The 9 Dreaded Words Of Any Customer Service Director

downloadThe 9 dreaded words of any customer service director are “Let me speak with the head of customer service.”  A while back I wrote a post titled The 6 Dreaded Words Of Any Contact Center Agent: “Let Me Speak With Your Supervisor.”  Little did I know I would have a second part to that post one day.  Late last week I was either in the middle of a meeting, pouring over a spreadsheet or perhaps putting the finishing touches on a blog post when I was interrupted by one of our customer service representatives.  The dialog went something like this:

CSR: “I have a customer that wants to speak with you.”

Me: “I’m busy.  Is one of our fine supervisors available?”

CSR: “They don’t want to speak with a supervisor.  They want to speak with the head of customer service….and P.S. this dude is pissed off.”

Me: “Ok give me a second to dust off my phone.”

It might not have gone exactly like that but leave it to a customer to interrupt my perfect routine.  Believe it or not, this actually happened twice last week.  Let me give you a step by step of how these calls went.

Step 1– Take a really deep breath.

Step 2– Put on my best game face.  Note that the game face should include a smile.  I have to be at my very best.  After all, my team is listening and they know I write a blog about awesome customer service.

Step 3– Nod to the CSR to send the call over.

Step 4– Answer the call with a deep, confident tone of voice. (Inside there’s a little boy saying “Please don’t yell at me.”)

Step 5– Wade through an initial barrage of insults and expletives knowing they are directed at the situation and not at me.  Refuse to be offended!  Deep breaths and a calm, reassuring tone of voice really help keep the blood pressure down.

Step 6– Show as much empathy as humanly possible for the situation we find ourselves in and work to make logical sense of it all.  Seek to find understanding and move toward action items and compensation as needed.  The focus is on restoring the relationship with the customer and building a bridge that leads to loyalty.

It was at this point where the calls diverged.

Caller number one proceeded to give me his credentials as a developer and business owner which effectively put my measly 13 years in customer service to shame.  The only way he would be happy is if he spoke with someone who signed the paychecks.  Rather than fight it, I said I would see what I could do.  Fortunately, the people I work for hate losing customers with a passion.  Our CTO called him back, had a nice discussion with him and opened ongoing lines of communication.

Caller number two eventually cooled down and on his own admitted where he might have dropped the ball.  I didn’t accuse him of anything either!  We worked together on a resolution and I made myself available for follow up any time he needed it.  The reason he escalated to me in the first place was that he hit our front line support with such an attack that the phone virtually exploded.  Sometimes time to simmer down and a supervisor are indeed the best remedy.  Oh and I did follow up with a handwritten note of appreciation to this customer.

Here are my take aways from these two escalated calls:

1. No one is too important or too high-ranking in any organization to speak with customers.

2. If you’re going to work in customer service, work for someone who hates losing customers.

3. The moment you let yourself get offended, you lose.

4. In customer service, interruptions are part of the job.  Learn to embrace them.

5. If you start a customer service blog, just know that from henceforth you are accountable for everything you write about.


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  • Jeremy – you raise a good issue that I always struggled with when I was in your shoes. I still don’t know the right answer.

    Should a customer be allowed to escalate a call as high up the org chart as they would like to? I’ve always had mixed feelings about that, especially if you have supervisors who are very capable of handling an escalated call and finding a resolution.

    I suppose it depends on the circumstances.

  • Hey Jeff, it’s funny that didn’t come up today but yes I wrestle with that a lot as well. The one thing I will say is that in our organization top management loves talking to customers. There’s really a sense of ownership and indebtedness to the people that ultimately pay our salaries. That being said, it’s nice to have boundaries so they can focus more on running the company.

  • The customers are getting smarter. They no longer want to speak to a supervisor. They want to talk to an executive. This article maps out a conversation that should never take place. However the reason it might in any organization is because the employees haven’t been empowered to deliver customer focused solutions. They have to get approval, or in some cases, have to say “no” to the customer. One solution is to have a culture that is about “One person to say YES. Two to say NO.” That means that the front line is empowered to come up with solutions. The reason to see a supervisor (or VP of customer service – or even the CEO), is because they have to say “NO” to the customer. It takes good training to show an employee the range of opportunity they have to take care of a customer. This strategy could eliminate those dreaded words.

    • Thank you for commenting Shep! After those calls I am definitely working on the gaps in our training that led to those calls being escalated.


  • It’s great you suggest empathy over sympathy. Helps to put yourself in the customer’s place.

  • As much as these calls are dreaded, it’s necessary to take a positive view of the situation and think- “how can we use this to our advantage in the future?” Maybe a flaw in your process was exposed and you can now work to fix it.

    • You are totally right Jason. I find that the more empowered our front line agents are to handle these types of calls to completion, the happier they are. I’m focused on getting them the tools they need to do just that. Thanks so much for reading and commenting on my post! I really appreciate it.


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