Spiritual Adventures in the Workplace

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Once More, With Feeling

In my book, Customer Service and the Imitation of Christ, I poked fun at a Cincinnati firm that offered acting lessons to people who worked in customer service call centers. They said that the key to good customer service was not to care about the customer; it was to act like you cared. So they offered acting lessons.

That makes a good joke, but I’ve often thought that there’s a particle of truth to that. Acting lessons might not be such a bad idea for those of us who work in customer service call centers — not to help us pretend that we care, but to empower us show that we do.

I’ve had a lot of co-workers over the years who really seemed to care about their customers, but they had a problem communicating that sense of caring, especially over the phone. One person in particular was so intense, she sounded mean. She wasn’t really angry; she was just passionate about helping people. Unfortunately, that’s not what came across over the phone. The people she was trying to help were intimidated, and the people in the back offices were often uncooperative. If she could only have softened her voice, she could have communicated her passion for people-helping. Her customers would have loved her, and the people in the back offices might have respected her. It was all in the way she came across.

I myself have been blessed with a good voice that I know how to use on the phone. I get a little embarrassed when some callers say, “Wow, you sound like a radio announcer,” but I’m very careful about modulating my voice to meet the needs of the moment. When a caller sounds especially frustrated, I make sure I keep my voice soft and sensitive. When they sound like they’re in a good mood, I try to match them.

Sometimes I catch myself feeling impatient, and I deliberately (and prayerfully) take the irritation out of my voice. Am I acting? Yes, but I’m doing it because I don’t want to be impatient. I’ve just caught myself being less than my best, and with the help of God, I deliberately try to sound the way I want to be. As long as the caller doesn’t catch onto the fact that I’m feeling momentarily frustrated, I am at least behaving in the way that I believe is right.

What I’m describing, of course, is not the same as saying, “The key to good customer service is not to care about your customer; it’s to act like you care.” What I’m saying is that we must, above all, care about our customers, and because we care, we should work very hard to make sure that our concern for them comes across in our voice. It might not be such a bad thing to have acting lessons for customer service representatives, as long as we use those acting skills to help us communicate our very real concern for our customers.



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2 thoughts on “Once More, With Feeling

  1. Ron,Glad to see that you are writing again.  Terri & I have both read your most recent posts, and she wants to hear what you have to say as much as I do.  Many years ago in a management class I learned a simple way to deal with a complaining customer: the Three A’s.  Acknowledge, Apologize, Amend.  That said, I fully agree with your latest post about “acting.”  Jim

    • Thanks to both of you! I’ll have to write another post or two some other time about dealing with customer complaints, because that’s a big subject in its own right. But this thing about vocal inflection has been on my mind a lot. I’m very sensitive to how people sound on the phone, and it’s often the case that a person who sounds mean turns out not to be if I give it a few minutes. I’m convinced that it’s much more difficult to judge a person’s mood over the phone than it is when you can also see their facial features. And on the reverse side, I know it’s not always easy to communicate kindness over the phone, even when I’m very kindly disposed toward the person I’m talking to. Hence my thoughts about using acting techniques to make sure the person on the other end of the line knows I care. My main point is just that showing compassion over the phone is (surprisingly) not as easy as we may think.

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