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Why More Training is Not the Solution to Poor Customer Service



What was your last customer experience like? I hope positive—according to surveys, 80% of customer service interactions are positive. However, I find this stat surprising, as the last handful of major customer service interactions I've had have been less than favorable.


As someone whose life and career revolves around conscious communication and emotional awareness, I do my best to ensure I am mindful when reaching out to discuss a problem with a customer service rep—being concise when explaining a situation and ensuring I'm not misdirecting any frustration towards the individuals assisting me. And despite all this, I still find myself feeling unheard, more often than not, and the rep on the other end ready to move on to the next caller. When I clearly explained my story to one rep, they mumbled, "Okay," disregarding my situation. Then, a moment of silence before they again mumbled, "So, what do you want me to do about it?" I couldn't believe my ears. Their company had made an error, one which I had proof and documentation of, and their response, as a customer service representative, was, "What do you want me to do about it?"

When I shared this story with my husband, he said it sounded like they needed more training.


The decline in customer service quality might seem superficially rooted in lapses in training or policy enforcement, but, in reality, it springs from deeper societal and individual challenges. Improving customer service requires more than just better training or policies. At the heart of this issue is the need for a comprehensive shift towards empathy and understanding in every interaction we partake in, both within and outside the realm of customer service. By addressing the root causes of poor customer service from a holistic perspective—personal challenges, toxic social norms, and lack of positive role models—we can create a more empathetic society where genuine care for others is the norm.


The Barrier of Personal Challenges in Customer Service

The weight of stress and personal challenges not only burdens an individual's well-being but also casts a significant shadow on their professional roles, particularly those in customer service. When individuals face a pervasive sense of stress, be it from personal issues or disconnection from their social environment, their capacity for empathy and understanding begins to wane. This decline in emotional bandwidth becomes a barrier to effectively listening and responding to customers' needs. In a role that demands high levels of empathy and attentiveness, personal hurdles can transform an opportunity to connect and assist into a task mired in miscommunication and missed opportunities. Without the ability to fully engage with and understand the customer, service becomes a hollow echo rather than a meaningful exchange.


To address personal stress affecting customer service professionals, organizations can provide comprehensive support systems. This can include regular wellness checks, access to mental health resources, and fostering a culture of open communication. Prioritizing the well-being of employees can lead to better service and a more productive work environment.


Superficial and Toxic Social Norms

Toxic societal norms that stress a superficial brand of kindness and care have deeply eroded the essence of customer service, morphing sincere interactions into ones where the sheen of politeness overshadows genuine problem-solving and empathy. This surface-level nicety, aimed more at maintaining appearances than truly helping, leaves customers feeling overlooked and trivialized as they are met with cookie-cutter responses instead of sincere, problem-specific solutions. Furthermore, this enforced cheeriness can place an unfair burden on customer service representatives, compelling them to don a mask of amiability even when under tremendous pressure, leading to burnout and dissatisfaction in their roles. In high-stress situations, maintaining this charade becomes nearly impossible, allowing true emotions to seep through despite efforts to stay pleasant. This predicament degrades quality customer service and diminishes the trust consumers have in businesses, transforming the perception of customer service from a genuine effort to resolve concerns into a hollow gesture for appearances' sake. The troubling thing is, this penchant for superficial care and kindness isn't confined to customer service; it's a reflection of wider societal values, where appearances often weigh heavier than authentic human connections.


Lack of Exposure and Role Models

The absence of genuine, kind role models in the workplace can significantly undermine an individual’s ability to provide sincere and heartfelt customer service. When employees lack examples of empathy and kindness to emulate, they may struggle to connect with customers on a meaningful level, which is crucial for creating memorable and positive customer experiences. This deficiency not only affects the direct interaction with clients but also has the potential to erode the internal culture of the organization, making it challenging to foster an environment where genuine care and service flourish.


The challenges of maintaining a genuine connection in customer service are multifaceted, stemming from societal values that prioritize appearances over authenticity, and from workplace environments that lack empathetic role models. This situation not only impedes the delivery of heartfelt service but also impacts the mental health of customer service representatives and the overall perception of businesses in the eyes of consumers. For a meaningful change to occur, businesses must recognize the significance of authenticity and support their employees in fostering real connections with customers—beginning with addressing their employee's personal challenges and stressors that may prevent them from empathetic engagement with others. There is no quick and easy fix to this solution, as there are many moving parts. However, it is important we recognize and address the real issue instead of throwing more superficial training at the issue.


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