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What Not To Do When Calling Customer Service

Updated on April 22, 2012

We’ve all experienced it.

The frustration of computerized voices, endless prompts and annoying hold music as we wait to speak with a customer service representative. The icing on the cake is being connected to a seemingly clueless person after enduring all of this. You get the feeling that you’re speaking with a brick wall as an emotionless person reads from some elementary script that does nothing to resolve your issue. It’s enough to make you reach your boiling point.

I’ve certainly been pushed to the limit when speaking with customer service representatives and I’ve been a customer service professional for the past 15 years. Poor training can make a problem call go from bad to worse. However, poor decisions on the part of the caller can also have the same results.

Below, I have listed four scenarios initiated by callers that have the ability to negatively impact a customer service call:

Calling When Irate

This, unarguably, is the major reason why call centers are last on the list of most job seekers. I often think back to a college professor who would say, “Those the gods destroyed were first made angry.” Most people are not clear and rational thinkers when angry. Trying to reason with someone in that state is almost impossible. Almost. I once received a call from a gentlemen whose first words to me after my greeting were, “You didn’t cause this, but it’s about to be your problem!” Then, without pausing, he began to berate my employer, insist the company was refusing to own up to its mistakes, and demanded everything resolved immediately. Given my customer service experience, I knew better than to interrupt an irate caller so I remained silent until the gentleman asked me what I was going to do resolve his issue. This, per the timer on my phone, came after ten minutes of a dismissive and profanity-laced rant. I apologized for his inconvenience but before I could say anything else, he yelled, “I don’t want apologies I want this resolved!”

“OK, sir,” I said, “but first I will need your name, account number and what the issue involves.”

In his anger, the caller never identified himself or the issue. When he realized this, he calmed down a bit and by the end of the call was laughing and cracking one-liners. I thank God for my years of experience and the ability turn the tide of the call. Many representatives, however, don’t have that experience to guide them. We know it is unnerving to open a statement only to see an issue you thought was resolved the month prior is still unresolved. Take a deep breath before picking up the phone. The representative receiving your call does not know your back-story. That person has no idea how angry you are when greeting you. He or she will have to read through several sets of notes (depending upon the number of times you have called) before gaining a full understanding of your issue. *Side note: For every call center and customer service orientated organization I have worked, profanity is the one line-crosser that an agent can use to disconnect a call. It’s rude and does not get your point across any better.

Calling Unprepared

I currently work in a call center environment (not exactly a call center) that assists sales representatives with account boarding. Sometimes, sales representatives will call to report a setup issue. When asked for the account number, many times the sales representative doesn’t know it. I have the ability to retrieve account information by the business name, but that task is made difficult when the business name is a common name shared by hundreds of businesses nationwide, like “Mom’s Diner” or “Main Street Motors”. Now, before I am able to assist, I have to surf through 40 records of “Main Street Motors’ to make sure I am looking at the correct account. To prevent a five minute call from turning into a fifteen minute call, make sure you have your account and all other pertinent information handy when speaking with a representative.

Calling the Wrong Department

Going back to the before mentioned endless prompts, listen carefully to them before making your selection. In today’s society, everyone’s time is valuable, yours and the person taking your call. If you select the wrong prompt and get connected to technical support when you really need an invoice re-sent, you will most probably be transferred to the correct area and experience another wait time as your call is placed in queue. This is not passing the buck. With the advent of identity theft and the concern for consumer privacy, many customer service representatives are giving access to information on a need to know basis. For example, my job function does not require accessing a customer’s information post account boarding, therefore I do not have access those systems. So I am unable to resend invoices, look up transactions for the past three months or make any changes to live accounts, yet everyday I am asked to do these things and everyday someone accuses me of passing the buck when I direct them to the area that can. Don’t be so quick to assume the customer service representative doesn’t want to assist you. He or she may be restricted from assisting you due corporate policy and corporate security.

Calling When Preoccupied with Other Tasks

I have received calls from individuals who were in meetings, driving, ordering from a drive-thru menu and even attending to such personal matters as bathroom breaks. Yes, I have heard toilets flushing in the background. Not only is this inconsiderate, it also prevents the caller from fully understanding the customer service representative’s explanation of an issue or next steps. Countless people have sworn I advised something that was never even discussed because they were having concurrent conversations and got my words confused with another’s. Despite arguments to the contrary, we really cannot do two things at once. At least not do them well. Wait until you have time concentrate on just the call.

