My mother was never one for “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” or “Goodnight Moon.” We skipped right over that and went straight for Oscar Wilde and MacBeth.
“Literature helps us feel less alone,” she once said to me.
Slate books columnist Mark O’Connell writes that we read to gain access to both “the broad sweep of human experience,” and “the narrow sanctum of specific otherness.”
Besides feeling more connected, there’s evidence that stories help us generate moral insight. According to philosopher Martha Nussbaum, scenarios in literary fiction let us ponder all sides of a moral question without a personal stake in the outcome clouding our judgment.
Great literature can improve your social skills. In a 2013 study, subjects who read 19th-century Russians, European modernists, and contemporary “prestige” authors outperformed non-readers on tests of empathy, social perception, and emotional intelligence.
My favorite genre is the memoir, and I’d argue there’s as much value for moral insight, and feeling less alone, in non-fiction storytelling.
Toward that end, I’ve collected six non-fiction customer service stories.
Each story helps to illustrate both “the broad sweep of human experience,” and “the narrow sanctum of specific otherness.” Some are from the customer side, and some from the rep side.
Here they are, in no particular order:
1. Special requests
Ana manages a team of 10 customer service representatives at StickerYou, a custom stickers and labels manufacturing company.
Their typical customers are DIY-ers, moms, and small business owners. And sometimes they come in with some very special requests.
One of the strangest requests Ana ever received was a scan of a customer’s phone.
“A customer sent us a file of the art she wanted printed on a sticker,” Ana says.
The customer used her phone to take a picture of her computer monitor that had the actual image she wanted printed. Then she scanned the phone and sent the scan to StickerYou. The weirdest part is this actually happened more than once.
Sometimes before you can help a customer, you’ve got to teach them how to help themselves. Showing a customer how to take a screen capture not only gives you the information that you need, but offers them a valuable skill as well. And, it helps them feel cared about. Win, win, win.
2. A long, strange trip
This one is also from Ana.
“We were once asked to meet the customer in Times Square (in New York City), and hand deliver the stickers to him,” Ana says. “We are an online business headquartered in Toronto, Canada.”
You’re not always going to be able to meet every request.
But finding the next-best option shows the customer that you care. Instead of hand-delivering stickers to a location across a border and eight hours away, consider offering to mail it to a convenient place nearby.
3. I didn’t fit the script
Jim Abbott, sales and marketing manager at Ashton Technology Solutions, told me a depressing, near-universal truth that customer service teams need to internalize. Though he’s had good and bad experiences with customer service live chats, “none of the good ones really stand out.”
Abbott told me about an “awful chat experience” he had recently.
After Abbott filled out a form with his contact info and an explanation of his situation, the agent came online and… asked for the same information he’d just entered into the form. “Why require me to enter it prior to chatting, if you’re going to waste my time doing it again?” Abbott asked.
Then that agent transferred him to another agent. But because the first agent hadn’t recorded anything Abbott said, the second rep also asked for his contact information and a summary of the problem.
Abbott says agents are “unable to think outside of the box” to provide solutions, “because neither my questions, nor my answers to their questions, fit the script they’ve been trained to work from.”
It’s a problem.
As William Cain wrote for this blog, “Since most problems are easy to solve with a handful of actions, a basic script will suffice. The problem is when this script locks the agent into a set of behaviors that waste a lot of time satisfying the gods of bureaucracy rather than solving the problem.”
Abbott says customer service teams at large organizations “teach to a script when hiring new customer service representatives rather than focusing on empathy, sympathy, problem solving, or just plain being a human.”
Cain recommends that companies, “Empower agents with additional knowledge to take conversations off-script in an effort to hunt down problems they do know about and have learned how to solve.”
4. FEMA actually stands for “Futile Expectations of Meaningful Aid”
When Hurricane Matthew hit Florida in October of 2016, Mike Arman was the de-facto emergency response director for the City of Oak Hill, Florida. So naturally, he called FEMA for help.
After listened to a recording of “bland generalities about what a great and wonderful job they were doing for all Americans everywhere, they told me to call back during business hours. Because as you know, emergencies NEVER happen on evenings, weekends or holidays,” Arman says.
He couldn’t even leave a message.
“And then they said.. wait for it… ‘Have a nice day!'”
“If I were ‘having a nice day,’ well then why… am I calling FEMA?” Arman says. “It got worse from there, much worse, and it isn’t done yet. FEMA actually stands for ‘Futile Expectations of Meaningful Aid.'”
In Forbes, customer service expert Micah Solomon recommends the acronym WETCO for making sure you don’t make people feel like Arman did while dealing with FEMA:
- W is for Warmth: simple human kindness
- E is for Empathy: the ability to sense what another person is feeling
- T is for Teamwork: an inclination toward working together, as opposed to doing things alone
- C is for Conscientiousness: detail orientation, including an ability and willingness to follow through to completion
- O is for Optimism: the ability to bounce back and to not internalize challenges
Whether it’s on live chat, on the phone, or using email or social media, whatever the channel, don’t be a bot. Be a human.
5. Very enthused about spices
Greg runs customer support and live chat for a seasoning company called Flavor God. A customer wrote to Greg, “I should have bought the 4 pack, and I didn’t, because I’m a moron. You clearly sprinkle crack and unicorn tears in the seasonings.”
The customer continued, “Really though, I eat the same breakfast every day which is oatmeal, almond butter, and protein powder (I lift brah). I sprinkled in some chocolate doughnut as well as a sprinkle in my coffee and I had one of those reactions that I constantly read about on the internet where I basically like re-found a higher power. Which is why I’m writing you now.”
This seems like a great opportunity to turn a happy customer into a loyad. That’s what Gartner analysts call customers who are both loyal to your brand and advocate on behalf of it.
By 2020, a fifth of consumer sales will originate with word-of-mouth marketing. It’s important to identify your loyal customers early so you can try to lure them into graduating into loyad status.
6. Download trouble
Melissa works for Skinny Bunny, a fitness teas and supplements company.
A customer wrote, “Hello! I just placed an order for my mother-in-law. Her first order. She doesn’t like me but I think this order will change that. Hahaha!”
I’m not sure buying any woman a diet tool will get her on your side, but good luck!
Daughter-in-law went on, “I received the 2 e-books, opened them up in iBooks and now I realize that since I opened them I actually took her downloads! Eek. What can I do? I don’t want to be out of integrity and take what isn’t mine. Is it OK if we both have access to these e-books? I sound like a nut but I’m just a super honest girl.”
They are not mutually exclusive.
Since downloads are essentially free for the company, obviously the thing to do here is give this poor woman another download. She needs all the help she can get.
Two more for good measure
Another customer wrote to Greg, asking him “How are you getting your ‘fresh’ product from Irvine to NJ? Honestly, I am not sure I would have ordered had I known it was from NJ. There’s nothing fresh from NJ except Snookie.”
One customer contacted Melissa after using the Skinny Bunny products and simply said, “I have tape measures coming out my butt.”
Hopefully now you both feel less alone in your customer service experiences, and maybe learned a little something about the human condition. What are some crazy things you’ve heard, whether on the customer side or the representative side? Let me know in the comments.
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