Interesting Work "Lessons"

I’m starting this in the Pit because this is pretty much where it belongs.

I learned another lesson at work today. But what I learned is completely different from what my boss and my quality coach both told me I should take away from it.

I work in a call center, doing level 2 technical support. We’re told that we’re the top, empowered to speak on behalf of our company and act as managers. That we are fully entitled to tell people that we are the end of the line and they will not be speaking to anyone else about thier issue. They tell us how to say NO.

Then they punish us if we dare to say NO. They ‘coach’ us on how we should have said Yes. But then if we say Yes too much, we have big meetings on how we’re supposed to say No. We’re made to sign papers saying that we’ll say No. Then we get talked to for saying No.

Today I had a customer who would not accept the repair options given to him. He kept asking to speak to my supervisor. I kept saying no. He demanded something very different than our standard unit replacement options, and demanded not to have to pay a dime to do it. Now, technically speaking, I have the power to do what he asked. But I’m not supposed to do it for the circumstances of his repair situation.

So I kept laying out what I could do, and saying no to his constant demands to speak to someone else.

Then I got stupid. I explained that I technically could do what he asked, but the guidelines wouldn’t allow it. I told a white lie about having to submit it to an administrative team for approval. It’s true enough, but they never deny it. I’d just get reviewed after the fact and spoken to about how I shouldn’t have done it. (And I already got spoken to for how many times I did this same thing last month, even though all were justified or even approved by higher ups and given to me to execute.)

So the customer demands to be IMMEDIATELY transfered to this administrative team… and I made my “fatal error”.

I laughed. :eek:

Just a brief chuckle as I explained that I had no direct line to speak to these people, and even if I did, under no circumstances would I be allowed to transfer him to them.

The customer played me. He became even angrier and declared that I was disrespecting him and that he would no longer speak to me. That I had better hand him over to higher ups right now. I should have stuck to my guns and said “no dice, I already told you no”. But I got stupid. I called them up.

The higher up immediately undermined me. Apologized to the customer for my behavior :rolleyes: and promised him the moon. Then wrote some vicious feedback to my boss baking me for how I supposedly mistreated the customer.

The lesson I was supposed to learn was that it was unprofessional of me to laugh when he asked to be transfered to those people, and I should have been more respectful of him.

The lesson I actually walked away with was that I was a damned fool to fall into his trap and give him to someone else when I’d refused to do so at least three times earlier in the call.
Please feel free to share your stories of similar “they want me to learn X, but they really taught me Y” events.

That’s how shit is. When I worked retail, our bosses told us we couldn’t haggle or cut deals or anything for customers. We had to follow the book. Some customers would get pissy, even yell (and honestly I maybe only deserved to be yelled at once but it happened more than that) and demand a manager when they had “issues” but most of their issues were either they were dumb or they wanted shit for free. After I had told the customer “no we can’t do that blah blah” like I WAS SUPPOSED TO, the manager would come over and sweet talk the customer and give them often literally whatever they wanted. It made us employees all look like fucking jackasses and pissed me off a lot. It’s bullshit and if I can I never will have to do that shit ever again.

Many years ago I worked at a company where a new boss came in and gave a big speech that included saying he had an “open door policy”, not to be afraid to bring up issues, blah, blah. A few days later one of my colleagues, a low-level engineer, decided to walk into the guys office and actually talk with him. Didn’t go well.

Too many to list here. Management that hammers on expenses and then goes for $150 dinners. Management that refuses to deal with one problem employee who then screws up the morale of tens of employees. Management that promotes incompetent, vicious boobs who ruin the morale of many more. And the personal favorite, management that teaches that going above and beyond just means you get more work. And no raise.

Well, let me say first off that you should never, ever, EVER laugh at a customer request, no matter how comical it might seem. I have learned the hard way, and have seen other salespeople and customer service people make the same mistake, and if you do that to the wrong customer in the wrong set of circumstances, it will bite you in the ass every time. YOU might think its funny, YOU might think that the customer thinks its funny, but you are wrong, then your screwed, blued and tattooed.

As for “your company tells you X, when they really mean Y” I’ll give a classic one: “Never lower your price.”

