At my 90 day review my boss gave me one area for improvement: “I just wish you could be a little nicer on the phone.” I smiled and tried to look like I understood what he was talking about.
But the truth was, I really didn’t understand because I was fairly impressed with myself at my phone skills. I hadn’t hung up on anyone, I didn’t point out (directly) when they were asking stupid questions, and I rarely sighed (loudly) before saying “no, no, it’s not your fault. The internet is very confusing.”
Apparently my face betrayed my confusion because my boss followed up with “Listen, I’ve done your job. I know. I know how stupid people are, and how annoying it is to answer the same question over and over. But that’s the job. So just try to be a little bit nicer.”
The problem is that, I’ve done this job too. Only then I was 22 and wanted everyone – even strangers on the phone – to like me. I gave really good customer service back then, and I think I just ran out, or that part of my brain froze over or something because I honestly can’t really tell you what I’m doing now that’s so different and less nice than what I did then. Yet, on some level, I do understand that it is.
BUT, all things considered, this is a good job, and I like my boss, and I want to at least look like I’m trying. Otherwise it just gets awkward.
My desk is outside his office and every time I pick up the phone I’m aware that he can hear every word I’m saying, and I remind myself to use that (stupid) old customer service trick of smiling while I speak, so I sound happy, and I swallow my sighs of impatience, and try to sound sincere when I say “No, really, its my pleasure to walk you through our on-line registration…see where it says Select Category?…ok, so select a category….Oh that’s ok, just click back and then you’ll be at that screen again and this time, when it says Select Category, I want you to select your category, mkay? I know….it IS confusing….” And I think I”m successful at least 83% of the time.
The other day I was away from my desk, and didn’t hear the phone, and so my boss answered it. I got back to my desk just in time to hear him say “you know what? Let me just transfer you to her, since apparently SHE knows what you’re talking about” and I immediately recognized his tone and noted, with a certain amount of satisfaction that it was his “I’m trying really hard not to call you an idiot” tone. It’s the one he uses with sales people right before insulting them.
I answered the transferred call and heard “HEY – its Janice! From yesterday?” Ah yes. Janice. I pictured her as a 24-year-old executive assistant, who takes her job very seriously and believes herself to be expert and final authority on all things, and the ONLY thing keeping that office running. She’s energetic, fashionable, sassy, calls it like it is without ever apologizing, and believes she’ll be running that company before she’s 30. Maybe she’s right. I don’t know.
“Hi Janice!” I say, in my nicest sounding voice.
“OH MY GOD GIRL. That man I was talking to was NAS-TY!”
“Really?” I say trying not to laugh.
“Yeah, I don’t know why he’s answering phones if he’s just going to be testy like that. I’m just sayin’.” Unable to agree with her for fear my boss would somehow understand what we were talking about, but also because I am kinda grateful he’s the type of boss who answers the phone when I’m away from my desk, I just said “So, what’s up?”
“I never got that email you sent yesterday. Which I was trying to explain to that man, but he acted like I was crazy….”
“I’m sorry” I interrupt her. “I’ll send it again,” It’s not that I didn’t want to listen to her go off on my boss’s phone skills, I just didn’t know how long I’d be able to refrain from commenting.
“You know what?” she said “I bet you spelled my name wrong, EVERYBODY does. I KNOW! I’ll send you an email and you can just reply to it.”
While she’s waiting for me to get it she says “And you should tell your boss to RELAX. That man is TESTY. You know what I’m sayin’?” I answered with a non-committal noise. “You should tell him not to answer phones if he’s going to be like that. I mean, SERIOUSLY. I was like ‘um, just transfer me to that girl who USUALLY answers, cause she knows what I’m talking about.”
“Right,” I said, wondering if there was any scenario in which I repeat all of this to my boss and he finds it funny.
As we were ending the call she said ” Now you tell that boss of your’s to RELAX. I think that man is too stressed out. I mean, there’s just no reason to be that unfriendly on the phone. K? Bye!”
After I hung up, all I wanted to do was run into his office and yell: “Who needs to practice their phone skills now, BITCH???”
But I didn’t. Because I am a professional.
Ok, because I’m pretty sure he’d fire me on the spot and have me bodily removed from the premises before I could even get my water bottle off my desk.
But now, on those days when I find it particularly difficult to “be nicer on the phone”, I just think of Janice and I don’t have to force the smile into my voice.