Customer service that is too polite 15 Sep 2005

34 comments Latest by Florence

It seems the pendulum has swung a bit too far to the other side now. The opposite of poor customer service seems to be over exuberant, customer service dripping with exaggerated politeness. And I’ve been noticing a lot of it lately.

For example, I just spoke with SBC this morning to turn on phone service and the first thing they said was “We’re so sorry you had to call us to take care of this simple issue” then they kept repeating “I’m confident I can help you with that sir” after which I said “thanks” and they said “oh, our pleasure, we just want to make sure you’re happy.” And then after they hit me up for LineBacker insurance (which guards against their own $71 + $25 for 15 minute labor charge), they just wanted me to know that “we’re looking out for you so you don’t get hit with an expensive charge. We want to give you the best deal we can.” That’s golden: We’re guarding you from our own high rates. That’s a win-win for the phone company if I’ve ever seen one.

Real conversations are never filled with this much sucking up (unless there’s an ulterior motive). It just feels fake. I feel like I’m talking to a robot with the “be nice” dial turned up to 11. If I’m talking to a human, act a human. Companies need to have real conversations with their customers. Exaggerated politeness may be preferable to rude customer service, but it feels defensive and contrived from the start.

34 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Beth 15 Sep 05

I had this problem and its polar opposite over the weekend. I went in to Best Buy to buy a Canon printer, and a Lexmark rep tried to shove some fax/copy/scan contraption down my throat after I told her I didn’t need any of those things. I had really wanted to buy a printer from Best Buy, because I have a rewards card, and I get money back from my purchases.

However, I was so frustrated I went to Comp USA where I practically had to pull teeth from some HP rep there to tell me about their Photosmart printers. Even then all I got from him was “Uhh you can plug your camera into it and it prints borderless up to 8.5x11” (Which is wrong, it only prints borderless on HP proprietary 4x6 paper.) Is there no in between?

Darrel 15 Sep 05

“It just feels fake.”

It is fake.

geet 15 Sep 05

Years ago I worked at a discount brokerage. They instituted a call standards system that required a high level of syrupy butt kissing. It was then monitored by a 3rd party for said syrupyness. It didn’t matter if you outright lied to the customer or otherwise had no clue about what you were talking about as long as you used the client’s name a million times and made sure you ended the call properly no mater how akward it was.

William Stewart 15 Sep 05

Most times I just want to get the phone call over with. I hate having to go through all the polite rhetoric because that means I have to be polite in return.

Real 2 Real 15 Sep 05

Is “Getting Real” assuming an entire company’s service is based on your (one) interaction with them?

Matt 15 Sep 05

My favorite was AT&T Wireless (before I dropped them), where you would tell them “I just need you to fix foo”, they fix foo, then you say “okay great, that was the only thing I needed help with today, thanks” to which they would reply “is there anything else I can help you with today”.

Beware of the script robots!

You must know this is because 95% of management is inept and their solution to problems (say one bad customer service rep) is to institute policy across the board. They like metrics which create artificial behavior and dumb everything down to the point where the human on the other side of the phone will say or do anything in order to keep their paycheck coming.

For you 5% of managers that already know that I want to interact with a human who is genuinely motivated to keep the good name of your company (i.e. is treated with respect and is actually valued as a human and not a breathing teleprompter) and will solve my problem to that end without using scripts or silly new processes and metrics - I say thank you and have a nice day!

Blake 15 Sep 05

The too friendly thing can go a bit far, but I suppose it’s better than calling up and getting someone who obviously doesn’t care about their job or the company they work for.

Brady 15 Sep 05

I would expand this to web sites that are overly polite

“Please click here…”
“Welcome to our site…”


SC 15 Sep 05

It�s difficult to train call center employees to sound naturally nice and friendly on the phone. So they give them �nice to customer scripts� and it sounds like �robot talk�.

