QAQnA Mail Bag: Crossing the Line

I received a great e-mail yesterday from a regular reader named Matthew who works in a call center – and enjoys his job (by his own admission!). I could tell that Matthew is a sharp, conscientious CSR – and he responded to Monday’s post with a couple of rhetorical questions that I thought were worthy of discussion. I’ll address the first issue today and another in a subsequent post:

"Do we talk like our customers if it’ll make em feel more comfortable?  Is being yourself a good reason to speak in slang if the customer feels more at ease?" Have you ever found yourself speaking with an accent to someone from boston, or sounding a bit southern talking to that peach from Georgia?  I have, and thankfully my lousy attempts haven’t offended anyone "yet".

Great issue – and a common one. When do you cross the line from being comfortable/conversational to being unprofessional? Here’s a couple of thoughts…

  • QA should always allow for an individual to apply behavioral elements with their own individual style. For example, it’s appropriate to expect a CSR to "offer to help with other questions or needs" but let CSRs use a phrase that is comfortable for them (e.g. "Anything else I can do for you?", "Did you have any other questions for me?", "What else can I do?", etc.)
  • From Matthew’s e-mail I deduce that he’s a positive, enthusiastic, self-motivated person. But, what if a CSR is – by nature – angry, bitter, and pessimistic? Should we encourage this person to "be yourself?" QA is necessary to provide a framework of behavioral expectations – so that CSRs know what is expected of them, even if it’s not immediately natural for them. Unfortunately, in some cases you don’t want CSRs to "be themselves".
  • Matthew raises the specific issue of talking with an accent to match the customers "if it will make them feel comfortable" – but we should all be careful about making assumptions. How do we know that adopting customers’ accents will make them feel comfortable? Perhaps what customers really want when they call is for us to sound like the professional, top-notch company they are calling. Perhaps they want us to sound educated, knowledgeable, articulate and professional – not someone who sounds like their next door neighbor. Perhaps they are one and the same – perhaps they’re not.
  • If we’re putting on an accent or speaking slang to match the customer are you truly "being yourself"? Reading between the lines, Matthew seem to anticipate that mimicking the customer might be offensive or taken as making fun – which is a risk I think we want to avoid.
  • I believe the broader issue Matthew raises is making sure that we sound conversational, courteous and friendly but not so familiar that we cross the line. That can be a difficult line to define because it can move from call to call. A CSR and customer I heard in a call last month had a great, friendly rapport going – very conversational. The customer left the phone to get some information and was gone a while. When the customer returned to the line the CSR said, "What took you so long – were you in the bathroom?". Ouch.

Thanks to Matthew for a thought provoking e-mail. Have you had an experience of accidentally "crossing the line"? Perhaps you have your own thoughts on this subject. I invite you to click on the "comment" link in the footer of this post (e-mail subscribers should click on the post title at the top of the e-mail which will take you to a permalink of this post complete with footer) – and tell us your story or leave a comment with your own two-cents. We’d love to hear from you!

  4 comments for “QAQnA Mail Bag: Crossing the Line

  1. March 7, 2007 at 6:50 pm

    This is a great question. My own take on it is this: Don’t use the accent, or slang. It can sound like you are mocking or just wrong. Do adjust your rate of speech to match theirs. People from the South general speak slower, and spend more time on pleasantries. People from the North East speak faster and have less time for pleasantries. Florida is a toss-up, as is Los Angeles.
    If you know something about the part of the country that the caller is from, you may know how to pronounce different city names or ask about something local, this will make your caller feel at home.
    You should try to guage what sort of level of formality your client wants. I have clients I say “My Bad” and “How’s it going Bro?” and other clients where it is “Yes, Sir, No Ma’am”.
    That’s where a QC program is good to help you with these things. Most of us old-timers just had to figure it out ourselves.
    Here’s a post I did on this subject:
    One other thing about these kind of techniques, they are also used as part of a teaching called NLP, or Neuro Linguistic Programming. I’m still learning about it myself, but it seems that using these sorts of methods of speaking to people makes them more agreeable and more open to your requests.
    I think Tom knows more about NLP than I do and could explain it better…

  2. March 8, 2007 at 7:12 pm

    Excellent point about the assumptions. I’ve witnessed more than once that a company assumed they knew how the customer wanted to be treated. The results for those companies were never what they expected.

  3. March 9, 2007 at 8:51 am

    AC – great commentary from the trenches, as always. Thanks for the link and for the heads up on NLP – I’ve heard that mentioned from time to time – but don’t know much. Perhaps Dr. Ellen Weber could give us more info.
    Frank – thanks for stopping by and leaving the comment. You’re right – you know what they say about assumptions…:)

  4. March 9, 2007 at 8:58 pm

    Tom, trains their employees with/(at?) NLP. He talked about it here:
    I don’t know too much about it either. From the research I’ve done, it seems very involved and there is definitely a lot associated with it.

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