People judge the company we represent on every single phone call
By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
I once had a call center agent work for me who had a compulsion to offer commentary at the end of every call. Her comments ranged from snarky to crass. Occasionally she voiced her opinion a bit too quickly, before the caller had hung up or while the voice logger was still recording. In addition, her unfiltered diatribe irritated her coworkers in adjacent cubicles. Eventually we reigned in her problematic habit, but I don’t think we stopped it altogether.
A Need to Vent
I get that sometimes we need to vent. But this should be a rare event, not a common occurrence. And most certainly the caller should never be privy to our opinions, such as this agent’s thoughts about callers’ intellectual abilities or the nature of their parentage. Sometimes we need to go out of rotation for a moment to gather our thoughts and recalibrate our focus before we dive into the next call. And on the rarest of occasions, an agent may require an unscheduled break.
If you work in a call center, you know that this post-call commentary happens. You may even do it yourself, perhaps in your mind or maybe under your breath, but it shouldn’t happen out loud. That’s simply unprofessional—doubly so if the caller hears even a fragment of it.
Recently I experienced the other end of this. I had called a company, and afterward I heard the agent’s commentary—about me.
As we said our good-byes, but before I could hang up, she sighed and whispered, “What a nice man.”
My mind went spinning. First was the shock that she spoke before disconnecting our call. Next was that I experienced the caller’s side of hearing an agent’s post-call opinion. And third was that I had done nothing to earn the positive label she gave me. Though I deserved no credit, I hoped the rest of her day was a little bit better because of our interaction.
In all my years in the call center industry, I can’t remember an agent making a positive statement after a call. Either it’s negative, or it’s nonexistent.
Callers Talk About Agents Too
What agents may not realize is that callers do this same thing when it comes to agents. Here are some things I’ve thought or said after a call:
“I don’t think they have a clue.”
“What they said made absolutely no sense.”
“I have no expectation they’ll ever follow through.”
“Maybe I should call back and talk to a rep who actually knows what’s going on.”
When I—and every other caller—make these statements, they might be addressing the agent, but they’re not really about the agent. They’re about the company the agent represents.
Every Call Matters
That’s why every call matters. Each call is an opportunity to impress the caller and draw them into your company. Alternately every call has a potential to drive them away. Unfortunately it takes several good calls to counteract one bad one.
Over the years I’ve experienced both good calls and bad. I often share these examples so we can all learn from them and do better. One call stands out as the best of the best. It was a help desk call that lasted over an hour. As the rep worked to resolve my software issue, she kept up a rapport-building conversation.
Most help desk agents politely place callers on hold while waiting for various tasks to complete. This one didn’t. She maintained an engaging dialogue with me—though I mostly listened, and she mostly talked. She told me how much she liked her job and what a great company she worked for. We talked a little bit about the general area where she lived and the climate—a perfect fit for her. She also shared other tidbits that were neither too personal nor uninteresting. Throughout it all she exuded positivity, and her infectious demeanor rubbed off on me.
The call ended, but the memory of it stays with me. Now, many months later, I’m dismayed to admit that I no longer remember her name. But I’ll always remember the company she worked for.
That’s a lesson for us all.
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Connections Magazine, covering the call center teleservices industry.