Thursday, April 3, 2014

Honey or Vinegar: The Customer Service Conundrum

According to the old cliché, you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.  What does that even mean??  It means that people who are nice will get better results than someone who is mean or rude, even if that niceness is fake or manipulative.  But is that true?  As someone who has not only had an overabundance of recent experience as the wronged customer, I have also been on the inside.  I have worked in retail and in the *dreaded call center*.  It's tricky to draw a conclusion about which gets better results so let's look at both tactics and the results they be the judge.

Like I mentioned, I have worked in customer service, both face to face and over the phone.  I worked as a cashier for Target and Kohl's Department Store when I was younger, providing me with an excellent view of humanity, up close and personal (particularly during the holiday season, Merry Christmas and fuck you very much).  Later on, I worked in a call center for a small insurance company which gifted me the opportunity to behold the power of the independent insurance agent, and the ego that sometimes goes with it.  I have also been the consumer in both environments and I'm still not sure which the more precarious position is.  I have had angry customers call me names and scream at me that "the sign on the shelf said it was on sale," or that they "don't give a shit what the computer says, they know they signed that form."  I have also had a customer demand to speak with a supervisor and after verbally berating me and damning the company I work for as a vehicle of Satan, I transfer them to one of my co-workers (yes, a lowly cubicle dwelling customer service rep like myself and NOT an actual supervisor of anything) and the customer is magically transformed back to a mild-mannered inquisitive human with real feelings.  I had a co-worker once that placed callers on a "penalty hold" when they would get uppity.  She said that if the hold didn't give them time to calm down, at least it made her feel better.  I was glad I sat across from her; her bitter comic relief always made it a little easier to brush off those nightmare callers.

As an example of being on the consumer end of customer service, after receiving a new phone number when I moved, I began receiving an abundance of wrong number calls.  The callers were looking for one of two people, neither of which I know.  These weren't your average, run of the mill wrong numbers; they were aggressive collection and legal calls.  I started out simply telling the callers that they had the wrong number, "There's no one here by that name, please update your records," I would say in a friendly voice.  By the six month mark, that got really old.  Finally pushed over the edge by an early morning call for "Roberta Alene", I asked what company the caller was representing.  "American Advance," said a man with a heavy foreign accent.  I asked to speak with his supervisor and he immediately hung up.  That spurned a series of 28 calls over the course of the next 24 hours; late night, early morning, you name it, they called.  It was like a vendetta against me and I was pissed and confused.  In this case, neither honey nor vinegar won.  It was time to change my number.

Changing my phone number was another exercise in customer service.  Don't get me wrong, I have always received friendly, personable assistance from AT&T and, in the end, I have always had my issue or request completed to my satisfaction.  This is where I will almost always take the honey route, even though I can usually expect to spend at least a half an hour on the phone, speaking with three or four different extremely friendly customer service representatives.  Why does it always take so much time and energy to get these seemingly simple things accomplished?  It took three separate phone calls across three days for a total of at least an hour of my time to change my phone number!  In the interim, my phone service was cancelled altogether, a second line added (what??) and I received three emails telling me that I neglected to activate my new service (this was a land line, not a wireless number).  I know that a large population of the general public would think that I have the patience of a saint, the way that I calmly deal with companies in situations like this.  My dad, for example, takes the vinegar route.  And maybe he's entitled, he is 73 years old, after all.  He will often resort to raising his voice and swearing, even just five minutes into a call like this.  And guess what.....he gets the same friggin' results that I get being calm and friendly and patient.  Go figure.

They also say that the squeaky wheel gets the grease.  That's the truthful flip-side to the honey-vinegar cliché.  Regardless of who you are, companies want your money, and they will take quite a bit of abuse before they will turn it away.  In my opinion, I take the sweeter route because it's less stressful for me.  My pulse doesn't shoot up, my face doesn't get red, and I usually end up with what I want...and I don't need a Xanax afterward.

1 comment:

  1. I always start with honey, but have to admit I have resorted to vinegar.


Be nice, now.