The Paradox of Working in Customer Service

The Paradox of Working in Customer Service

For anyone who has ever worked in the field of customer service, be it a large-scale department store, a specialty store, a restaurant, or a hotel, at some point, the notion of “good” customer service is indoctrinated upon you. Though many companies appear to have their own specific tenets as to what constitutes good customer service, they are essentially all the same. Succinctly put, there are three universal tenets. Herein lie the greatest challenges to customer service representatives.

The first and most contested tenet is the old adage that says “the customer is always right.” The second tenet demands that one put on an air of geniality (be it genuine or otherwise) when dealing with a customer. This even means faking a smile when customers become belligerent (homage to the first tenet)..Lastly, one is encouraged to do everything in one’s power to ensure that the customer will want to patronize your establishment in the future. In essence the three tenets are all interconnected.

Customer Service

At first glance, the tenets appear reasonable enough. In a reasonable world, populated with reasonable people, this philosophy would be flawless. Realistically speaking, however, the world is not full of reasonable people. It is a motley crew of impatient, 9 to 5 corporate grunts, the ridiculously “entitled”, upwardly mobile types, and other assorted neurotic time bombs. Bearing all this in mind, the first tenet is inherently flawed in suggesting that any of the aforementioned groups would actually be reasonable enough to realize that the old adage of being always right is not to be taken literally. When it comes to profits and revenue, a CSR is burdened with quite a paradox. There are some customers who will go off the deep end about even the slightest perceived affront, emphatically declaring that they should recieve the good or service for free. There are some customer service industries that will make these small sacrifices just to placate the customer, while others who are more meticulous about their revenue may consider this to be a problem. Often, management is given absolute discretion in these matters. Their goal is essentially to placate the customer by any means necessary. The rise of electronics and assorted multimedia devices has greatly diminished the applicability of the second tenet. Many companies encourage CSRs to greet and engage in small talk with customers in order to contribute to a warm, and caring atmosphere. In many cases the CSR’s efforts are utterly in vain. The modern customer is likely to be oblivious to the CSR by way of their iPod, their cell phone, or any number of other electronic distractions. Yet, certain overzealous managers are quick to chide a CSR when he or she fails to engage a customer that refuses to acknowledge the CSR. Thus, many CSRs are placed in situations where greetings and other pleasantries are automated, and generic in nature. Moreover, when placed in a situation with a hostile customer, the CSR is generally not supposed to be assertive. “Good” customer service demands that a CSR leave all their dignity at home, essentially becoming a punching bag for the emotionally unstable. The third tenet often involves (with respect to the second tenet) managers going to unreasonable lengths to placate irrational, demanding customers, even if that means compromising a CSR’s dignity. Customers who wholeheartedly believe that they are “always right” are likely to approach a CSR, feeling empowered (meaning they can get away with saying or doing whatever they want.) More often than not, management is unequivocally on the customer’s side, regardless of the circumstances. I believe that, from a business standpoint, customers are disproportionately endowed with that power simply because they have the money.

Paradox Working Customer Service

This inevitably presents the question: What is the cost of respect? Many a CSR has been forced to endure an obnoxious, loud barrage of expletives, snide comments, and/or various other disrespectful acts (i.e throwing money at a CSR, throwing items at a CSR, etc). Unfortunately, CSRs who fail to accept these deplorable terms had best start seeking other employment.

In today’s world, the customer service industry vividly illustrates the overall deterioration of social interaction, fairness, and respect for the working man or woman. The philosophy behind “good customer service” has become distorted over time. With regards to the three tenets, the first, one in particular has been so loosely interpreted and allowed to flourish unchecked, that it has made a real monster out of the customer. The second is enforced blindly with no regard to the decline in general social skills, like basic social etiquette. The third, essentially dehumanizes CSRs by connoting that “while you work here, you’re not a human being with feelings, and thoughts, you are an expendable company resource.” Some CSRs continue to compromise their dignity for the sake of a paycheck, others lash out (rightfully so, given the circumstances) and are labeled trouble makers. Still, others leave, utterly powerless and frustrated by the unfair treatment. Mutual respect between customers and CSRs should be imparted liberally and universally, and must never be compromised for the mere sake of profit.