CUSTOMER SERVICE: When A Customer Says You’re an Imbecile, It’s Not About You

Pardon us for the use of the word imbecile but we’ve been reading this word in the news a lot recently following an online post that led to a controversial and rather public spat. This situation simply reminds us of customer service people who quite possibly hear similar derogatory remarks on a regular basis.
To better enlighten us on this situation, we asked both sides for their perspectives. On the part of the customer, what he/she truly means when such words are said. For the customer service person, how he/she feels and what he/she hoped the customer could have said.

Customer says: “I’ve been waiting on the phone on hold for more than 20 minutes and you are about to put me on hold again? What kind of idiotic service do you people have? And you dare call yourselves a service company? It’s not just your service that’s idiotic, you are all idiots!” What the customer means or wants to say but is unable to say: “I am feeling very frustrated right now. My time and money is important to me. I am paying to provide a service with which I am not satisfied. Can you help me?”

Customer Service Officer says: “I’m sorry that you feel that way sir. May I put on hold while I refer your matter to the right people.” As he places the phone on hold, he begins to mutter to himself (privately): “You want idiot? I’ll give you idiot! I hope all that anger gives you a heart attack! Oh, if only I didn’t need the money from this job, I’m going to tell you what I really think of you… idiot! I will keep you on hold longer while I contain my own frustrations with you.” Service Personnel means or wants to say but is unable to say: “I can sense your frustration over the service that you are not getting, sir. I can also see that your time and your well-earned money is important to you and that you want to spend them wisely. Whether you believe it or not, I am here to help you. Now, I will no longer put you on hold and I am ready to listen to you. Exactly what is your concern?”

Here is an explanation of what had happened and what could have happened from our third-party neutral Mr. Dan Caballes: When we are in a conflict situation we are often unable to say things we want to say and say things we often regret later. In this case, a conflict was experienced by the customer when the service provided was inadequate or unsatisfactory. Being unable to express his frustration over the service to anyone, the customer found the representative to be the best target of his frustration, which started the interpersonal conflict.

Take note that no direct feelings were expressed in the customer’s initial statement. We are seldom able to acknowledge our feelings of frustration or sadness directly and instead lash out and make sweeping and hurtful judgments to those we find able to receive our venting, even if they are not ready to receive it or even if they have not expressed a willingness to receive it.

On the part of the customer service officer, he experienced hurt from the customer’s statements but repressed his own frustration over fear of losing control and losing his job. This repression can be unhealthy, especially if repeated over a period of time.

Take note of the statements that both the customer and the representative wanted to say but were unable to say. These are types of statements we have not been trained to use. We call these FEELINGS-NEEDS Statements. We are not trained to use these because we are hardly ever trained to express our feelings and even less know how to express our needs.

Both feelings and needs point to what is going on inside of us. Feelings are spontaneous reactions to what is going on outside of us, but they nevertheless point to something going on inside. It is often easier to lash out with anger and frustration rather than to acknowledge a pain going on inside. Needs are closely related to our feelings: negative feelings point to needs that are not being addressed, while positive feelings point to needs that are being addressed.

By training ourselves to acknowledge feelings and needs, we can learn to be more responsive in our conversations, whether these are customer-related or not.
(An interview with Dan Caballes by Mia Theresa Q. Corpus)

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