by Conor Friedersdorf

A reader writes:

Call center reps are among the lowest paid workers in the service sector, and have one of the hardest jobs. We spend most of our days solving problems and fielding complaints, soothing angry customers and explaining incomprehensible company policies. We are tethered to desks by telephone headsets, staring at computers for 8-10 hours at a stretch, in airless and windowless cubicles. Not only must we have encyclopedic  knowledge of our services and products, we must also be able to articulate clearly and empathetically with our customers. We must never lose our temper, sound uninterested or uncaring, and be willing to listen to tirades and invective without responding in kind.

The most offensive customers are the ones who assume that CS reps are uneducated, have landed in their jobs because they have no other choice, and simply cannot provide help without an aggressive approach by the customer. The great majority of my co-workers in both of my jobs are college-educated, experienced in a lot of different life situations (including world travel, and a great variety of past jobs and professions) and are CS reps because they respect the companies they work for and believe in the product and services they sell and represent. Most of them have chosen to work as reps, often because of the flexibility (as I do, for seasonal work that allows me a lot of time off to travel). We relish our ability to solve problems and help people.

Below the fold is an actual letter I wrote to the customer service people at Verizon Wireless.

Dear Customer Care Associate,

Once upon a summer job I answered phones at Mazda Motors of America, manning the 1-800 number Mazda owners call when their vehicles break down. "Zoom zoom," I often said as I began a new call. My supervisor never told me to say that. But my general duties seemed sufficiently degrading that piling on by caricaturing my job became as enjoyable a way to pass the time as any.

Like you, I frequently talked to customers ready "to tear me a new one," as we say in the business.

"Zoom zoom!" I'd greet them, my voice cheerful.

"My Miata broke down for the third time today!" the customer might growl. Then he'd await my reply.

"Yelling at me makes some Mazda owners feel better," I'd say. "Go ahead, sir."

I called it the preemptive theory of customer service. Often it checked their tirade. Perhaps you can employ it?

I hope by now we've established the rapport I felt during my Mazda days for a few favorite customers. They appreciated my predicament so fully that it almost seemed as though they too were staring at the pale gray walls of my cubicle, listening to a co-worker across the divide clear the phlegm from his throat. And what a bond we formed! They alone knew the extent of my powermy ability to authorize hundreds of dollars in subsidized repairs, to send them leather driving gloves or deluxe floor mats, to provide free oil changes to last several years, all in an authorized bid to retain their brand loyalty.

Are you imbued with similar powers?

If so consider my plight. I'm a loyal Verizon Wireless customer. I've given your employer the best years of my mobile phone using life. Yet I'm off to Europe in a few days, two months remaining on my two year service contract. Surely we could find a way to overlook this unfortunate circumstance? After all, when I return from Europe I'll be signing up for a wireless plan again. How I'd love to re-sign with my first wireless company (one whose Customer Service managers I'll have written to compliment the young prodigy who kept my business by waving a couple months of troublesome fees).


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