YOU are “They”

One of the simple truths I constantly attempt to help Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) internalize is that they are "representatives" of the company for whom they work. To the customer, you are the company. Sure, most customers understand that the person they’re speaking with didn’t personally mess up their order or create the issue about which they are calling. Nevertheless, you represent the company who did. As a representative of the company, customers expect you to take responsibility and ownership for resolving the issue and communicating concern over their inconvenience.

That’s why it doesn’t make any sense to the customer when you talk about "they":

  • "They" didn’t enter your order correctly
  • "They" have been backed up lately and didn’t ship it on time
  • "They" are experiencing system issues at the moment
  • "They" instituted this policy that doesn’t make any sense
  • "They"  lost your order
  • "They" gave you wrong information last time you called
  • "They" didn’t note your account

In the customer’s mind, you are the company – you ARE the "they" that you are talking about. The use of "they" is a subtle device that, deep down, shifts blame away from ourselves and places it elsewhere. Yet, the customer is looking for someone to take responsibility – not make excuses and shift blame.

  7 comments for “YOU are “They”

  1. August 30, 2006 at 11:22 am

    Tom, “They” or “corporate” are just about dirty words to me in our business. You couldn’t be more right on about this one. It’s all about taking responsibility and acting as one “connected” company. Bravo.

  2. August 30, 2006 at 5:05 pm

    Thanks Starbucker! How did your visit go to the company call center the other week?

  3. August 30, 2006 at 8:39 pm

    True ‘nuf, Tom.
    One of the things that our customer service team of two at MarketingProfs does well is empathy — for example, they often say things to customers/clients like “I don’t blame you” and “That bugs me, too.”
    Often a complaint is not so much a complaint as a cry to be heard. Using “they” seems to only further distance ownership of a specific problem — even IF someone isn’t directly responsible.

  4. August 31, 2006 at 7:56 am

    That’s great, Ann. They “get it”. I’ve said in earlier posts that customers just want two things: they want the issue resolved AND they want someone to care. Your CSR’s empathy is a great example of reps doing the “care” part right. Kudos to Marketing Profs!

  5. September 1, 2006 at 7:13 pm

    Tom, I just got back from the call center yesterday – it was a good visit (used your stuff – thanks!), but boy were we busy; our sales have never been higher (or our call volume). Any “coping” strategies for managers who just know their agents are going to get slammed but still need to keep the quality high (and not sacrifice it to quantity)?

  6. September 7, 2006 at 8:00 pm

    Isn’t it amazing how one little word makes such a difference. I remember once getting the opportunity to speak to a group of people that were not like me, we came from very different worlds, but I went out of my way to use the word, “We” over and over. That one change made a tough situation change to a very positive one, “We” had an excellent meeting.
    You’re right that the use of “they” as a tool for shifting the blame means a lot. It’s the sign of a call center worker, (any worker for that matter), that does not feel a part of something bigger. In a room full of people doing the same job, they are the lone ranger.
    Lone Ranger…that’s a dangerous situation to be in as a call center worker. You remember the Lone Ranger was not always welcomed everywhere he went.
    Good post.

  7. September 8, 2006 at 9:50 am

    Nice to hear from you, AC! I love the Lone Ranger analogy. Hope you don’t mind if I use that and credit you. I think there’s a lot of truth to be mined in that. I’ve alluded a few times to my love for the series “Band of Brothers”. I think a call center is much like that. When the bullets start flying – you need to be part of a team knowing you have each others’ back.
    Thanks for the comment. Have a great weekend.

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