Monday, February 13, 2012

Customer service - the other side of the coin

Having launched new service standards this past year, I think it's only right to take a look at customer service from the other side of the inbox.

I went into a store a couple of months back, and headed to the service desk to return something. Taped prominently to the counter was a sign I had never seen before. The gist of it was this:
Our service staff is not expected to put up with rude, aggressive or threatening behaviour from customers. Staff have been instructed to promptly summon supervisors and/or security personnel in these instances.
I can't imagine that the decision to display that sign was taken lightly. After all, the whole point of the customer service desk is customer service, and here they were posting a notice (presumably) saying that Mr. or Ms Customer could expect to find themselves out on the sidewalk should they get aggressive with staff. How fraught can returning a toaster possibly be? Apparently, for some, very.

So, what's this got to do with Equity?

A few times a year, I get letters from members, or have correspondence copied to me, that leave me shaking my head in disbelief. These are the exchanges that make me wonder if perhaps we should print up a couple of those signs for our own use. Actually, they bring to mind rather more deliciously draconian responses, but a putting up a sign is probably the polite way to go about it.

I thought I'd share a few of the exchanges with you. Anyone who has ever worked in a customer service capacity will recognise these people instantly. As unique as the theatre community may be, some things are apparently universal, and it's amazing to see how quickly basic customer service interactions can escalate into movie of the week dramatics.

These are examples of actual phone calls and letters, boiled down somewhat, and expletives abridged so as not to aggravate anyone's spam filter.
« What do you mean, you can't process my contracts in time [Friday 2pm for a Monday rehearsal start]? You may recall I used the word “bull****” last time you told me this and got the contracts turned around in 5 minutes so I know it can be done. Stop ****ing around or your members will have one less theatre to work in next season. »
« Hi. I just got my dues invoice and see that you have added $10 to the amount that was owing from earlier in the year. Where does it say that there is an overdue fee? … Oh… I don't think I should have to pay it, because [insert one of a short list of well-worn reasons.] … Great! Now you're asking me to pay more because I didn't pay you in the first place. All you guys ever want from me is money! [Fully one quarter of dues payments arrive late.] »
« Why won't Equity allow me to take part in this project? … Well, I was told that they won't. … No, I haven't spoken to anyone at the office – the engager told me that you said that they couldn't hire me. So, why won't Equity allow me to take part in this project? »
« As a member, I expect that you will [do any number of things] for me. I'd hate to have to resort to legal means in order to have this happen, but I have already spoken to a lawyer in preparation for that and I'm confident that the courts would agree with me and make Equity comply. »
« You're all ****s. There's no work out there and you want to put the dues up. WTF. Ridiculous. [from a new member] »
Here's what staff does. They explain; they soothe; they direct people to the note on their invoice informing them of the late fee; they look up credit card information to let members know that their card expired last year; they confirm that the office does have the correct mailing address on file; they direct members to the insurance brochure online; they refer members to the recent article on the topic; they inform members how they (almost always) can take part in that project; etc., etc. And they get the contracts processed in time for rehearsal on Monday.

Then they listen to stories of how shabbily they treat people.

Y'know what? That's bull****.