Customer Service Week: This Job Is Tougher Than You Think

October 9, 2013

 If you were asked today what you value highest about a company, what would you say? Ask me and I’ll tell you that my top three are low prices, convenient location, and great customer service.

Having worked in retail, administrative positions, in the service industry, and now in a call center (yeah, I’ve been around), I can tell you from personal experience that customer service is grossly underrated. A customer service representative can quite literally make or break my day.

For example:  To the Verizon representative that saved me $40/month, THANK YOU. I told your manager that you single-handedly saved them a customer. To the Amazon rep that told me that, while I placed my order with 6 hours to spare to guarantee same-day shipment,  I adjusted it 45 seconds (LITERALLY 45 SECONDS) too late to ensure that my package would arrive by the weekend, I hope you spill your coffee. I told your manager that you were a jerk and that, seriously, I hope you spill your coffee – ok, not really. But I did say that you offered zero suggestions to solve the problem and that you were undertrained …and that I REALLY hope you spill your coffee.

Ok. Rant aside, I obviously spend a lot of time recognizing all aspects of customer service. This is because I am one of 28 people that provide it 75-100 times a day in the PERA Customer Service Center. The beauty of working in this call center is that people don’t usually call just to complain. I have co-workers that have come from HUGE companies that said they never felt like they were helping anyone. Here, I really feel that we do.

Sometimes that means spending 25 minutes explaining the retirement process. Sometimes that means spending 25 seconds explaining how often annual statements go out (answer: annually). Yes, there’s a variety. Would I answer a thousand of these calls, address changes, and office hour confirmations if it meant those were only calls I had to take? Yes. But, we know that’s not how it works.

Some days, this job is hard. Some days, I talk to the 45-yr old member who could retire in five years but now needs to know her options because she’s been diagnosed with Stage 4 brain cancer and --- she says she’s sorry as she bursts into tears and hands the phone to her husband.  Some days, I talk to the 60-yr old retiree who is on full disability retirement after suffering a complete mental breakdown on the job after his daughter committed suicide. Some days, I talk to the 85-yr old retiree who insists there is fraud on the account because they have Alzheimer’s and don’t recognize their own signature. Some days, it’s hard. Some days, I get off the phone with Mrs. Member’s husband, hiding the shake in my voice as I explain how to handle his wife’s money after she passes while my heart is breaking for them, and then hang up and take your call about when you should expect your direct deposit.

I’m pretty sure this job requires on-site schizophrenia. I have to be able to tell you that your rollover wasn’t completed because your financial advisor didn’t sign on the “Financial Advisor Signature” line, then tell the next caller that I’m sorry for the loss of their spouse of 40 years, then explain to the next caller that, “I’m his mother” doesn’t legally count as Power of Attorney. Yes, they actually happened like that, in that order, before I finished my cup of coffee.

In that moment that you call, I share in your joy, your fear, your anger, and your expectations. Believe me when I say then and I say now, I want you to get your check in time to get your son a new wheelchair. I want to make sure you have healthcare coverage. I want you to know how to do things right the first time so that you don’t have to call and ask the same question again – while letting you know that it’s ok if you do.

I really am here to help. I won’t be able to ever save you $40/month on your phone bill (though yes, I’ve been asked that too). I can’t help you with your shipment, or the fact that you hate your dentist, or tell you which gym you should go to. But I will do my best to make sure that, at the end of the phone call, you don’t want me to spill my coffee.