A Two-Way Street

Not all customer service representatives are suited for the job. It takes patience, a willingness to learn the position, and an aptitude for dealing with the public. You may cross paths with a representative who passes the buck, has no clue of how to assist you and doesn’t even try. You can find workers like this in every level of an organization. These workers, however, are few and far between and are usually weeded out before they cause further damage to the company’s reputation. Most customer service representatives strive to deliver true service and take pride in their work. Try not to take out the frustrations of dealing with that one bad apple on every representative thereafter. While customer service representatives are paid to handle all that comes with taking public calls, they are human. Treat the phone call as if it were an in person conversation with someone you just met. One is not likely to begin a conversation by yelling and cursing the first time he or she meets someone. One is certainly unlikely to take a bathroom break with that person in the stall with them! While the bulk of responsibility falls on the customer service representative during a call, the caller bears some responsibility as well.


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    • cadebe profile image

      cadebe 5 years ago

      Thank you, MsDora, for the kind comments and for the votes.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for making it clear that the caller has some responsibility in creating the situation. In my hub, "How To Lessen The Frustration of Workplace Incompetence," I mentioned it, but you did a more thorough job. Voted useful and interesting.

    • cadebe profile image

      cadebe 5 years ago

      Your call center sounds awesome! That amount of time and care would certainly drive performance and keep talented people around for the long haul. Unfortunately, not all call centers are run that way, but should. That was another point I should have made in the hub. With some organizations, a rep isn't afforded formal training - just a week of listening in to another rep's calls. This isn't fair to the rep or the customer. Thankfully, I started out in an organization like yours that had a formal training program and I am able to incorporate that training in my current position. I would love to go back that organization but it was acquired by another corporation and the operations based in my city were suspended, no relocation offered. Sadly, I have watched those without formal training stumble because they were not equipped to handle that 20th irate call of the day or the impatient, disorganized caller.

    • charmike4 profile image

      Michael Kromwyk 5 years ago from Adelaide, South Australia

      Staff turnover rates can be managed - my centre runs at 15% per annum with most of the staff being promoted within the business. The next step is to ensure that spend the time, money and effort to find and train new staff effectively. In my business it takes 5 weeks to train a staff member before they go onto the phone!

      Whilst any interaction is two way, staff that are trained, coached and rewarded to provide expectional customer service will drive the performance of your brand and bring you success. Cheers Michael

    • cadebe profile image

      cadebe 5 years ago

      Hi Michael, I totally agree that this is achievable when rationality and understanding are present in both parties. Experienced reps are able to do this on most occasions. However, call centers are notorious for high turnover rates, so the likelihood of reaching a rep with that type of experience is low. This hub is not meant to chastise callers or take away the responsibility of a customer service rep to deliver star service. It's meant to point out that conversations involve two people and if one is not able provide input - either from being too irate, too disorganized or too preoccupied with other tasks - the conversation will go south quickly. This is true for the customer as well as the call center rep. Thanks for commenting!

    • charmike4 profile image

      Michael Kromwyk 5 years ago from Adelaide, South Australia

      The think we are missing here cadebe is that if we are truly serving the customer when working in a call centre means that we can help an unorganised customer, an irate customer or if they have called the wrong department. If we put ourselves into the customers shoes we can defuse the situation and give them an experience like no other. That way we develop competitive advantage. Cheers Michael

    • cadebe profile image

      cadebe 5 years ago

      You are absolutely right; you have to let an irate customer vent. Going toe to toe with an irate caller is the worst thing one can do in customer service. The call will go nowhere fast. Thanks for commenting, annaw.

    • annaw profile image

      annaw 5 years ago from North Texas

      I have worked as a customer service/complaint and technical support person in the past. I have learned over the years it is important to allow an irate customer to get all the frustration and yelling out of their system. Otherwise it will be virtually impossible to get the information you need to even begin to assist in resolving their issue e.g. name and account number.After they were done I would apologize for the troubles and inconvenience they have suffered and calmly state," I am going to do everything in my power to resolve your issue,and I need some key pieces of information to begin the process; may I please have your name and account number?" I thank them for those piece of information as they are given. I also did my best not to put them on hold. I would tell them,"okay Mr. or Mrs..... I have your account up on my screen and I ask that you bear with me while I review it." "I am not going to ask you to hold while I do this." I found that putting customers on hold did not create the best situation for me. This is a good hub and you are correct, in that how a call goes also depends on how the customer approaches it. The customer service representative is there to help, but there are times customer service reps are not as on point as they should be. They become complacent and lazy and fail to do what they are supposed to do in terms of correctly and accurately updating or correcting something on the customers contact sheet. I voted this up and useful