The Boss Show

Workplace wisdom with heart and humor

June 30, 2012

When Customer Service Isn’t

By Steve Motenko

What’s your experience been like on Live Chat?  I had a surreal one the other day with … umm … an unnamed large cable TV provider.

I’d been sent a cable box.  The instructions to activate it weren’t working.  So I clicked on “Live Chat.”  And here’s what happened:

First, the agent got really excited (multiple exclamation points!!!) when I responded I’m doing very well this evening, thank you.  She told me – in somewhat broken English — how thrilled she was to be helping me!!! and what a supreme pleasure it was for her to anticipate resolving my problem!!!  Then she breathlessly told me about the company’s customer service focus, and its customer service guarantee, and its customer service policies and many customer service resources.

Finally she asked me how she could be of service to me today?  When I told her, she immediately decided she had to refer me to another department.

The new agent came on and very solicitously asked me how I was doing today and told me what great news it was to hear that I was “fine, thank you.” Then she told me this might take a while and did I have 15 minutes available for it?  Yes, I replied.  Then she asked me questions I couldn’t understand – I had to ask her to decipher her question.  And then she told me this might take a while and did I have 15 minutes available for it?  I noted (with multiple exclamation points) that she had already asked me that question.  And then twice she told me I’d have to wait 45 minutes to load channels, without explaining what loading channels meant.

I was thinking, “These people do not have strong language skills and seem extremely socially awkward – at least on IM – and they’ve been mandated to be blissfully, blisteringly cheerful.”  What’s going on here?

Here’s what’s going on here, as best as I can figure it out.  This unnamed large cable TV provider has outsourced its “live chat” customer service function to a country whose primary language is not English.  In a largely unsuccessful effort to mitigate the damage caused by prioritizing budget over customer service, the company has told its CSRs (customer service reps) to be cloyingly obsequious.

It doesn’t feel like customer service.  It feels forced and awkward – like any attempt to prioritize budget over authentic relationship.



About the Author

Steve Motenko is an executive coach, leadership trainer, and co-host of The Boss Show, a weekly podcast on workplace dynamics. Steve and his Boss Show co-host, Jim Hessler, are co-authors of Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face: A Guide to Building Your Leadership Platform. Steve lives on Whidbey Island, Washington, with his wife and dog, whom he loves, and a cat he tolerates usually pretty well.

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