Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Dealing with Mr Angry

I've been thinking a lot the last couple of days about language in the workplace. Partly because I'm teaching it next week, but partly because I've had a couple of customer service encounters recently that have stopped me in my tracks.

The first one made me laugh. I was down in Devon in half term and stopped one lunchtime in a bakers' cafe for a pasty and a cuppa. The woman who served me was perfectly pleasant and helpful. Then in came a group of four people looking for a spot of something warm on a wet and windy day.
"Mmmmm," one woman exhaled in excited anticipation. "Soup!"
Her friend looked sceptical. "Is it home made?"
The shop assistant shrugged.
"Well, we make it here but it's out of powder and water."
At which point her complete honesty made me choke so hard on my pasty I cried.

Now on one level that was good customer service. She gave the customers the information needed to make their decision. But her use of language was so forthright that it was surprising. We expect more indirection, more concealment of reality, especially in the catering industry.

The second one made me tear clumps of my hair out. I was at work when my mobile rang. It was after hours so I answered it, vaguely thinking it might be someone interesting. You never know your luck! But it was a customer service chap from ntl: (what's with that colon?!) with whom I have phone and broadband connections. He wanted to flog me digital TV too. It was an exercise in persuasive language and I wish I too could have recorded it for training purposes. When I had politely said "thanks but I'm going to have to think about it" at least five times, he still had another 12 persuasive tricks up his sleeve. He even tried saying "look love, I need the commission", for which, once again, I admired the honesty. But on the whole it was a verbal battering ram carefully designed not to take no for an answer, and that left me wanting to make a complaint to ntl:.

So, it's nice to see that one company at least is taking a more positive approach to training its front-line staff in how to handle spontaneous spoken interaction with customers. In the Telegraph today is an article about how South West Trains is using a realistic role play setting and actors to simulate difficult conversations. What's a bit spooky, though, is learning that they are taught to identify customers as one of four types: feelers, thinkers, entertainers, and controllers. They are then trained to respond accordingly, giving expressions of sympathy to feelers, for example. I'm dying to know which type of stroppy customer I am - and what words will allegedly soothe me.

So, check out the article, and more from Wikipedia on customer care. And if you've had customer care training at work, how have you been told to use language at work?

Try a little tenderness

Customer care


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