6/3/2011 7:17 PM ET|
When it pays to be a jerk
An infuriated customer can sometimes get better results; the trick is to knowing how (and how much) to use anger to negotiate or complain.
"I'm getting angry. You won't like me when I'm angry."
That catchphrase from the old TV series "The Incredible Hulk" was usually uttered before the meek scientist David Banner, triggered by rage, turned into a green-skinned, destructive monster.
Customer service representatives, retail clerks and waitstaff are among those who probably wish they had a similar heads-up before things turned nasty. On a daily basis, caught in the crossfire, they take the brunt of abuse from dissatisfied patrons when things turn ugly. The advice typically offered to consumers is that all that yelling and screaming isn't going to help your cause and that calmly stating your case -- by phone, letter or email -- is a better way to resolve a problem.
That genteel advice is well-meaning, but is it always effective? Is getting mad a last resort or a good strategy for getting what you want? Does the squeaky wheel get the grease?
Increasingly, Americans are displaying short attention spans and short tempers.
A Rasmussen Reports poll last August found that 69% of respondents think they and their fellow Americans are "becoming more rude and less civilized."
Poor service gets some of the blame.
The American Express Customer Service Barometer, a study released last month, found that more than half of respondents (56%) admit to having lost their temper with a customer service professional. Consumers age 30-49 proved to be the most frequently angered (61%).
Young people are apparently more patient, with more than half of those age 18-29 saying they've "never lost their temper with a service professional."
Americans who have lost their temper due to poor service express their displeasure in a host of ways, including insisting on speaking with a supervisor (74%) and hanging up the phone (44%). Expletives have crossed the lips of 16% of respondents, with men more likely to use "choice words" (20%) compared with women (12%).
Evidence for why such outbursts may carry some weight is found in another stat American Express researchers believe should be "most unsettling for businesses on the receiving end of customer anger" -- that two in five Americans have threatened to switch to a competitor.
It is not just the loss of one customer that will drive companies to placate red-faced critics. In an age of instant feedback via blogs, tweets and online communities, any complaint can reach the eyes of thousands of people, perhaps inspiring them to weigh in with their own dissatisfaction.
"Americans say they tell an average of nine people about good experiences, and nearly twice as many (16 people) about poor ones -- making every individual service interaction important for businesses," the study says.
Americans also vote with their wallets when they encounter subpar service. In the survey, 78% of consumers have bailed on a transaction or not made an intended purchase because of a poor service experience. On the other hand, the promise of better customer service is a draw for shoppers: Three in five Americans (59%) would try a brand or company for a better service experience.
Recognizing the need to appease angry customers, and to help keep them calm, Israel-based Exaudios has developed proprietary software that tracks speech patterns and vocal intonations to warn when a caller is about to have a tantrum.
The many concerns about, and efforts to defuse, angry customers means companies are paying attention to all that yelling. The trick, for a consumer, is knowing when to escalate and when to retreat.
For example, threatening legal action will typically trigger guidelines your customer rep has to follow in such cases. The rep will be forced to cut off all conversation and refer you to the business's legal department. Any hope of a speedy resolution is gone at that point.
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Those of us in the 30-49 group remember what is was like to have customer service where: (1) a person with a pulse actually answered the phone, not a machine with a series of impersonal prompts; (2) you could actually UNDERSTAND the rep on the other end of the call; (3) they actually listened to you, and; (4) actually worked to resolve the issue, not just find a way to blow it off, or blame you or someone else. This is the reason we (30-49 y/o) have lost our temper with (lack) of customer service.
Part of the problem with attempting to give good customer service is the fact that the customers appear to be getting ruder and ruder.
One example--customer stands in front of you talking on his/her cellphone and tells you to SHH when you ask what you can do for them. Why do they even get in line and hold up everyone else when it is obvious they are not ready for service.
I just dealt with this today with my mortgage company making a mistake. I first got a woman in India whom I could not understand. This is the first time this has happened with this company. She tried to ask me information about my bank account and how I pay my monthly mortgage. This was not about my monthly payment. This was about a yearly escrow shortage that I had paid, but was not being put into the correct account. These people in foreign countries who are hired to overpay CEOs and avoid paying acceptable hourly wages. They get our last 4 digits of our Social Security number. They are not supposed to be asking for our bank account numbers. She indicated to me that I would have to fill out paperwork requesting something that I could not understand. And told me, within a few weeks, the problem would be resolved. I asked for a supervisor and she gave me the usual answer that her supervisor was at lunch. That is when I told her I needed to speak to an American representative of the American company I was paying my mortgage to. I also told her that I did not want to have to call my Congressman for help with this, but that I would because the Congress here in America is very worried about what the mortgage companies have been doing. I got an American worker in New York. He was extremely helpful. He called the escrow department and straightened out the problem. He did not need my bank account information. He did not say I would need to fill out paperwork. I asked him to please email his supervisor with my displeasure about how the foreign customer service person represented the company. He said he would. I also mentioned to him that if I called a foreign country and someone asked for my bank account information, I would be calling my Congressman. And that's how you get good customer service. I was bothered and he could tell although I did not yell or cuss, etc., and I apologized to him letting him know that I knew this was a corporate greed problem and that he was very helpful.
