Sometimes you get customer service agents who can really anticipate your needs. They are good at asking about your preferences, and seem to know what concerns people might have. Other customer service agents may barrel through, make assumptions, and then leave you in a situation where you are not happy at all.
In the second situation, it is really important to slow them down and make what you want really clear. It may feel uncomfortable, or even rude, but ultimately they are trying to help you and are doing what they believe you want. This is especially true with people newer to customer-facing roles.
Let me use my own bad decision-making as an example.
Dramatic re-enactment of my bartending days:
I worked at a martini bar. On weekdays, the bartender works the tables and the bar and usually we’re slow. This particular Tuesday, we were slammed.
I went to a table and a man ordered a Bombay Sapphire Martini. I searched high and low for Bombay Sapphire and realized we were completely out.
By this point, a lot of time had passed and I didn’t want to keep the table waiting. So I grabbed a regular Bombay martini, handed it to the man, and apologized profusely.
The man was irate. I left the situation confused. I couldn’t make us NOT be out of Bombay Sapphire. Why was he so angry? Did he just really want Bombay Sapphire so much, it ruined his night?
Later I realized–nope. No. The man wasn’t really irate because we had no Sapphire, even though that’s what he was yelling about. He was upset that I made a decision for him based on what I would want in the situation.
If I were waiting a while for a drink and they were out of it, I would want a substitute ASAP. This man did not work the same way I did. He might have wanted a different drink if Sapphire were unavailable. Or maybe a different brand of gin. I made a bad decision, and that was poor customer service.
But now I think about that when working with agents.
I recently was checking into a hotel after the standard check in time. My eyes were very sleepy looking because I had been up late the night before. And I was a bit more disheveled than I normally look.
The front desk woman was extremely apologetic and said, okay, there’s no suite open, but I’m moving you into a King Corner right now, so I’ll have you up in a room in one minute. And she was already typing away.
I interrupted and said, I would like to keep my suite if it is still possible to have one today. I used a suite upgrade for it and it was a lot of the reason I chose to stay here.
She froze and then said, but it might be a while, so you won’t have any time to get ready!
I asked if it were possible to have access to the spa or fitness area if they have a shower facility.
“Oh! Of course!” She hadn’t thought of that–probably because she wouldn’t have wanted to drag her bags down there and showered in a public-ish area herself.
I filled out a form for the Diamond Amenity, and she started writing “7:30pm” on it. I asked, Could I please have it sooner? And she said, oh, I want to make sure you have a room before it’s delivered! So I asked if I could wait to turn it in once I had a room. “Oh, sure!”
I don’t believe she was a bad front desk agent at all. In fact, the whole time, she was trying to help me. I could tell she was new for many other reasons, so her first instinct in each case was to help me the way she would want to be helped. And I appreciated that. Treating someone the way you would want to be treated is a natural instinct for treating people well (and in fact, there’s a relationship book on this that I think is great to think about in customer service settings.)
By telling her what I actually wanted and what my needs are, she was able to help me better–which she wanted to do.
I also saw this when I had a cancelled flight. The agent’s first assumption was that I’d still want a first class seat. When I told her I didn’t care if I were in the back of the plane and in the middle (which I ended up in), I just wanted to get there faster, she was able to help me better.
I think we’re afraid we shouldn’t say what we want
…and if someone offers us an option, that’s the one option we get. But as long as you are polite about it, I think it helps the agent out if you thank them for what they found but ask if there’s a way to get in sooner, or keep your suite, or find something in first class, or if you can get a gimlet if there’s no Bombay Sapphire left–and you’ll empower them to be able to give you what you actually want.
Now I think of this as “The Martini Rule“. Make sure you know what someone is really asking for. And when you are the one asking, make sure you make your preferences clear!
Oddly, reading How to Win Friends and Influence People also made me better at customer service. The name of the book is terrible, but it taught me that when someone asks questions, they usually have an unspoken need that you need to figure out. So I’ve kept this in mind, and now I feel it helps me in personnel management.
What are some things you’ve realized in dealing with Customer Service Agents?
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