5 Lessons I Learned From Working in the Customer Service Industry
In any business, no matter the domain, there will always be some element of service. When you picture any kind of customer service representative, what comes to mind is an overly-cheery person chirping away on the phone to a disgruntled customer. It may seem hyperbolic, but having worked in several customer service industries, I can attest to its tricky balance of authenticity and acting. But the skills that you can come away with through a service job can be invaluable when applied to everyday life. Here are some of the things I learned on the job.
1. Become a character
Customer service reps can seem utopic. But the people that work in customer service are not so different from everyday people. They don't have superhuman levels of patience; they don't have an extraordinarily high pain tolerance. Mostly, they're able to reason with unreasonable people because they make a transformation. "Becoming a character" may be over-exaggerating the point, but working in service requires you to put on more than just a happy face. It's a performance, just like being on stage. You can think of it like a switch that you turn on, to turn into your cheery self, able to combat even the most banal of administrative woes.
It gives you the opportunity to momentarily forget your personal issues and take on a positive persona. This can be helpful in real life in almost every situation, from a first date to a corporate presentation. Adopting a positive attitude is not being "fake," but projecting your best self onto your audience. We all want to come out on stage looking great, right? Plus, having a positive attitude can also reduce stress!
2. Always have an answer
Customer service people never have all the answers. But it's their job to be hubs of information and assurance. That means, even if you don't know the answer to a question, you have to assure the customer that you will find out, or direct them to the person that will know the answer. But whatever you do: don't lie. A lot of times, people think it seems weak to tell someone that you don't know the answer. But it's a lot worse of an idea to make something up and have to deal with the fallout after. At the end of the day, most reasonable customers appreciate and respect your efforts, even if their problems aren't solved immediately.
In life, always having an answer makes you appear even more confident. But when it comes to big decisions, don't feel that you have to provide an answer right away. Consult with your best sources of advice and then come back with a day that you will have your answer. Remember, the longer you take to respond, the more effort it seems that you are putting into your response.
3. Don't argue
Now the lawyers in the room might disagree with me, but the negative energy that's created during an argument is not healthy for either party, especially in a professional environment. If you're dealing with an unruly customer, you need to know how to de-escalate rather than fuel their fire. People love to complain, and the next step after complaining is ranting. And then, hopefully not, throwing stuff. Your job is to speak in a calm and respectful demeanor and not blame the customer.
Arguments happen in life all the time; they're a part of humanity. But greatly reducing arguments will also reduce your cortisol levels. No screaming, just speaking.
4. Burn your ego
In the service industry, it quickly becomes clear that you are an ambassador of a brand, a representative of a company. That means, you have to sacrifice a bit of your personal identity. It's not a bad thing! It just means that your job is not to be the winner in a situation or prove that you're right. Your behaviors should directly align with the better good of the company which you represent. So you must act for the whole, even if that means letting go of your ego just a little.
In life, we are faced with certain choices that require us to consider the bigger picture over ourselves. Just suck it up and write about it in your memoir.
5. It's not personal
Whenever you have a conflict at work, it's easy to blame yourself. But most of the time, customer complaints have everything to do with things out of your control. You're just the messenger, remember, not the king. When a customer is going off on you, they're not accusing you of having bad character or being a bad person. They're just frustrated with a usually minor banality and have no personal agenda against you.
Similarly, many things in life will be your fault, but you can't take them personally. If so, you'll start to ruminate and bog yourself down, sabotaging your chances of success. The best advice is to leave it in the past, and move on.
Customer service is not an easy profession, but teaches a variety of useful skills when dealing with problems in the real world. So put on a smile and prepare yourself to be patient. Your kindness will be rewarded.