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Are Your Customer Service Reps Human Beings or Cyborgs?

David Lee

On the same day a while back, I witnessed examples of both ends of the spectrum. First, customer service rep as Cyborg and then the caring human being example…

While waiting in line at an electronics store, I observe a woman rummaging through her wallet for the correct change. With a self-conscious laugh, she apologizes to the clerk for how long it is taking her to find the right change. Meanwhile, the young man behind the counter continues to stare at the cash register, face impassive, making no comment.

She finds the correct change, gathers her purchase and thanks him. Staring back at her -- again, with zero expression on his face -- and with a robotic voice tone, he responds with that customer-endearing reply: "No problem."

This is the second time I’ve been in this store – it’s the only chain that sells the kind of electronic adapter cords I need—and the second time I’ve seen this man deliver that kind of blasê, aloof, personality-free response.

Now, contrast that to my experience at L.L. Bean factory store in Freeport that same day. When I plunked my items down onto the counter, I apprised the clerk of the Christmas Gift Certificate Snafu I had experienced.

My mother had given the wrong zip code to the call center rep when ordering it, and so the certificate had never arrived. I told her that the L.L. Bean call center lady told me to just give the number, correct zip code, amount, etc. at the store, and they would honor it.

I shared with the cashier the mildly amusing fact that my mother insisted to the call center rep that the zip code in her address book was right, undeterred by the rep’s reply that the zip code was actually for a town 15 miles away. My mother held firm, and the certificate headed off to a nonexistent address.

The cashier chuckled and cheerily processed my order. There was no dull stare, no disinterested, all-business air. Instead, her responsive, personable demeanor added an extra layer of pleasure to the fact I got some great deals.

Thus, her simple engaging with me as a human, not as a robot, added to the total customer experience. Because, when it comes to customer service, "It’s about the experience," she adds value to her employer by creating a friendly, engaging experience. Contrast this with the electronics store Cyborg whose disinterested, personality-free demeanor detracts from the customer experience.

If You Supervise Customer Service Reps, Here Are Some Questions To Ask Yourself:

  1. Do your customer service reps act more like the Cyborg at the electronics store or the personable, friendly lady at L.L. Bean?
  2. Do your customer service reps respond when customers share something on a personal level? Let me give you a brief example of this not happening: While observing a client’s call center rep taking calls, I remember hearing a caller talk about getting into a near fatal car accident. Despite the sharing of this very personal piece of information, the call center rep never missed a beat. No response. No "I’m sorry to hear that… that must have been terrifying" or even a "Wow" or nonverbal equivalent that indicated she heard what the caller had said. She made absolutely no connection as one human being to another.
  3. Do their faces and voice tones indicate they care about the customer – i.e. are they animated and engaged—or do they look stone-faced and disinterested?
  4. Do they recognize the difference between customers who just want to process the transaction ASAP and those who want to engage in a pleasant, human to human interaction and adjust their response accordingly?

If You’re A Customer Service Rep, Here Are Some Questions to Ask Yourself

  1. Are you 100% present for each customer or do you get into customer service autopilot, processing transactions in a robotic manner?
  2. If a customer shares something that lets you know something about themselves, do you acknowledge that they shared with you, rather than motor along with the transaction?
  3. If a customer interacts in a friendly, personable way, whether by laughing at a foible of theirs, conversing like they’re talking with a friend, or joking about something, do you mirror their more personable style, or do you act "all business"?
  4. Does your face and voice tone reflect interest and engagement? If you tend to be somewhat reserved, you might think you’re looking interested, but your expression might look anything but. Ask for feedback from friends and colleagues about whether you need to give more overt cues that you’re listening and care.

David Lee, the founder of HumanNature@Work, works with employers who want to improve employee engagement, customer service, and morale. He has worked with organizations and presented at conferences both domestically and abroad