I wanted to bring you a few of the letters we get throughout the year from customer service representatives, managers, owners and everyday folks. They e-mail or write about what happened to them and ask for our advice. I figured it would make a fun column sort of like the Ann Landers of customer service.
As we all know, the day-to-day treatment of each other and our customers can make or break a business relationship. And since we don't get a whole lot of time to create that bond of friendship, we need to be aware of the little things that can permanently damage that relationship we try so hard to make.
I love my job and can pretty well handle most situations, yet every once in a while a customer will swear at me and frankly, I don't know how to handle that. Can you please share your Telephone Doctor Rx? It'll help me a lot, I know.
Dear Mrs. R.:
Good for you for loving what you do! That's the first battle. I'm not sure who said it, but there's an old saying, "Find something you love to do and you'll never work a day in your life." As for customers swearing at you, that's their "bad," as they say. There's no need to use that kind of language, especially when you're trying to get help from someone. How on earth could anyone think they'd get helpful, friendly information by swearing into the phone?
The first thing we need to tell you is, don't take it personally. You have become the lightening rod, not the target. Wear your mental suit of armor and let those verbal projectiles bounce off of you. At that point, you can calmly interject and use the following Telephone Doctor Swear Stopper:
"Excuse me sir, I can handle your problem. However, I am not able to handle your abusive language."
We're betting you'll hear, "Gee, I'm sorry ... it's just that I'm so doggone frustrated." Then you can go into your empathizing mode.
Here's a friendly warning: If you say, "Hey, stop swearing at me!" you'll really hit their swear button and they'll go after you again. There's no point in giving that type of instruction to someone who's already swearing at you. Use of the Telephone Doctor's Swear Stopper has helped many a customer service rep. Then and only then, if for some reason they are still in the abusive mode, you'll be entitled to escalate the call to your supervisor. If people only realized they'll get more with sugar than they do with vinegar, it might make it easier for everyone.
I have a question that I bet you'll have the answer to. While it's not terribly common, I get all flustered when it happens. What do I do with obscene phone calls?
The reason you're not getting as many obscene phone calls as you did several years ago is due to Caller ID. While Caller ID hasn't eliminated obscene phone calls altogether, it has certainly cut down on them. Telephone Doctor has several things you can do when you get an obscene call.
The first is to gently disconnect from the call. Do not enter into any conversation. Do not ask the caller to repeat what they said. If you hang up with a thud, you're giving the caller exactly what they want an emotional reaction. If you say nothing and gently hang up, they'll soon disappear.
Second, you can keep a whistle by the phone and use it when they start in on their obscene call. It will kill the caller's ear.
Third, and this is quite effective, approximately five seconds into the call, simply say, "Operator, this is the call." You'll hear them hang up faster than you said the sentence. It might be a mock trace, but they don't know that and will quickly disengage from the call (of course, if the situation is bad enough, you can actually get the calls traced).
You can also take the advice that someone shared with me a while back. She said, "I just read 'em the Bible and they never called back."
So, choose whichever approach you feel comfortable with and run with it.
Nancy Friedman is president of Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training in St. Louis, Mo. and was a featured speaker at the NAMB 2004 Annual Convention and Exposition in Salt Lake City. For more information, call (314) 291-1012 or visit www.telephonedoctor.com.