I’ve had ‘em. You likely have them, or will. That the number of blockers disguised as customer service reps has grown is because they are effective. Many consumers would rather vent than follow the most important rule of communication: carefully listen first. As the iconic business management guru Peter Drucker related in his work long ago: “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”
If people did, they’d likely realize that venting is all that they have done. By both listening well and asking a couple of key questions, one will get better results in a time-efficient way.
I have seen my hairstylist (I’ll call her Gwen) for a few years. As she was trained by (and worked for a while) with Vidal Sassoon in her early New York life–and has owned her own salon here in Florida for more than two decades–she knows more about hair than most.
But not about effective communication. Gwen’s a talker, and for some reason she loves to tell me in great detail about her frustrations in getting her business problems fixed. Maybe it’s because she knows that the communication arena is my thing–kinda like the intricacies of hair growth are to her.
Anyway, a few days ago she told me about an unpleasant encounter that she had with the phone rep of a popular cooking magazine. She had spent a half hour arguing with her about a billing discrepancy of $3.00. THREE DOLLARS. A subscriber for over a decade, she was told that she could either pay the disputed amount or cancel and have the amount already paid refunded.
I listened patiently as she vented and snipped my hair simultaneously.
“Then I told her that I didn’t want either offer,” Gwen said. “I have subscribed to that magazine for so long because I love their recipes. You can’t just raise the price on me without notice, though–it’s the principal of the thing, not the money. I finally asked her if there was a supervisor that I could talk to.”
“There is no one else to talk to,” the rep said. “I’m the highest person here.”
“So I told her that if she was the CEO, then her company was having major problems,” Gwen continued. “So I’ll just write a letter. Bye.” She then hung up, mad and frustrated. Another half hour of letter writing loomed for this busy small business owner. Not very efficient time management.
Rather than tell her what she did wrong, I asked her to refocus on the answers offered by the phone rep during the encounter. My intent was to prepare her for the inevitable next problem, in a subconscious nod to the concept of it being better to teach one to fish than feed them, or something.
My immediate question: did she realize that you never should try to resolve an issue with the “customer service” person that answers the phone? Be polite–that goes a long way. They get yelled at a lot. But at the first attempt to block your request, tell them that you want a supervisor, and will only continue with them.
They have to do it. That first person is technically in “customer service,” but offensive guard is more accurate. It’s all about blocking. The supervisor is actually the first customer service person that you ever talk to. They have a bit of power, which the blocker doesn’t. If there’s still a problem, they work under somebody, too. Politely follow the same technique as before. Impasse? You will only continue with their supervisor. Then shut up.
Often, they tend to change their minds and fix the problem when they see that you mean it. Worst case? When you get to the supervisor’s supervisor, you’ll get what you want, if at all reasonable. Most people don’t bother to go past the first two levels, so you’re a rarity. Beyond that? Well, that’s another post.
The things to listen for? Well, immediate rejection of your complaint, for one thing. An argumentative tone by the rep is another. The use of semantics in trying to block your issue is common, too. Time for a supervisor–stat. Don’t discuss your issue with this person anymore.
Gwen’s rep did all of these. The solution? Ask questions.
1) “If we agree that there’s a problem, do you have the power to fix it?” If the answer is no, don’t bother trying to resolve your issue with them anymore. Abort. Abort.
2) “Who can? What’s their name and/or position? I need to speak to them.” Um, please.
If the person that you initially talk to tries to tell you that their word is final, listen carefully; semantics are in play. The person that answers the phone is never, EVER, the final authority. Since everybody has a boss, the question is quite simple:
3) “Who is your boss? I need to speak to them.” Follow the basic rule upon finding that this person cannot solve your problem: stop discussion about the issue.
Remember, they are required to get their boss if you ask directly for them. No one in charge there? Get their email or ask to be connected.
I use email for problem solving a lot. After briefly stating the problem. I always put the following in all caps: PLEASE TAKE THIS ISSUE DIRECTLY TO A SUPERVISOR. I WILL NOT ACCEPT OR RESPOND TO A FORM LETTER. THANK YOU.
Shouting? Well, yes. You want the first blocker’s attention. They get loads of letters. Remember that if you ask for a supervisor, they must get one. I have almost every problem resolved this way. Quite time-efficient.
It is true with any medium used. I don’t often use snail mail, but sometimes the situation warrants it.
Last week in checking in for a routine doctor’s appointment, the receptionist said that I not only owed the normal co-pay, but a no-show fee. I knew that I never had missed an appointment. When I told her this, she actually said, “Well, it’s on your account, so there’s nothing that I can do about it.” Obviously, she had no power to fix anything. I got her manager’s name (it was extremely busy) and rescheduled.
When I had time later that day, I wrote a short letter to the office manager, copied the doctor, and mailed them. Two days later, I got a letter of apology and notification that she had written off the fee. The office staff, she wrote, was instructed to collect any fees listed on the account.
Obviously, determining if they are in error is not the first blocker’s job, as it isn’t part of any first-line of defense. Rather, it’s ours to find the person that can get the problem fixed. It helps to remember that the blockers aren’t really trying to communicate with us. It’s a trick.
I always remember that Peter Drucker quote: “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”