copy of the invoice. Would you please sit it on this conversation and teach me how to find what she needs?”

Try not to apologize so much. Subconsciously it tells your boss or coworker that you have something to apologize for. It tells them they should feel inconvenienced by you. That’s not good.

Offer some sort of a solution that will help you get the answer. Even if they respond with a completely different approach it still let them know you were thinking and trying.

Don’t ask someone else to do your work for you. Instead request that they instruct you so that you can do it.

Be as prepared as you can be when you do request guidance or instruction. Have at least some information. Even if you just take a minute to pull the customer’s profile up in the computer before going to your boss for help, it will show that you have initiative. That way you have at least something to offer.

For example if your boss says, “Oh it’s Mrs. Someone on the phone? Do you know who she is?” You can at least say, “Well I know she’s been a client here since 1980, and she’s calling from California and that she has some invoices past due.” That will come across infinitely better than, “No, I don’t know who she is. No one’s told me about her yet.”

That’s my advice, Nick. It’s not what you know, it’s how you make people feel. It’s not what you say it’s how you say it. You’re a mature successful professional. Choose words that reflect a positive attitude, that invite people to have confidence in you. It makes all the difference.


Submit a Comment

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    6 years ago

    This hub was very interesting. I liked the Question and Answer format. You were very supportive and gave great advice!


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