Complete horse shit. Our company even has sales trainers come in and tell us that any salesman that says we should lower our price on our product is a bad salesman. Another trainer comes in and does what we call “the trick” where he manipulates numbers on a easel to show how even lowering your price 5 cents will completely torpedo the company’s profits for the next several millenia.

But here’s the bottom line: when trying to decide which salesperson to fire first, what does a company look at? Sales revenues. And who gets fired first? The salesman with the lowest sales revenue. VERY rarely will a company say, well this guy did $6 million, but the other guy did 4, and his margin contribution was much higher. Nope.

And how do you get these higher revenues? Many times, you LOWER THE PRICE. :slight_smile:

The other one I remembered that seems to have gone by the wayside in favor of Standard Operating Procedure is “empowerment”. The company empowers you as an employee to make the right decision to ensure complete customer satisfaction.

What these bastards don’t tell you is after you empower yourself to do so, there will be long meetings with management where you will be grilled and picked apart for making the decision that you did.

Corporate America can be such bullshit. For those that wish to learn more about to avoid these minefields these Machiavellian pricks have laid out for you, the unsuspecting employee, I highly reccommend “Corporate Confidential: 50 Secrets Your Company Doesn’t Want You to Know—and What to Do About Them” by former HR person Cynthia Shapiro, available at:

P.S.: One of her tips is even though your company tells you to go to Human Resources with a complaint about you boss, never EVER go to Human Resources with a complaint about your boss! :slight_smile:

Up late because this is stressing me out and pissing me off.

The man demanded that I get an entire team of people on the phone RIGHT NOW so that he could harangue them about doing something for him after being told NO at several levels of our company. People who DO NOT speak to customers and for whom I do not even have a contact number. My laugh was an entirely human reaction of astonishment. I’m done apologizing for it.

Our higher level department has constantly and somewhat contempuously pushed back on us, saying that they don’t want to take these calls because we are empowered to deal with them. Then when they do take the calls, they are prone to throwing us under the bus in the name of “fixing the customer”. It is short sighted and discredits the entire support organization. Customers learn that if they’re loud, obnoxious and unreasonable enough, they’re going to get everything they want.

As for laughing at customer requests;

I’ve had people demand that I, a low level employee, immediately get our world famous billionaire CEO on the line RIGHT NOW so they could complain about the minor issues they are experiencing with our product. I laugh, because the very idea is so goddamned silly. Then I explain that I, at my level, am not entitled to call such a person, that he would most certainly not take the call if I could somehow find his number, and I would definitely not be further employed after such a stunt.

Earlier in the day yesterday, I had a customer demand that I personally remove a major component from one of our product lines because of a completely irrational (let’s face it, outright batshit insane) complaint that she had about it. Then demand that our company end a major strategic partnership with another company because of a relatively minor complaint that she had about one of their products. She then demanded that I personally call that company about the issue and demand that they fix everything, nationwide.

She too demanded to speak to someone higher up because I turned these things down, and I said no.

At a certain point it becomes so comical that you can only laugh and straight out say no, I’m not going to do that, or you’ll go as batshit insane as they are.

In my experience, no matter how well you try and go by the book and follow the rules laid out for you, when a customer/client starts bitching, management will never have your back. They will always cave. Sometimes they’ll even do it right in front of you so that the customer can smirk and gloat.


And that’s a big reason why our society is in the mess that it’s in. As a society, we reward those people who are loud, obnoxious, and unreasonable, instead of refusing to accommodate their irrational demands. Behavior that is rewarded is behavior that gets repeated. Too many people are willing to cave in order to go on to the next customer, or the next issue. I’ve known several people who have crowed to me that they got something free, or at a reduced price, because they bitched about a product or service. They weren’t particularly unhappy with whatever it was, but they used this bitching tactic as a bargaining tool. And it works for them, so why should they act reasonably, ever?

I once had a manager - ONCE - who thought it was more important to keep a good employee than a bad customer. It’s incredibly sad how unusual that seems to be.

You could work your heart out for a manager that actually has your back. And it is rare. Usually they get promoted upward or get office-politic’d out the door, because having the team’s back shows up the worthless managers who don’t.

