business

Pathos

I have a hard time being pandered to.

After years of working in technical support, where one is daily faced with an onslaught of frustrated people looking to get their problems solved, I’ve learned that all the things we teach customer service agents and other phone people is largely fluff.

Our best years at the last big company I worked for (grown from a dozen people to over seven hundred now) was in the earlier days, before we had Quality Assurance departments and scripts.

We weren’t jerks on the phone or anything, but people appreciated the simple, straightforward approach. We’d say, “I’d understand you’re angry”, but not because we were told to, but because it was followed up with “but let’s just focus on getting this fixed.”

If someone was particularly belligerent or not listening, we didn’t try to gladhand them back into place or produce false sympathy.

We told them, “I get you’re pissed off, but I’m not here for your abuse. If you want your problem fixed, you need to start playing nice.”

And you know what? Most of the time that woke people up to the fact that they were dealing with an actual human being, and not just some voice to vent their frustrations with their unhappy lives upon. Something about being disembodied on the phone really emboldens some people to unleash all their rage on whoever is on the other end.

But here’s the thing: a nice person who just wants their problem solved?

Going way over and above for. They’ve given me respect and courtesy. Doing my job to get their problem solved and make them happy is literally the least I could do at that point, given how most people are.

Asshole yelling at me? Well, we just want you off the phone, so you get the absolute bare minimum needed to get you there, and there’s no going above and beyond, unless we’re forced to – and that usually comes with a lot of anger and arguing first.

It’s faster, simpler and more effective to be nice. Not a pushover, mind you, just nice.

The best part?

People loved us. We’d routinely get the guy who we just told we were no longer putting up with his shit call back and apologize and then go write a glowing review about us online. Our frankness, the fact that we were actual, real people made for much more harmonious and productive relationships. My average call took four and a half minutes there before I moved on to management and my solve rate, the rate of which people had to call back because they weren’t working? Next to nil.

These days, the average call time at the low end, with all their scripting and passive approach? Nearly twenty minutes. The solve rate? Don’t even ask, and they’re one of the highest rated providers in Canada for customer service. They still pale in comparison.

At my age, I’m past the point of beating around the bush. I had to play the QA game for a bit there, but by the time all that really came into effect, I was running the tech joint. My “supervisor” calls were rarely audited, but even still, it became clear over time that my usual approach to someone who was losing their mind and being unreasonable wouldn’t be tolerated, regardless of how effective it was.

You’d be surprised how often waiting until some ranting customer took a breath and asking, “Are you done? Because here’s what needs to happen now” and telling them what’s what works.

People would get fired for less now, but it’s still the best way.

Don’t patronize. Don’t bring in the pathos to pretend like you commiserate.

Just be direct. And be honest. Show you understand they’re frustrated or angry and that they have a problem, but don’t take shit.

You don’t need to play verbal aikido.

Equanimity and honesty is the way to go. False pathos is pathetically transparent and insulting.

These people are locked into whatever is going wrong with their lives and their frustration is coming out at you for something incidental, in the same way people get road rage. It’s easy to yell at people from inside your little box, to vent all your unhappiness with your own life at some random stranger with whom you don’t have to come face to face.

It’s even worse online, where these interactions are even further dehumanized. People will behave over the phone or the internet in ways they never would in person.

They get into a state and forget there are consequences for being an asshole.

It’s incredible how easy it is to remind them of that, if you’re willing to be a little forceful and direct and leave the pathos behind.

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