Customer Service Remedies: A Tale of Two Call Centers

Some years ago, I worked for a company that developed in- and out-bound call center management software for sales and customer service organizations. Yes, we made those software systems that enabled companies to call you at dinner time and pester you with offers. Sorry about that. We also worked with a number of churches and organizations that only had inbound operations, or only took customer service calls, so I hope that helped balance things out. Love snails

Probably not.

The Usual

One day, after installing a new system for a credit card company, I was watching the phone bank at work. Young people on headsets earnestly trying to convince people that the new credit card they had was just the thing they needed.

One young man caught my attention. He was standing up and pacing at his workstation. As my co-workers and I watched, he became more animated. His supervisor called up his conversation and put it on speaker for us and for the next 30 minutes we listened in as he tried valiantly to talk an elderly woman into signing up for the card. Time after time, he almost convinced her, but she'd back out at the last instant, remembering that she needed to confer with her husband on any such matter before signing up. He'd start in again and the cycle would continue.

Finally, after half an hour, he let her go and took off his headset, sighing in frustration. His supervisor excused herself from the cubicle where we had been listening, rapt, and went over to him. She put a hand on his shoulder. He looked up at her. I started to smile, then quickly stopped when she unclipped the line from his headset from his shirt, removed his badge, and escorted him to the door. When she returned, she simply said to us, "That call shouldn't have lasted more than 90 seconds. He should have known better."

The Weird

Then there's this. Zappos, already legendary for customer service, had a customer service representative spend 8 hours on a call with a customer. Eight hours. And instead of firing that individual, she had been lauded and memorialized, held up as a model of the lengths Zappos team members will and should go to for their customers.

Eight hours. Can you imagine? Can you imagine being her supervisor and finding out that she spent her whole shift talking to one customer? For one pair of shoes? And at that, it sounds like a pair of shoes they didn't even have, so not making a sale at all?

That takes some major commitment to something besides metrics. Something other than the bottom line. It takes commitment to some core values that don't measure a person's performance or a division's performance or even a company's performance in dollars.

Pua made a customer smile that day. I doubt that anyone at the credit card company I was at was smiling. Certainly no one I saw was smiling. Maybe the elderly woman's husband smiled when he came home and learned that his wife didn't sign them up for more debt....

How might you want your performance, or your team's performance, to be judged?

Image CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 by Adam Foster