Saturday, April 30, 2011

Dont' Worry, Be Happy!

Most of us are familiar with Bobby McFerrin's cute tune of the 80s espousing us to "be happy" and telling us "don't worry." But that is hard advice to follow. We all worry, it's common. Books line the bookshelves about decreasing worry and a quick Google survey reveals countless quotes on the topic, my personal favorite belonging to Thomas Jefferson, who said "How much pain they have cost us, the evils which have never happened."

Again, easier said than done. Even with the songs, the books, and the quotes I still found myself worrying, until I came across some ancient Buddhist wisdom:

There is no need to worry. If there is a problem that can be fixed, fix it. If there is a problem that cannot be fixed, there is nothing you can do about it.

What a great quote - if there's something you can do about a problem, do it. If there isn't, there's no use worrying about it. And that's really how I try to live my life. My favorite saying is, "it is what it is." In other words, deal with it and move on.

This little trinket can be applied to customer service. How many times as customer service professionals have we had that call that really set us off? They were irritated and yes, even abusive, and not matter how many times we tell ourselves not to take it personally, we find that customer's words haunting us the rest of the day, even beyond.

But why bother? We don't know the customer. The customer doesn't know us. Maybe the customer was having a bad day - or maybe the customer was having a good day, made bad by some experience he or she had with our company. Think about it. We've all been upset at one time or another and I'm sure there are times we've expressed our anger in ways that aren't always appropriate. That's no excuse, but sometimes we forget that the person on the other end of the phone is an actual human being - just like us, and like all humans (and all creatures for that matter) that customer desires one thing - happiness. Sometimes we prescribe super human properties to our customers. They are as super human as we are.

Next time there is an irate customer on the phone, try to remember that the customer is a human - like us - and try to think about the problem, not the customer, as the enemy.

When there is a customer that can't be satisfied, and may even be abusive, take a few moments after the call to clear the emotional toxins from the system by taking what I call a "mini-meditation."

Take a deep breath, or several, and try to clear you mind of any thoughts. If any thoughts come into your mind, let them pass out without affecting you in any way. This doesn't have to take long - one minute or even less sometimes. That's it. One of the best pieces of advice I've ever had was to take ten deep breaths when upset. It's amazing how that can clear the mind.

And if it matters, that customer is probably feeling pretty bad about what they said. Think of that. That should make your day.

Tashi Delek!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Awakening Kindness

I just finished reading Awakening Kindness by Nawang Khechog, and while I thought the book was mediocre (it might be good for someone new to Buddhism, but honestly, it's a very 'tired' theme for me) I thought it had a few great nuggets of wisdom, nuggets that can easily be applied to the customer service profession.

(1) All living creatures want happiness - This is a common theme throughout Buddhism. All creatures seek happiness, although happiness to one person is different than happiness to another person. As customer service professionals we have to determine what that is and we cannot assume that your customer wants the same thing you would want. But at its root, people do want to be treated with respect - that's pretty common. No matter how ridiculous a customer's request might be, treat that request - and the customer - with respect. See how it goes. In my own life I've just completed a month-long issue with my Internet Service Provider. A month. I was close to bolting and finding a new provider, but the company did have a few people that treated me, and my problem, with respect. There was one however that didn't, and believe me, I could have easily left because of that one person (it's a small, local company). There was also a tech support person that wasn't very respectful toward me. Neither thought I knew what I was talking about and were both confident that my problem was with one piece of equipment or another. The thing is, they were so stubborn in their belief that they did not listen to what I was saying. But that's a them for another post.

(2) Kindness begets kindness. So simple, so true, but so hard to practice. The nicer - and more respectful - you are toward others, the nicer they are in return. This is almost universally true. Sure, there are some exceptions, but not many. Those of us who have spent time in call centers know that the same people get the bad calls "over and over" again. But guess what? It's not the customer, it's the representative who receives the call! I know this is hard, but the next time a customer is upset with you, try being kind. I've always used an acronym for this: take the HEAT:

Hear them out
Take Action

This is a good way to express kindness to the customer and let them know you respect them.

Again, I know this isn't easy. Customer service professionals usually get the problem calls and most of the time someone can't pay their bill for some reason or another and as a professional, I'm sure you've heard it all - illness, lost job, car repairs, etc. To you, this is run of the mill. But try to put yourself in the customer's place (and do not assume they are lying - that will only make things worse!). There aren't many people who enjoy not being able to meet their financial obligations. How would you feel if you lost your job - and your income? Sure, the customer could have saved more, or should have been more careful about their job, but coulda, woulda, shoulda doesn't help. Kindness does. Try it next time.

Next time you have a problem call, take a mental pause and ask yourself:
- How is this person feeling right now?
- What do they want and need?
- What can I do to help them?

Remember, the good customer service professional doesn't look at it as them vs. the customer, but instead as them and the customer vs. the problem.

Tashi Delek!