Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
August 20, 200911:05 PM

On Being Rude

Customer service calls will always escalate when the individual who is representing the brand attempts to either control the conversation or treat the person complaining as if they are stupid. It's a huge Marketing faux-pas. It happens way more than it should.

A personal story: the other day I lost it on the phone when speaking to the customer service center representative of a very large brand. It's not in my character to lose it. It's a brand I have a strong affinity for, and a brand I am very loyal to. So much so, that the outcome of that call (which was not in my favour or to my satisfaction) will not stop me from choosing this brand over their competitors. The fact is that in my frustration I hung up on one of the supervisors. Upon calling back I was informed that there was now a note in my profile (it's like an episode of Seinfeld). And while I did not raise my voice or lose control, my perceived spleen-venting plea and hanging up was not taken lightly. Between us, anyone who has heard the full story (including senior executives at this company) not only agreed that I got the short-end of the wishbone, but have tried to intervene. The outcome, the brand and the guts of the story aren't as relevant and what pushed me over the edge.

It wasn't the commercial injustice, it was the passive-aggressive tone of voice of the supervisor. Like a kindergarten teacher scolding a child for not knowing an answer in the classroom. The sad part is, this is how the majority of these reps are trained and - as Marketers - we're doing a huge disservice to our industry and the customers we serve if we keep this up. 

We need to be able to acknowledge and separate who our elite customers are from the ones that are clueless, and we can't treat them both the same way. It's not fair. Let's use a consumer electronics company as an example: you buy a brand new 42-inch plasma TV, you haul it home, unpack it, plug it in... and nothing. You try a couple of obvious things (make sure the plugs are secure, that there are batteries in the remote, that you did not blow a fuse, etc...). You then call customer service. During the introduction, you inform the rep that you are experienced with consumer electronics and have installed many similar TVs before. At this point, the rep asks you if the TV is plugged into the wall. You try to maintain your composure and remind the rep that you have checked everything obvious before calling. The rep them asks if the plug is properly placed in the back of the TV. You know where this conversation is going. As the rep either continues down the line of basic questioning, or begins talking to you like you are a child when you get frustrated by the line of questioning, that is the exact moment when consumers get rude, aggressive, yell, scream and push.

It's when we are informed consumers, but being treated like we have never purchased anything like this before and know nothing about it. Nobody likes being spoken to like they're stupid... unless they are stupid (those people, however, will never get upset). 

In our ever-speeding race to lower the cost of our call centres (and we're not just talking about outsourcing here), we are quickly arriving at a very dangerous destination where our most important consumers (or the ones who have the potential to become lifetime customers) are being tossed aside because brands will focus on a "one rule fits all" model that is distilled through painfully weak customer service rep scripts and rules of engagement that leave the more sophisticated consumers either biting their tongues, Blogging about these indiscretions, or simply loosing it on the phone (like I did).

On the other hand, many customer service reps spend their days dealing with irate customers and are constantly dealing with rude people. What they fail to understand, believe or grasp is that most people do not start off rude. They become rude because they're being spoken down to. They would know this if they were trying to create real interactions between real human beings, instead of just following protocol or reading a script.

It's something that Marketers need to think about and act on.

Don't you feel like listening in on some of your customer service calls right now?

Here's a tip: assume the customer is right, being polite and wants a simple resolution (most people are not trying to take advantage of a situation). How well are your reps able to keep the customers feeling like they are getting some kind of resolution throughout the entire call?

By Mitch Joel