REMEMBER YOU ARE ALLOWED TO ASK TO SPEAK TO AN AMERICAN CUSTOMER SERVICE REPRESENTATIVE IN AMERICA. IF WE ALL DID THIS, THE JOBS WOULD COME BACK HERE AND THE PEOPLE IN INDIA WOULD FILE THEIR NAILS UNTIL THE CEOS REALIZE THAT WE DO NOT WANT TO TALK TO THEM ANY MORE. WE WANT OUR FELLOW AMERICANS IN AMERICA TO HAVE THE JOBS.
NOTHING gets me angrier when I make a customer service call, than when I get a representative who has an accent so thick I barely understand them--usually from Southeast Asia, with a 'phone name' like Bridget. AMERICAN Express is one of the worst offenders.
When I am calling about a service complaint, I expect to speak to someone who can communicate clearly with me, and in the case of airline or travel problems, have a basic understanding that someone flying to Europe or the Caribbean from the east coast will not want to fly through Chicago! Recently, I have begun requesting to have my call sent back to an American call facility--and have always had the request honored--so apparently, I am not the only caller requesting the same--because so far, every company seems to have reps based in the US for just such a reason. If we keep it up, maybe some jobs will come back to the U.S.
Although I have to agree that SOMETIMES being a jerk might help, in the long run that's the stupid way to handle things. I worked in a 'customer service' type job for three years, and I can tell you that the most obnoxious people were the ones for whom I did the least possible just to get them offf the phone, and most of my coworkers pretty much expressed the same thing. But those who were mature and polite, I went out of my way to make sure they were more than satisfied if possible.
What I learned from my own experience is that probably 98% of the time, being polite, but expressing in clear terms what the problem is and also stating clearly what I would consider a satisfactory resolution has gotten me much farther than being an idiot. I learned this from an article I read in Reader's Digest many years ago. As a result, I have gotten refunds on supposedly non-refundable products and services, been able to return products that policy said were non-returnable, I have gotten written contracts nullified or restructured, I have gotten free products, samples, or stacks of coupons, warranties extended and repairs done free. Of course, this hasn't always worked, but overall, I am way ahead of the game.
So I conclude, contrary to this article, that being a stupid jerk and an idiot might make you feel good, and may even make you feel like you have accomplished something, but I think it's safe to say you probably didn't get as much as you would have gotten if you'd have just been mature about the whole thing. It's okay to be angry if you are dissatisfied with a product or service, but it's not okay to talk to the person on the phone as if they are from another planet! State your problem, tell them you're upset about it (but don't dwell on how upset you are for 15 minutes) and tell them what you would like to happen. The most they can do is say 'no' and offer you something maybe lesser, but still satisfactory.
Being a jerk doesn't make the person you're screaming at an idiot; it makes YOU the idiot!
First off, if I can't hardly understand the person on the other end, I simply say I'm not interested. That is if I even pick it up. If I have to call customer service I never scream, yell etc.
Being kind has its rewards, for many years I dealt with consumer electronics and service. We found the a*****e's equipment, paperwork to be on the bottom of the pile. Remember, we are all humans and no one is perfect. Nice works more than being nasty.
- I call it the Lowes/Home Depot syndrome. People walking in with demolished hand tools/wanting a replacement, then throwing a fit and demanding to see the manager when the exchange employee states the item has clearly been abused. I see it in my clinic when patients are told they can't have refills on their Xanax.
I agree with previous commenters who have worked in service industries. When a customer gets nasty with me I go out of my way to do as little as possible to help him or her. When someone walks through the door with a hateful, rude attitude you better believe I don't care about his problem and will do just enough to make him go away. When someone uses basic manners and knows how to use the words please and thank you, then I will do whatever it takes to help. Simple as that.
The thing that really drives me up the wall, is when you are calling about an error they have made, or something that requires a short explanation, the clerk interrupts your discussion. Sometimes they provide a rote answer to a question which I have not asked. But the remark that really sets me into orbit is when you challenge a statement they have made "I am not going to argue with you." I reply I am not arguing I am trying to tell you the problem. Then while you are telling them, they keep break in with "Sir" ....Sir...Sir" I am not going to argue with you" and then they hang up.
If a person could just learn not so say " I am not going to argue with you." there would be no argument and the problem would be resolved.
"I am not going to argue with you is essentially telling you they are not going to listen. Their mind is made up and if you disagree, with them, then you are arguing with them.
I, too, have been on the other side. When one of the credit card companies upped my rate for no reason, I called. The lady that I spoke with was very nice and I proceed to let her know that I was going to vent at her and that I understood that she may not be in control or able to resolve the issue. I didn't yell at her.
As people, we really need to watch what we say but more importantly.... HOW we say it. I try to treat people how I want to be treated... it doesn't matter if they treat me that way or not. I still have to sleep at night!
Bottom line... Everyone gets this from everyone else... WHY should they have to get it from me???
Do yourself a favor, and check the "caller ID" before you answer the phone! If it says, anonymous, private caller, out of area, etc., etc., don't answer the phone. Set your answering machine to pick up on the 5th ring, most of those "spam" calls will hang up on the 3rd ring. Get registered with the "Do not Call" thing the government has, it works but it doesn't kick in until 31 days after you register. Also, you can tell the spam people who call you, "not to call you again", if they call you again after you have told them not to, you can file "telephone harassment" charges against them.
Times are getting tough out there, and these business's and Corporations are going "all out" trying to get your money!! They will BOMBARD you with telephone calls, and JUNK MAIL 24-7 unless you do something about it!!
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