Get Angry, Get Good Customer Service

My roots are in customer service.  One of my first jobs was to process loans in an environment where our only interaction with the customer was over the phone.  We would serve clients and assist them through the loan process and our performance was evaluated in a number of ways which included recorded phone conversations.  I don't remember much from my processing days, but the one thing that sticks out are those customers who would yell at me over the phone when I was simply the messenger and had nothing to do with their problem.  While it didn't happen too frequently, people would yell during phone customer service often enough.  Any of you who have worked the phones know what I am referring to.

At the time, I didn't understand why people would get so upset and literally scream into the phone at me.  Over time, I have come to the conclusion that our culture has evolved so that the squeaky wheel gets the grease when it comes to customer service.  The customer service culture in the United States has actually evolved in a way that caters to people who yell and are rude.

I have observed countless incidents where a customer will get his way when he becomes angry.  This is often because a manager will get involved at this point.  What happens in many businesses is that the front line, or the person you talk to first, is not given much authority to resolve issues.  Naturally, the front line does not want to pass issues on to management as this may make them look bad, so the do what they can to keep the problem from being escalated.  This means that if you ask for a fee to be refunded by the first person you talk to, you probably aren't going to get it refunded.  That is, unless you talk to a manager.

While this is the practice at many organizations, more and more companies are starting to empower their front line employees so that they can resolve more issues and reduce the number of escalation items.  The challenge with this is that these employees still have a limit that can only be surpassed by someone with greater authority such as a manager.  

I have experienced this personally when dealing with various companies and have even found that front line employees believe they have the maximum authority while the manager (or an elevated level of customer service) actually has a greater level of authority.   It is unfortunate, but those who conform to the system and play by the rules often miss out because they never actually speak to the person who has the authority to make the decision.  For this reason, I often just ask to speak to a manager before I even begin my conversation.  

While this is the case in many organizations, we can't just blame the customer service structure for this problem - it is human nature to want to resolve conflict.  

Several years ago, I was working with a with a group and we were discussing the company's privacy policies.  As you would expect, this company took privacy extremely seriously and the management at this organization was confident that their staff would not give out a social security number over the phone without properly identifying my information.  To prove my point, I used information found on a statement and called the company while management was in the room.  I gave the name and account number found on the statement and then proceeded to tell them that I needed them to confirm the last numbers of my social security number.  I claimed they had inverted it previously and this was giving me all kinds of issues.   

I acted angry, and guess what?  They gave me the last four numbers of someone else's social security number.  I then hung up and called back and talked to someone else.  I gave the same story and expected that I might get the first three or middle two, but they actually gave me all five of the remaining numbers.  Management was astounded.  Within two phone calls, I had gathered a full social security number.

I don't blame those employees or this organization for their privacy practices.  The truth is, we all tend to put our guard down when it comes to people being angry at us.  The question we should be asking ourselves is, why should the angry person be allowed to get the greatest benefit?  Innovative and creative companies can develop solutions so that the conforming and calm customer doesn't loose out to the angry and rude customer.  I believe that the current trend of empowering the front line is just the first step in bridging this customer service gap.

When have you seen the angry person get what they want?