Call Center Purgatory <$BlogRSDURL$>
Call Center Purgatory
Thursday, May 11, 2006

I've been spending some more time reading Tom Vander Well's blog lately. He has a really good post about apologizing in the call center. It got me to thinking about something that I think is one of the keys to good customer service, whether you work in a call center or not: deference.

Deference is lacking no matter where you go. Sometimes, I think it may be lacking more in the USA with our hyped-up sense of "I've got my rights" or "You're not any better than me!" mentality that is common in our country. I'm not bad mouthing America, I just think that we have developed a culture that is lacking in deference compared to others. Some people call America a Christian nation, that may be partly true as far as our dominant religious and cultural influences, but we don't exemplify every Christian ideal by a long shot.

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others."
~Philippians 2:3-4 (NIV)
It's hard to imagine any of our cultural icons saying such a thing. Can you ever dream of a rap song about the value of deference? Can you imagine Bill O'Reilly saying, "Now, I don't agree with you, but I really want to make sure that you get a chance to fully explain your position. I promise I won't interrupt until you are done, Senator Kennedy."? How about an action film based on a courteous hero that solves world problems by gentle persuasion? Gandhi would be the closest to that. I'm not saying that those people don't exist here, they do. You can find wonderful, kind, deferential people in every state-even Jersey. It just seems that the popular culture magnifies only the brashest, rudest, and most prideful people. Because of this, many people, especially young people, see deference as a character flaw, and being "disrespected" by someone else as a personal travesty.

Deference is not being a suck-up, crawler, or brown noser. It's not being a phony or a toady. It's something much more basic and kind. One of the definitions of deference is "a courteous regard for people's feelings". That is putting other people's needs and feelings first.

When you talk about deference to another person, there is another expression that is intrinsically linked: saving face. When I've been to other countries I've seen this is more common. I remember the times when I really made a mistake and instead of making me feel bad or embarrassing me in public, a person would go out of their way to save my "face". They would either use a euphemism or present my failure in such a way that protected my image. When I realized their kindness, that person became my hero and I vowed to return the favor.

What does this have to do with call centers? I'll tell you. Many of us realize that many call centers hire a lot of young people, fresh out of high school, or in some cases, people that have spent most of their lives in low-paying jobs. Now, I'm not being elitist or prejudical, but I was a poor, young redneck once, and the concept of deference was as foreign a concept to me as a thesarus is to the current resident of the White House. My call center is a little different in that most people have some college, but we still get some people hired in at the entry level for the billing and customer service side.

The point is that many people working at call centers today don't see the value of deference. Instead, they get angry any time a customer "disrespects" them in any way. Even worse, when they call the customer to give them bad news, like a problem with their credit or margin problems, they sound more like a collections agent, "You don't have enough credit for this!", "We can't help you, you don't qualify!". Its no wonder there are so many angry call center customers when so many agents can never stop to think outside of their own feelings to consider the person on the other end of the phone.

I've always went out of my way to point out how customers should act in such a way that they deserve good service. But its not always their fault. Its human nature to get nasty if someone makes you look bad and embarrasses you. Deference is definitely one the keys to great customer service and to surviving bad days in Call Center Purgatory.

Thanks for reading,

Anonymous Cog

Excellent post ! The word deference had no meaning for me. You are right it is not common.
Thanks for commenting. Glad you liked it!
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Exploring the mind numbing insanity and childish corporate culture of an unknown call center employee.

Purgatory: A place of suffering and torment with an unknown duration. In Roman Catholic Theology-the place where the dead are purified from their sins.

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