Time To Lie Down in a Dark Room…..


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You, dear reader, are like most people. You try your best, you do as much as you can, you are diligent and attentive. You are dedicated, professional and you take pride in your work. And then someone complains. Politely and courteously, but firmly. Your customer is not satisfied, and it has been made crystal clear that you are responsible. How do you respond? What do you really feel? In an ideal world, you’d be dispassionate and you’d welcome the opportunity to put things right, retain the customer and log some lessons in memory for future reference. Then you’d serve the next customer. Well, people aren’t like that.

People on the receiving end of complaints are people just like complainants, and they respond in an all too fallible and human way. Some become defensive because they view a complaint as an attack on their competence or credibility or value. They’ll resist and counter-argue, and try to explain what has happened and why. Others become aggressive. They’ll fight back and perhaps even blame the customer for the problem. In some circumstances, that may be factually true. It is a complete fallacy that customers are always right. Many a time I’ve heard the story about Nordstrom , the department store chain, accepting the return of an item from a product category that they don’t actually stock, in order to retain the customer. The customer was wrong, not right, right? She didn’t buy the item at Nordstrom. In my 30-odd years in customer service, I’ve heard of recipients of complaints being so upset at what they’ve been subjected to that they’ve turned and walked away, spat, thrown punches, and in one case pulled a knife on a customer. I’m not defending these actions but I strongly believe that customer service managers need to understand that their agents and others on the receiving end of complaints have a tough job and need support.

Some practical ideas include rotating customer contact staff out of front-line positions every couple of hours, having a chill-out space where overwrought CSA’s can listen to an Enya CD, or watch a tankful of tropical fish cruise serenely in their watery world, and making light of the tough calls in an end-of-shift debriefing session. A sort of self-help, complaints-counselling session. It’s got to be better than cutting-up complainants.

As for me, if I deliver a educational program and the feedback comes in at 4.8 on a 5-point scale, then my personality makes me dwell on the outliers who weren’t in the top two boxes. How dare they? Like my mother said, and probably yours too because they all do – you can’t please everybody all the time. She was right.


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