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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

4 Career Lessons You Can Learn From a Guy Who Talks to Frustrated Customers All Day

When you think of a customer support representative, do you picture a robotic call center employee reading monotonously from a script? Do you clear your schedule, bracing yourself for a day wasted on hold?

Chances are you may react with some approximation of the above, and that’s understandable.
Many older businesses still treat customer support like a necessary evil. However, more companies have started to recognize just how critical it can be.

As someone proudly working in support at one of the better companies, I’ve learned a lot about how to deal with customers who are occasionally—OK, usually—at their angriest and most frustrated. So much so that the tools of the trade extend far beyond the support rep and customer relationship to human-to-human interactions. So, read on if you want to learn how to better deal with your co-workers, managers and, really, anyone in general.

1. Knowing Your Customer Makes You Valuable

Everyone knows the phrase “the customer is always right.” But it’s not just about making people feel good. Due to lean product development, companies release their products in short, iterative cycles, using every opportunity they can to gather customer feedback and improve on their output with each new release. If you can find ways to get in front of customers as much as possible, you’ll become a valued wellspring of knowledge for your product team.

There’s a bigger lesson here: The CEO isn’t the only face of a company. A customer (or prospective customer) will base her opinion of an organization on the interaction she has with its representatives. So, if you work in HR, forge relationships with recruiters and universities. If you’re a developer, learn what your users want. No matter your title, be the reason people respect your company—that’s a big reason why your company will respect you.

2. Timeliness Is Next to Godliness

First impressions are always important, and support reps make that impression before they even get on the phone. Yes, I’m talking about wait time. A speedy reply signals that you respect your clients, and that you’re capable of managing your own time effectively.

Conversely, any time you respond slowly, you’re literally holding someone else up. You might think this appearance of being busy makes you seem important, but it really just makes you seem unreliable.

Next time a co-worker emails you, keep in mind that you could very well be bottlenecking his work by deprioritizing your response back. Therefore, if you know you’re going to be unreachable for a certain period of time, clue your team in. It will make all the difference to your co-workers (and your inbox).

3. Don’t Fight With an Angry Person

Because support reps typically interact with frustrated, confused individuals, it is easy to get caught up in the volatility that these moments bring. But unlike your customers, you cannot afford to lose your cool, since increased emotions hamper your ability to do what’s best for your company.

This concept applies to any situation you’ll find yourself in, and there’s no better way to practice than in these low stakes, high-temper support scenarios. (Because a slow-loading page is, in fact, not a life or death situation.) There’s a great saying that, “the first person to get angry loses.” To me, that’s best practice for customer support—and for life.

Whether someone disagrees with one of your ideas, claims you’ve blown off a commitment, or wrongfully accuses you of stealing an idea that you presented to your CEO, decide whether or not this battle is really worth your time. Often, choosing not to escalate the argument will save you time and energy.

Instead, diffuse the situation and resolve the conflict. In sales, I sometimes choose to over-apologize. If someone expects you to be contentious, being deferential can disarm him and lead to a more productive conversation. This obviously won’t work in situations where you absolutely shouldn’t be apologizing—like if you’re standing up for your ideas or in the midst of a heated financial negotiation. In those situations, it’s best to move on to another subject (at least in the interim) and plan to revisit once everyone has calmed down.

4. Don’t Assume You’re the Problem

Remember when I mentioned the phrase, “The customer is always right?” According to my experience, a more accurate phrase would be, the customer always thinks he is right, and he will fight with you to prove his point. As a support rep, it is not your job to prove anyone wrong. Rather, it’s your job to prove to him that you want and can help him.

In order to do that effectively, I had to learn to ignore some of the negative noise that gets thrown my way—a skill that’s served me equally as well outside of support. For example, just because your co-worker writes you an angry email, it does not mean that she’s truly angry with you. Rather than focusing on what you did (or didn’t do) to incur her wrath; focus on what she’s asking you. Solve the problem, and you’ll likely solve her frustrations in the process.

Yes, calling customer service can be painful. But experiencing the process from the other side taught me a lot about working with people—especially in tough situations. Whether you work in a customer support role or crunch numbers all day, being thoughtful, patient and helpful will grow others’ trust in you, and your company.

Photo of man on phone courtesy of Shutterstock.