This Time It Was Personal

One of the biggest challenges faced by anyone working in a front-line customer service role is dealing with difficult scenarios.

Scenarios. Not people.

I make this distinction because I’m uncomfortable with defining the ‘other person’ as difficult when, let’s face it, I can be just as difficult or pedantic as the next person. I’d much rather focus on the particular scenario first, and then consider the behaviours of the individuals concerned afterwards, in the proper context.

Challenging scenarios can be anything, from handling a telephone inquiry and not being able to understand the person on the other end of the line, to handling a direct complaint from an unhappy/upset customer. Over the years we attend courses on customer service, engage in training sessions etc. but even with training and experience, there are those moments which come along, out of the blue, and test your professional resolve.

I recently experienced such a scenario, during which my refusal to carry out a transaction resulted in a customer becoming agitated and confrontational, in a passive-aggressive way. Normally this wouldn’t have fazed me, but in this instance I was at a different location; and, unlike in my usual day-to-day work (where I am supported by senior staff) operating in isolation, one-on-one. This intensified the interaction between myself and the customer, the dynamic definitely having an effect on my behaviour, and unfortunately the customer decided to submit a complaint.

Immediately after the incident, I felt extremely upset and uneasy. In 10 years of working in academic libraries, I can’t remember anyone ever making a complaint about me personally (at least, not one I was informed of…) and in the aftermath I began questioning everything that had taken place, analysing, ruminating, regurgitating.

I realise now that there is a difference between self-reflection and beating yourself up.

Everyone is going to have a bad day, a less than successful exchange, an awkward outcome. It’s about treating these scenarios properly, considering what happened, and then trying to learn from the mistakes in order to move forwards. Of course, it’s helpful to have the support of your colleagues (which I felt I had) but ultimately it’s about you (or in this case me) and how you develop professionally.

It’s also about recognising & owning up to personal error. I’m not going to pretend I embodied the perfect customer service provider in this scenario, a point I was happy to discuss with senior members of staff. But I am now comfortable with the fact that I was actually carrying out my job requirements correctly, I tried to handle the situation properly for as long as possible and, whilst I’m still unsatisfied that a customer had a poor experience, I am more able to see this incident as a positive learning experience.

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6 thoughts on “This Time It Was Personal

  1. Anne Alias says:

    This is useful advice. Something I should take heed of. I do firmly believe in difficult people however. I spend my life talking to them. People who complain, assert dominance, belittle and just generally shirk all standards of civilised human interaction… I feel maybe I’m not as good at my job as you are 🙂

  2. I think the problem often comes from a confusion between good customer service and permissive customer service. Often users expect to be given what they want and libraries suffer because of institutional rules… oh and the law. The hard thing is to let it go. Some users find it fun to push the limits (sometimes this is what their classes are trying to get them to do) and take such confrontations with a pinch of salt. I often found it odd when a combative student on day was chatty the next and while I had carried the event with me and was steeling myself for a second go.

    • I think that ‘letting go’ point is the key, and it’s not something I’m naturally good at doing. It’s the idea of just accepting something and moving on/forwards, and also being comfortable with engaging with scenarios which are out of your own control. Cheers for the comment Matthew!

  3. kathy says:

    i think you are right, when things go smoothly often there is not a lot to deliberate about however, when things go awkwardly there is always something to consider; as tough as it is, it actually an opportunity, a starting point for a discussion

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