I take it you’ve never worked in a call center before. jeez, give these people a little credit. They aren’t idiots.

jules 15 Sep 05

common sense/common ground
if you lived in a small town a generation or two ago, you knew everyone was raised pretty much the same as you were. everyone knew what ‘polite’ was, how to communicate it & what to expect from others.
when you’re staffing a call center, employing people from all over who will be talking to people from all over, there’s (perhaps) no time to size up employees values & communication skills, (perhaps) too much risk in leaving it to their discretion.

and so we have auto-generic-scripts with auto-generic-personality

Alex Foley 15 Sep 05

This is exactly the kind of customer service call I’d love to hear. There’s too many call center operators who don’t care one bit about your problem. Anyone who is actually nice to me (even if it is fake) is a nice change of pace.

Jeff Mitchell 15 Sep 05

I intensly dislike insincere corporate mandated robot politeness. It’s not real and therefore it’s noise.

I’ve asked a couple of customer service reps, that seemed genuinely friendly, and asked them for their take on the required speech. Turns out they disliked it more than I did, but still had to do it. All day long.

The good ones just get through it and give real help and the bad ones hide behind it and no one is fooled. In the end it’s just a waste of time and, in my opinion, actually takes away from the expierience.

Have a nice day… It has been my pleasure to comment on your blog… Please post again if you need further politeness.

Levi 15 Sep 05

I remember once when I called 411 to get a number to a resturaunt and the guy was all goofy. When I asked for the resturaunt he said “Goin’ out tonight, huh?” And when he gave me the listing he was all approving of my choice for dinner: “Very nice, man.”

I think I’d call 411 more often if he answered the phone.

Dan H 15 Sep 05

I had some issues with Qwest, and they have this “spirit of service” mission that’s nice, but really translates into everyone in the call center saying “I understand”. They say it even if they don’t understand. Positive verbal feedback is pointless if there’s no real action happening behind it. Sure, I may feel happy because there’s a therapist on the end of the line understanding me, but my damn DSL still doesn’t work. The “spirit of service” should include not only good call centers (that are human-like) but the very telco service I’m paying them money for. (I’m no longer with Qwest, had to switch to TimeWarner. I don’t like them either.)

Story number two: My credit card company has a nice perk that when I call, I always get some money. Similar to the insurance against us charging you deal, I suppose. They always say “Ok, sir, well I’ll tell you what… I’ll stop finance charges for this upcoming month.” or “Ok, I’ll take off that fee, how else can I help you…” Even though the fee is usually their error related to something six months ago, they still try to make me feel like I’m getting a good deal. I think they’re evil, but I don’t hate them as much as most phone companies.

Sometimes at the end of comments like this, I wonder if the last five minutes were well spent. Why do we do this blog commenting thing? Sigh.

Richard Brownell 15 Sep 05

I can see how politeness can go too far, but this robot speak is necessary. I’ve worked at a call center before. I honestly didn’t care most of the time. And plenty of people were worse than me. You either get somebody who doesn’t care and shows you they don’t care or you get corporate robot speak. There are very few people in the world who strive to get paid very little to be on the phone all day. I’ve met one thus far, and he actually ended up being fired from the call center :P

Plus, corporate robot speak isn’t just fed by managers; it comes from marketing, PR, and legal (if not other places depending on the company). Scripts for various issues can come from all over. Once you’ve read various scripts 100 times a day to people on the other line who usually ARE rude, you’re guaranteed to sound like a robot.

Darrel 15 Sep 05

The too friendly thing can go a bit far, but I suppose it�s better than calling up and getting someone who obviously doesn�t care about their job or the company they work for.

Well, the fake sincerity screams ‘I don’t care about you’ just as much as being rude. At least being rude is more ‘real’. Ie, ‘I have this shitty paying job with crappy management dealing with angry customers all day’.

I had some issues with Qwest, and they have this �spirit of service� mission that�s nice

You forgot the key word in their tagline. “inaction”. ;o)

Brendan Baldwin 15 Sep 05

My favorite comes from AT&T:

Due to the overwhelmingly positive response we’ve received from customers, your hold time may be substantial.

