Mon | Aug 20, 2018

Customer service more than 'please' and 'thank you'

Published:Tuesday | August 19, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Patria-Kaye Aarons

By Patria-Kaye Aarons

It irks me when I dial a call centre and the human robots answer. You know the types that have been trained up the wazoo to say what's on the script and nothing but what's on the script. The ones that are perpetually perky when you are miffed and want less airhead and more answers.

I've worked in customer care across many tough fields - telecommunications, the airline industry, retail - so I feel qualified to speak on this subject. Besides, I'm a customer. And customers know how they want to be treated.

Last week, I had a bad customer-service experience. The agent I spoke with was polite. She said 'please' and 'thank you' and called me 'Ma'am' so often, I thought we were back on Backra's plantation. So manners weren't the issue. However, 43 minutes later, my problem still hadn't been resolved. So here, I'm pointing out all the things that went wrong with that exchange in the hope of making customer-service experience less painful for others.

Call-centre agents, stop twanging! It doesn't make you sound brighter, nor does it make you easier to understand. You don't have to twang to speak proper English. I'm Jamaican and so are you. Just speak. When you start twanging, you sound like a lottery scammer. Please stop.

Not every customer is a dummy. I know some really frustrating customers cross your path, but your job is to start afresh with every single call and to assume that every person on the line has a genuine question. A question to which you probably have the answer. Look at it this way, if the customers didn't have questions, you wouldn't have a job. Take some time to listen to the question, before being so eager to give one of the scripted responses in your trusty handbook. The answer may not be in there.

To an irate customer, 'please hold' is like a slap in the face. And I don't know what's worse: 'please hold' followed by the forever long silence that makes you wonder if the line is still connected, or 'please hold' followed by the sound of the receiver being placed on the desk and the ensuing office laughter and chatter in the background about what to buy for lunch. If you're going to put me on hold, tell me why and check back occasionally so I know you haven't forgotten me.

Empower front-line staff

Employers, I encourage you to empower your front-line staff. If every time I have even the slightest problem a supervisor must be summoned, something's wrong with your operation. If most calls can't be resolved at the first point of contact, you don't have customer-care agents, you have telephone operators. Give your staff the tools and information to handle situations that arise. They'll feel more confident doing their jobs, customers will be less frustrated, and overworked supervisors will get a little break.

If you say you will call back, call back. If you can't fix the problem, tell me who can and give me a number or email for that person. Better yet, you call them yourself and brief them on the situation beforehand so I don't have to tell the frustrating tale all over again.

Then there is the dreaded 'Is there anything else I can do for you' question. Else?!?! How have you got to 'else' and you still haven't solved the problem I called you for in the first place? Really? If you couldn't handle my first problem, why would you think I have confidence in you to handle any others?

But the second to last chapter in your trusty customer-service handbook said "Offer more help" and so you do - even if you weren't of any help at the start of the call. Be sensitive and sensible. Some parts of the script aren't always applicable.

I'm all for service with a smile, but I get the feeling that many companies today have missed the point. They are far more concerned with the smile than with the service. The service is the part we actually pay for - and expect to get; the smile should be brawta, not the other way around.

Patria-Kaye Aarons is a television presenter and confectioner. Email feedback to and, or tweet @findpatria.