When Your Customers Call And Are Already Mad, You Have A Problem.

I have a friend who’s worked in customer service positions for many years, and he speaks with a bit of authority. Same goes for beer drinking, and barbecue, but today we’ll stick to being the poor sap who gets the angry phone call – and his boss.

Thousands of times in his life he has been on the answering end of a call that starts out hostile. I know it isn’t his grating voice in every case, so it must be something else. He relates that he’s conducted a mental survey of all those angry calls over the years, and come up with a brilliant conclusion: they guy before him done ’em wrong.

Not every time, but often enough that a pattern has emerged. To be frank, it usually involves someone who has a technical problem that’s beyond the capability of the person who took the call. He’s in that boat often, but knows to reach out to his support engineers and wise coworkers who can help. When you get the really angry customer on the phone, they’ve probably been through the wringer with at least two other people. Sometimes more. Many more.

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Two things seem to be involved: a lack of ownership for that customer’s satisfaction, and a lack of self-respect. My friend agonizes over getting it right. He hates wasting the customer’s time even more than me. They’re paying him. He works for them. Etc. So when a colleague (and this includes several different employers/groups over the years) promises a call back, to look into a problem, or some resolution in the next hour, and doesn’t follow through, that’s where the angry call comes into play. It’s even worse when they (the coworker) hasn’t documented a thing that they’ve done. Now we get to drag the already unhappy customer through all the trouble-shooting steps again, and they don’t want to play. At this point my friend becomes a problem as well. Not him personally, but “the part of the machine wasting my time” kind of entity. Every thing you ask them is one more needle in the left eyeball.

It will decline even faster if you can’t spot the problem, or don’t have a resolution handy. Or even a clue as to what they’re talking about. Often, especially in extremely technical jobs, the customer just knows their stuff doesn’t work, and since you (the organization) can’t answer why, it must be your doing. Kind of hard to argue that point.

This is where the boss comes in: they need to monitor their subordinates work. The reality is ugly: if you don’t supervise some people they will sink your organization.

Good bosses will quickly spot the trend when they review records: when the same thing happens over and over, and the same cast of characters are involved, it’s time for some digging. Raised voices, angry faces, nasty comments, and spontaneous vacation days are indicators. Not fool-proof, as everyone has a bad day. But if Joe is forever talking about how stupid his customer was, and lecturing them on the phone, it might be time to watch Joe closely. Check his notes. Check his call times. Randomly contact the customer involved and see how Joe’s customer service was that day.

I try very hard not to light off on the next person to answer the phone. It doesn’t always work, but I try. I recognize that I may not be getting someone like my friend on the other end. Something about sugar and flies. But when I spot one of the bad ones, I usually end the call as quickly as I can reasonably escape and try again much later. Less likely that I’ll get them again.

In our world, that kind of service drives your customer to the competition. Enough of that, and you’re toast. You can ask United about that kind of thing. But they aren’t alone.

That’s it. Just my observations from talking to lots of people in customer service jobs. But as a boss, you should grab a couple of calls now and then and listen from the start. You might find something you hadn’t suspected.

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