Michael 15 Sep 05

I was stuck in a long line at a Border’s bookstore the other day. The annoying part was, the checkout clerk was making it longer by chatting with every customer, providing a personal, super-friendly service. As I watched him go through his comedy routine with the customer in front of me, I was actually dreading talking to him.

Finally it was my turn, and as I gave him my book he started up his comedy schtick. I looked him in the eye and asked, “Are you high?”

wdk 15 Sep 05

“We�re guarding you from our own high rates.”

Doesn’t that sound like a protection racket?

Sean 15 Sep 05

Thanks for addressing this.

It is something I’ve hated in all realms of customer service for a while now, whether be shopping for a record, going to a restaurant, etc. I just got back from a trip to Europe and there was none of that over there. It was much more genuine and real.

Scrivs 15 Sep 05

Aren’t the bigger companies basically many small teams bundled together under the same umbrella? At least that’s the model I see them moving towards.

Scrivs 15 Sep 05

Whoops, posted this to the wrong entry. Feel free to delete both of these Fried.

Paul 15 Sep 05

Another fine SBCism at the end of a call: “Do you agree that I provided you with excellent service today?” Who talks like that?

Mike Doan 15 Sep 05

This fake politeness causes them to ask dumb questions. Everytime I call my cable company, Cox Communications, they ask, “May I access your account information?”

I am always tempted to say “no” just to see how they would continue.

indi 16 Sep 05

I like to read a lot of fiction, so I find it very easy to suspend my disbelief. When I am on the receiving end of false concern and politenes I respond with genuine politeness and friendliness. You might be surprised at how often this has a positive effect on the person on the other end of the conversation. This works even better face to face.

Darren 16 Sep 05

I’m sorry, I just have to disagree here! I realize that sugary sweet customer service can be annoying, however, it is a welcome change in this world of corporate power — where, generally, they couldn’t give a sh*t that you’re calling!

I’m fed up with businesses that don’t seem to care whether they get my business or not.

Justin 16 Sep 05

Tone of voice counts for something. I had no problem agreeing with the SBC rep that my experience with her was pleasant. It was.

Contrast also matters. I’d just battled ComEd’s touch-tone multi-layered barriers to actual human interaction. This would have been unnecessary if wasn’t such a piece of shit.

richard 16 Sep 05

Hehe, I’ve just been noticing something like that in the past few days. I had some questions for Cingular regarding internet access for my Treo, and I’ve been emailing their customer service back and forth. Every reply I’ve gotten from them has started out with the following robotic response:

Dear Mr. XXXXXX,

Thank you for taking the time to reply to Cingular Wireless regarding your account. I am happy to help you with your inquiry.

Then they actually proceed to answer the question.

AM 17 Sep 05

It’s easy enough to complain about the service offered by poorly paid batteries of call handling staff.

I like the friendly, personal and informal tone of the basecamps, flickrs and textdrive’s. It’s one of the reasons I use them.

But hitting the right note cuts both ways - if we’re talking about tone, very little has annoyed me as much as Odeo’s “Whoa! Hold on there Buckaroo!” as an error message on their site.

Just too, too much.

Basil Brown 17 Sep 05

As a couple of people have pointed out, the overbearing politeness of CSR’s tends to engender a response in kind from Hapless Punter, who goes all squishy and malleable.

It’s a mechanism for taking control; by providing and maintaining the boundaries of communication, any call can be shoehorned into one of a number of pre-determined Outcomes.

Florence 25 Jun 06

I’ve been working in a call center for more than eight years, and truly believe that exagerated politeness on part of the representative is noticed and considered less than acceptable, specially if those we are communicating with are patients. We have a co-worker, who strives to be the friendliest, smartest, and most of all, the most articulated person in our department. And to tell you the truth, it doesn’t feel natural. I can only imagine how it sounds on the other line. In my opinion, being overly polite, using sofisticated terminology doesn’t necessarily make any one and effective cusomer service provider.
I am not perfect, but try to provide the best service possible without pretending.