Can’t Talk Right Now…My Mouth is Full of Foot

I estimate that I regret nearly 25% of the things that come out of my mouth.

Ok, maybe that estimate is a bit high. It’s probably closer to 20%.

My husband is one of the most nonconfrontational people I know. He is very polite to strangers and it takes a lot to push him over the edge. Whenever he experiences poor customer service, he waits until the offending individual is out of earshot before ripping into him. Then he expects me to be the one to follow up with the management or corporate office to resolve the issue.

Over the years, we have developed a system. When he needs to give a company an earful, he relays the situation to me, and then sics me on them. Because he can’t bring himself to confront the people, I usually play the part of dissatisfied customer and get us the apology or occasional coupon. He once asked me to call our satellite company and complain about the service to the point of threatening to cancel it. Then, he said, when they ask me how they can possibly keep our business, I should ask for FSC (a soccer channel) to be added to our service at no charge. I assure you, I never stooped this low, but you see how our roles have developed.

He knows I have strong feelings about customer service. From a PR standpoint, customer service is the most important thing you can do right. If you screw up, just admit it. Apologize. And make it right. That’s it. That’s all a customer wants. You may think that a complaining customer is only trying to get something for free, but most of the time, a customer just wants a little empathy. A little bit of empathy goes a long way.

When I make a complaint, all I expect is that my feelings be acknowledged. Just say, “I understand that you are upset and your opinion is valid.” Those exact words aren’t necessary, but you get the idea. I once found something disgusting inside of a meal at Hardee’s. I completely lost my appetite. There were comment cards on the table. I filled out the comment card in a very fair way. I noted that the restaurant was clean, the employees were friendly, etc. But, at the bottom, when it asked for other comments, I told them what I had found in my meal. The card asked for my contact information and I filled it out completely. That was two years ago. No one from Hardee’s ever called or emailed me to apologize. I never went back. On the other hand, I went to a spa for a manicure once, and when the manicurist found out that I worked for the Archdiocese of St. Louis, she proceeded to bash my employer and rant about how much she hated Catholicism. I was both shocked and insulted. I told the manager later that night. The manager apologized for her employee’s behavior and assured me that she would make sure all of her employees know that it is a bad idea to insult someones employer and/or religion. That is all it took. I felt that the manager had listened to my feedback and validated it. I went back to the spa many times after that.

The point is, most of the time, if I complain, it is just because I want to make my voice heard. It is only when I get a poor response from the customer service representative that I go into what my husband refers to as psycho mode. I admit I have let quite a few customer service reps have a piece of my mind. I have even hung up on a few that really pushed me to irritation. I usually feel better afterward. “Ha, you customer service rep. You think you control me? You don’t! I can hang up on you!” It is an empowering feeling to have control over one’s own phone conversation.

This is always okay because I never have to worry about speaking to them ever again. Besides, unhelpful customer service reps fall into a different category of people. They are barely human. They are not worth my time if they are not going to help me.

Now, imagine this scenario:

You pay for year round yard waste service. However, most weeks go by without yard waste pickup being necessary. Your grass doesn’t get cut every week, so most weeks there is nothing to pick up. But, you still pay for the service. Then, in October, the leaves start to fall all over your yard. It is beautiful for a while, but soon the leaves turn brown and dry. You rake them all into piles and fill a few yard waste bags with leaves. The bags are about half-full, and can be carried three at a time to the curb. Ahh, a nice clean yard. Later that day, a customer service representative calls to inform you that you have to pay extra for leaving out more than the allotted number of bags of yard waste that day. Extra? What? You ask the rep whether the company will pay you for the six weeks leading up to that one that you had no yard waste at all. It only seems fair that if they charge you extra when you use the service, you should not have to pay for service you do not use. She informs you that, no, you must pay even if you do not have any yard waste going out. But if you do have extra yard waste, you must pay extra. The call ends badly, with you begrudgingly saying that you will send the check right away. Then you remember that you have the power to hang up the phone. Ha! Vindication! Sure you have to pay the ridiculous bill, but you don’t have to say goodbye! Click.

A few moments later, the rep calls back and tells you that she has cleared the extra charges from your account. You will not be receiving a bill for the extra bags. You feel guilty now, and you sheepishly thank her and mumble an inadequate apology for being snippy.

You don’t give it much thought for several months until… One day, your husband calls you up and says he just met this very nice young woman through a mutual friend. This woman happens to work for the waste management company that you had a “problem” with a while back. She is the one you spoke with. She remembers the conversation. She remembers you. She also remembers that you hung up on her. Oh, and apparently you went to school together! Apparently she used to think you were cool back in high school (not anymore of course.) Then he says, “Hang on, let me get her on the phone and you two can talk.”

That is exactly what happened to me today.

I am such a jerk.

From now on, I vow not to lose my temper with customer service reps unless I am certain they are in another country…or unless I am absolutely certain we do not share any of the same social circles…or unless they really, really deserve it.

And to the nice young woman I will probably meet at some point, I am very, very sorry that I hung up on you. Customer service representatives are people too.

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