Ah, the memories. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard “I demand to speak to Bill Gates right now!” Sure, I’m sure he has time to talk to you and tell you all about the basics of how to use a mouse. Putz.

I understand your pain, Chimera, as a fellow tech support wonk. I think that I’ll pass on some of the lessons that I’ve learned.

Technical support at huge companies is a high stress and low reward situation at practically every level. That means you are surrounded, and led by, people who either are frantically looking for a way out or are unable to get employment elsewhere due to economic conditions or just general incompetence.

The MBAs who are calling the shots know two simple things about business:

  • To succeed, you must maximize your profits and minimize your losses.
  • It costs more to get a new customer than keep an old one.

Because technical support, customer service, refund policies, warranty service, etc. all fall in the “losses” category, this means that you have an intrinsically unstable situation. This is why you see random policy switches. At the end of the day, the idiots in middle management know that they need to minimize losses (e.g. you) but they don’t want to make the customer angry.

This means that an individual customer gets whatever they want. But in the grand scheme of things, we need to minimize losses. Somehow. They want you to figure this out; they sure haven’t.

Competent management stands up for good employees because they know that they’ve trained and managed them appropriately and passed on appropriate info and given a clear direction and generally not fucked up and what have you. They know their shit, so they can produce the memo from last month which contradicts the new one. Incompetent management does whatever is easiest to resolve a situation without looking stupid. Thus, you know you have incompetent management. Treat them accordingly. Three simple rules:

1 - Always cover your ass. Never, ever violate this policy ever. Ever. Ever.
2 - Be a good employee, rather than a good technician.
3 - You can predict the natural behavior of incompetent management by determining whatever is easiest.

Rule #1 is probably trickiest even though it’s simple. This means that every decision that you make must include CYA. You must never waver in this rule. Never give the customer the benefit of the doubt, never give your manager the benefit of the doubt. CYA every time. (Yes, this sucks, but remember: it’s the company’s customers, not yours. They don’t care about the customer or they would fix the problems, so you need to look out for yourself.)

Customers love to get you to violate #1 because it gives them an edge. Consider every customer – or, at least, every customer who is likely to escalate – as a threat. You must not let them know this, but you must take all precautions to prevent escalation. When escalation prevention is not possible, you must do all that you can to present yourself in the best possible light as defined by the company’s standards. We’ll get back to that in a second.

So, how to CYA? Learn to talk less and say little, when it comes to matters of policy and negotiation. Explain the policy and the customer asks, “But I want this!” You respond by rephrasing what you’ve said. Don’t tell the customer “you should have read X” or whatever – don’t create confrontation. Just restate. If they again ask for something outside the policy, say, “I’m sorry, we don’t have that option. Here are the things we can do now.” (Note “we”, not “I”. Make it impersonal). If they are unhappy, say, “I’m really sorry that you’re not happy” or “I appreciate that you’re really upset, I know these things can be frustrating” and then again go back to the options. Don’t add more – never talk about internal processes, never say “I’m required to do X”, don’t undermine yourself. These are the options, and that’s it. Your job is to present them. They will often ask you why the policy exists. “Why” questions are tough because you can’t debate policy (makes you talk too much) and you can’t imply that it’s not your decision (undermines yourself). You never want to imply that there is someone else that they can talk to, or that you don’t have authority. It’s best to deflect when possible, like by empathizing again and restating the options (rephrased). Have a sympathetic edge to your voice, but don’t add personal opinions or other information.

Now, how to be a good employee. Ultimately this is a matter of appearance; it is one way to get leeway when CYA fails. This means you must present yourself as Johnny Goodworker at all times – in calls, in meetings, with your supervisor, etc. This goes a long way in determining what happens.

One important thing is to show only good emotions. Don’t get angry or frustrated – this becomes something that management has to deal with (and they want to avoid work at all costs) or it becomes something a customer can use against you. In order to CYA, you want to control your outward emotional state. You want to always display one of the following emotions:

  • Happiness (I am a good little drone and I am happy in my tiny cube!)
  • Concern (I want to be a good drone and something is stopping me.)
  • Curiosity (I want to know more about how to be a good little drone)
  • Neutrality (As a fallback, if you can’t keep a straight face otherwise)

The attitude you want to exude, as much as you may hate it, is “I am a little worker ant. The leader of this company is my hive queen and therefore God. My manager helps me interpret the words of God so that I can understand what I need to do.”

