“I’m sorry. I don’t even …right now, I just…feel like a piece of …trash…”
This is not something I usually hear, but that is exactly what a customer rep said to me last week.
What led up to this rather demoralizing comment?
A Price Drop
It started out innocently enough.
One of my major home appliances died last week, so I ordered a replacement from a major retailer. The very next day, I noticed that the price had dropped by a whopping $150. “No big deal”, I thought, “I’ll call in for a price match.” A guy who sounded a little bored (summer job, maybe?) answered. I explained the reason for my call, and he said that it would be covered by the 30-day price match.
He asked to put me on hold. When he got back on the phone, his voice heightened, and it went like this:
Rep: “Um, hi, I was working on your request. There was a cancel button next to the button I meant to click and I accidentally hit cancel by mistake”
Me: “Uh..what exactly does that mean? Is my order is cancelled?”
Rep: “Yeah. Sorry”.
Me: “Oh no.” (A bit concerned, while putting my thinking cap on). “I just had a gas leak and told the plumber this thing will get delivered on Saturday.”
Now, keep in mind I did not raise my voice at him, even though I knew the impact it’s going to have on my schedule (i.e. need to take time off on a weekday, reschedule plumbing work). Instead, I politely inquired, “Can you escalate and see if you can resurrect the order, so that I could keep the same delivery date?”
Rep: “Yeah, I checked already while I put you on hold. I checked with my supervisor to see if I can un-do the cancelled order, and we can’t. I was trying to be proactive.”
What Led up to The Comment
Me: “Ok, so this means I need to put in a new order? Hang on — I’m on the website right now. Let me just check right now to see when the next delivery date is.”
Rep: “It’s next Tuesday” (he said plainly). This is four days later than the original delivery time. He then apologetically added, “I’m really sorry – I don’t even …right now, I just feel like a piece of …trash for screwing this up.”
Caught off guard by the sudden seriousness, I paused what I was doing on the website. I don’t know how young or inexperienced he is, but that was tough to hear. It’s not something people would normally just say or confess. While he owned up to the mistake, I wouldn’t want anyone to feel that way, especially over an honest mistake. Sure, his mistake will create some work for me, but it is minor in the grand scheme of things.
Also, shouldn’t this be the other way around? Shouldn’t he be reassuring me that this will all get taken care of instead?
“Hey, listen, it’s OK”, I said firmly, “Really. These things happen sometimes. Don’t worry about it. I’ll just have to make a couple more calls and I’ll put in a new order, but I’ll get this taken care of. Don’t sweat it, OK?”
We talked a bit more about the refund process, and we soon hung up after.
Why It Matters?
The call stuck with me for a little while. Even though I was calm throughout my call, the rep was self-aware and, for whatever reason, he was really beating himself up over the mistake. Imagine how much worse he’d feel if he had been reprimanded. Believe it or not, some people can be terribly cruel to customer reps.
I want to share this story because things are bound to go wrong sometimes, as they always will. It’s important to remember that there is a real person on the other end of the line, who’s not only a sounding board but someone who wants to help you (assuming s/he has the tools to help you). I know this, because I used to work part-time as a tech support while I was in college.
The next time you want to take the wrath of your frustrations to the front-line staff (i.e. lost luggage, misconnect due to weather, or whatever that’s gone awry), remember that the rep you’re talking to is only hearing your problem for the first time. It may not be the first time you’re reporting the issue, which is why it is important to remain calm and try to be nice. I’m not saying that being nice will necessarily help you solve your issue any faster (or even possible when you’re really upset about something), but being angry – when the rep is trying to work with you – isn’t going to do you much good either.
After all, you can still absolutely get your point across while being decent and extending a common courtesy to another fellow human being.
(And, should you be unlucky enough to encounter a bad or stubborn rep, the old adage of “hang up and try again” still works wonders)