Serving Both Sides: Being The Middle (Wo)man In Customer Service

be10e-middlemanWe’ve all heard it before:

The “I’m in a different department” line: “I can’t help you because the issue is handled through a different department. I’ll have to transfer you.”

The “It’s out of my hands” line: “That problem is actually caused by an outside vendor that we subscribe to services with. It’s out of my hands.”

The “It’s an upper management decision” line: “I can’t help you. I am not authorized to make that decision. I will need to escalate this to upper management.

While yes, sometimes the situation IS out of your hands, you still have the customer on the phone with you or standing in front of you. You still have to do something, right? How are you supposed to handle a situation when you have no control over what happens?

In customer service, we’re always serving both sides: 

Our customer


Our business

I manage the number transfer department for and I am in this position just about every day.

We are a phone provider and when a customer transfers their number to us, they are actually transferring it to our account with our carrier.

Our carrier handles the actual provisioning of the number. The customer handles their personal account information. Neither the customer or our carrier can actually talk to each other for legal reasons. I can’t physically make the number transfers happen. I’m just the middle (wo)man who relays information from the customer to the carrier and from the carrier to the customer and back again!

So, when something goes wrong, I talk to the customer then I share the information with the carrier. When the carrier replies, I share the information back to the customer.

Basically, it’s like that childhood game of telephone. Just with actual phones, not cans.

How does one do this effectively, without confusing the customer, passing the buck and getting the job done right?

Glad you asked. Here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way:

Learn The Lingo: Even though you can’t technically fix the problem and you must escalate to someone else, be aware of words and phrases that are used often with the folks you are escalating to. This will help to get issues taken care of sooner than later when you talk their language. If you must escalate, notate the situation clearly, with the lingo you know and make sure that the issue is placed in the right hands.

Communicate Clearly To The Customer: What do you need from the customer to ensure a smooth transition of this issue? If you need a copy of bill dated within 30 business days from the current provider of the telephone number that shows the number listed on the document, communicate it to them. Don’t just tell the customer you need a copy of bill. Having all the proper details ahead of time will proactively take care of your customer.

Ask And You Shall Receive: When in doubt, ask. Have a problem that you’re not sure how to solve and you might have to escalate? ASK someone for help  beforehand. Perhaps you CAN solve it yourself. In some cases, this may  mean asking the folks you might be escalating to, if they are accessible to you. When I have issues with a number transfer, I’ll ask 10,000 questions to the carrier to make sure I have all the right information to take back to the customer. This saves so much time. If you do have to escalate, make sure to gather all necessary information from the customer, even if it means asking them 10,000 questions. It will only ensure that the resolution comes sooner than later for their situation.

While being the middle (wo)man will always be a part of our lives in customer service, being aware of this and being prepared for this will allow us to be even more awesome at helping others.




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