This allows you to pursue rule #3 with vigor. The idea is that you want to make sure that the route of least resistance for the manager is to do what you want and need. However, to cover your ass in this situation, you must do so from the presumptive perspective of a good employee. You are not trying to be difficult; you are trying to do your job.

For example, let’s say you are given contradictory guidelines. Any person with common sense wants to go “WTF, this makes no sense, fix it!” However, good employees say, “I’m concerned about this. We were told X, and now we’re told Y. These seem to conflict. Can you explain this to me?” Incompetent managers will want to wave you off or speak in generalities. Pursue. Explain that you want to do your job and just want to understand better. Remember, leadership is God. You’re just trying, as a good little drone, to understand how best to please God, and these instructions confuse you.

Some managers will continue to dodge. That’s fine. Ask as many questions as you can get away with without seeming douchey. Then, when a specific case comes up, then you spring into action. Can you instant message the boss or call them over during the call? Great! Say, “I have a case that relates to the conversation we had before. I’m confused as to what direction we need to take here.” Make management make the call, then DOCUMENT IT. That is now your judicial precedent for all cases going forward. Make notes.

If they aren’t reachable, CYA as best as possible and then proactively go to the manager as soon as possible for guidance. “I had a case that I was confused as to what our direction is…” then ask questions about it. If they make a decision, again, DOCUMENT IT.

You may have to go through this process a few times if they are slippery. Sooner or later they will make a decision.

Then, if they try to later get you in trouble for doing what they said, act concerned (not angry). Don’t go “Aha!” but say “I’m really confused. Let me look at my notes. Oh yes. On X date we talked about Y case and you said Z. Is that no longer true?” Try to be as helpful and positive as possible. The manager knows you have caught them so you want to seem as perfect an employee as possible.

Sooner or later the incompetent manager will realize that you have your shit together and cannot be taken advantage of in this way. This makes the easiest thing to do a different answer than it was before (like nutting up and not blaming other people). However, because you’re a Good Employee, you minimize the amount of fallout you endure.

Remember, the incompetent manager is a drone just like you. There’s just different responsibilities involved. Chances are, that manager puts up with just as much ridiculous bullshit as you do and has as little power as you do to change anything. In such situations, they likely do not have the power to fire you without a good case. This is why you always want to present yourself as a Good Employee. Good Employees can get away with bloody murder.

Damn, fluiddruid. I am saving that.

I just did.

Never have I been so glad to be doing manual labor for a living.

Personally, I consider a manager having an “open door policy” one of the most insulting things they can say. Everyone knows it’s BS, they say it because they want to look like they care. Employees know that they’re just saying to look like they care when they actually don’t, so generally most people won’t actually take them up on it. Hence a the cycle that bosses say it to look like they care because they expect that they’ll never actually be called on to do so. This is also why, when someone actually does take advantage of the “open door policy”, it generally doesn’t go well because, not only do they not care, but they just got called out on their BS. How many people react well in that sort of situation?

The reason I find it insulting is, rather than just letting us assume they don’t care, they have the gall to pretend that they do in a way that insults my intelligence. If they really cared what we though, they’d put in the effort to come around and check on their employees, see if there’s problems or see if we have ideas rather than sitting back and expecting us to do their job for them.

So, in the theme of the thread, what I learned from “open door policy” isn’t “we care what you think” it’s “we’ll pretend to care if it makes you feel better, just don’t call our bluff.”

fluiddruid, I am intrigued by what you say. I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

Holy cow, fluiddruid. You’re giving away advice that good? For free?

:: standing and clapping ::

I want to nail it to a church door.

That is so cute!! How come then when I get prospective clients coming in for wrongful discharge cases and if they are in sales they are always in the top 3 salespersons in the region? It’s because when there is a cut-back in staff the sales manager wants to keep his/her job and will fire a top sales person to reduce salary and keep those customers for him/her self.