October 6, 2005

Who says that being nice doesn’t pay?

My first job was at McDonald’s - I was 16 and flush with excitement at the prospect of a paycheck. I only worked there a year and half, but was promoted to crew trainer in that time period. When I left, they were disappointed and tried to convince me to stay through college with “tantalizing” offers of “manager” positions available. No thanks! However, I did learn quickly at McD’s that the job went by much more quickly if I was polite to the customers. Yes - you read that correctly. I can’t tell you how many times I coaxed a smile or a simple acknowledgement that I existed just by being friendly. Was I friendly all the time? Probably not - we all have our bad days. After the McDonald’s experience, I moved on to telemarketing for a year, then to bill collection/customer service at Sallie Mae, then to the financial aid office at the University of Kansas. As a customer service representative (CSR) in various capacities, I learned the crucial point to good customer service is to BE NICE. I am the first to admit that someone on the phone yelling and calling me a “bitch” got the very minimum of help that I was required to give. Why, oh why, would I ruin my own call statistics to help someone who was so uncouth towards me? Exactly.

Over the years, I have had some really great CSR experiences and I know they are due to the fact I always try to keep my voice calm and polite while on the phone with the CSR. A small comment as to “Wow, it sounds really busy there!” has elicited MANY relieved comments from CSRs over the years. When a CSR mentions how slow their computer is moving, I always respond with “Oh, I hear you - I face the same myself.” While waiting for the computer to crank to the next screen, I may even ask which town they are in. Just these simple things (empathy, patience and controlling of anger) have gone a long, long way.

So, last night as I am paying my bills, I noticed that my Sprint wireless bill went from it’s usual $85 to over $300 a month. I had a Braxton-Hicks contraction - no kidding. I called Sprint thinking there must be some mistake. At first, the CSR was a typical Sprint CSR - very tired of customers calling and griping about the same old thing. I held my tongue and had him guide me through the process of looking at my bill. At one point in the call, I realized that the mistake was MINE - I had gone way over my minutes (a first for me, I should note and I have been been a customer since 1997). At this point, I have to admit I lost it a little - I ended up telling this poor guy about the squirrel squealing at that very moment in his death throes, my kitchen faucet coming apart, etc etc and that this phone bill was the last straw. However, I admitted that I would just need to be better at monitoring my minutes and I did apologize for getting emotional . He was very polite and we ended the call.

Less than 5 minutes later, he CALLS ME BACK and says that since I am a very valuable customer and that he can see from my history I have never gone over my minutes before, he is going to give me a $50 credit towards my bill. Furthermore, he noted that I had "accepted responsibility for my mistake and that went a long way with him as a customer service representative." How’s that for being nice?

I am now digging for some stationary - I don’t usually write letters to companies, but Sprint is going to hear from me on this one!!

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