Calling for customer service in the U.S. has never been a pleasant experience for me.
Whether that’s calling for a doctor’s appointment, airline inquiries, or worse, for insurance coverage, I often find the mannerisms of the customer service representatives and their responses rude and frustrating. Also I hate the person I turn into while I’m trying to express a complaint during a phone call. I get agitated, loud, snappy, among other things, and I can’t recall how many times I got off the phone wanting to break something.

While I can be an angry customer, I am also a receiver of angry calls/emails.
At my current role, I am a gatekeeper for my host organization’s corporate partner. I filter organizations who want to participate in a corporate campaign, a campaign can potentially benefit the nonprofit financially. This means that I have to say no to some applications that don’t fit in the criteria, and 95% of the time the nonprofit partners accept the decision. Except sometimes they don’t, and that’s when things get ugly. I have answered a decent number of calls and emails where our partners were VERY upset. People yelled at me, whined at me, begged me, and finally hung up on me to show their frustrations. Not what you would expect for a decent adult would do. In one memorable instance, one of them wrote to me saying that my decision to turn their organization down was equivalent of a genocide. I didn’t know whether to be offended or amused to be compared to Hitler and/or Stalin (I work for a nonprofit in international development, for heaven’s sake!).

When I started receiving these responses, it was hard not to take them personally. I remember a number of times when the partners were yelling over the phone, and I wanted to yell back, “I’m just my job, stop blaming me!” Gradually, though, I decided to take things differently, rather than personally. I started to think that rather than thinking that they are angry at ME, they are more angry at the experience, and I’m being yelled at as a part of their experience. After all, my decision was not personal. Also, I noticed that emails and phone calls aggravated people. It was so much easier to express anger when you weren’t staring the person feeling discomforted or hurt.

With this in mind, I am learning to be patient when I call for customer service here. I try to breathe before I want to get my point across. I try to imagine what the person is going through at the other end of the line. I try to speak softer. It’s still hard but taking in what I’ve learned from dealing with anger, I feel like I’m slowly improving.

(But I still miss Japanese excellent customer service…)

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