British Columbia

Your call is important to us: why you should be nice to call centre agents

“It’s tough to be in that mindset when you’re frustrated and upset and you’ve been in the rain on hold for 20 minutes, but we see there’s a benefit on the customer service side of things if you change your approach,” says researcher.

'A little bit of compassion tends to get better service,' UBC-Okanagan researcher says

Workers respond to customers at a call centre in India. A UBC-O researcher says the best way to get good customer service from a call centre is to, basically, not be mean. (Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images)

Between long waits, confusing instructions and the aggravating hold music, calling a customer service line can be an incredibly frustrating experience.

New research from the University of British Columbia Okanagan suggests, however, that keeping your cool and choosing your words carefully is the best way to go in those trying situations.

Faculty of management assistant professor David Walker — a former call centre worker himself — listened to over 30 hours of calls between customers and call centre representatives for his research.

"A little bit of compassion tends to get better service," he told On The Coast host Stephen Quinn.

"It's tough to be in that mindset when you're frustrated and upset and you've been in the rain on hold for 20 minutes, but we see there's a benefit on the customer service side of things if you change your approach."

Walker says "aggressive" language was heard in more than 80 per cent of calls made to call centres, and when that aggression became fixated on the employee, or there were frequent interruptions, employees would react and provide worse service.

Walker's research didn't look at how long customers were on hold before speaking to a live person, but did find when a customer had to call in multiple times, they were more likely to be aggressive.

"[Employees] enter into that conversation and the first thing they hear out of the customer's mouth was something like, 'I hate your company' or 'I'm getting ready to sue you.' Many of the problems didn't reflect that level of aggression," Walker said.

"When employees had these negative responses, ... they were making blunt comments to the customer, they potentially raised their tone of voice or there was sort of a 'tone' they were expressing when they were seeing their frustration come through."

Walker says when a customer, even an upset one, keeps the focus on the problem with the service or product, things generally go smoother.

Walker's research was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast

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