The practice of blaming others and finger pointing is pervasive in our society. It is a commonplace reaction to a problem. It must be the fault of someone else if something goes wrong. Listen to politicians rail against this or that. Corporate executives caught in scandals look for ways to deflect their culpability. For the person being blamed, much of their energy is unfortunately invested in spin doctoring, i.e., dodging the real issue and eluding the matter as quickly as possible.
Excuses for inappropriate behavior when something goes wrong are not without their limits. There always comes a point in time when someone has to take responsibility for a mistake or error in judgment, apologize or make a correction for it, and then move forward. Closure will only occur when a mature and responsible individual admits to a misstep and then offers solutions to help remedy the situation.
I suppose that no one really likes to be blamed for a problem, especially when the trouble originated someplace else. Being wrong is not a pleasant feeling.
I have found this “culture of blame” in a call center environment most common with outsourcing. A manufacturer or a product developer in a business relationship will contract with a third-party call center operation to handle technical issues, inquiries and a myriad of other pre- and post-sale support functions.
It might seem easier at the time for the manufacturer to place the blame on a third-party call center for mishandled calls, unsatisfied customers and poor sales performance rather than being proactive in determining the root cause of a problem. Likewise, it is just as detrimental for the third-party call center to fault the manufacturer for quality issues and unfair policies instead of conveying empathy, capturing details of the problem and funneling the information back to the manufacturer to help minimize future events.
This “blame game” just makes matters worse from the point of view of the customer. Customers want a speedy resolution rather than an excuse. They do not care which party is at fault.
A corporate entity that makes excuses about mistakes and blames “those other departments” or “another division of the company” faces the loss of its image in the mind of their customers. The blame game does nothing to help solve a problem. It instead simply creates an appearance that the corporate entity is inept or irresponsible.
Furthermore, in the absence of a speedy resolution, customers are more likely to become hostile until the situation escalates to the point when a responsible individual can help resolve their problem.
In my work with call centers, I have found that the “blame game” phenomenon is a result of service agents, and in some cases managers, who do not understand the skill sets required for averting such situations. The most important attribute required is a responsible attitude of ownership for each and every service event. This approach does not always come naturally. In most cases it is a performance. I urge call center professionals to carry out their role and thereby manufacture their own responsible attitude. Acting out the optimal desired behavior first rather than waiting and hoping for an improved mind-set and its associated behavior is a means for an attitude to be artificially created.
The art of manufacturing and mastering a responsible attitude takes rehearsal and application. Conducting weekly role-playing sessions among call center agents is a good way to provide an environment where representatives get to see, hear, and experience what a responsible attitude looks and sounds like.
A second skill set required for minimizing the “blame game” outcomes is for an agent to invest more time in listening and less time in talking, interrupting and making excuses. Customers are much easier to manage when they get to talk, vent and finish explaining their reason for calling. It is unfortunate, but in many call center environments customers are often interrupted in the interest of expediting the phone call. My experience has educated me to the fact that interrupting customers results in just the opposite outcome.
A customer who has been interrupted by a call center representative will likely return to the beginning of their story and start it over again. A customer does this because they believe that the agent was not listening. Like the responsible attitude, good listening skills must be rehearsed and applied. Agents who have been trained to be empathetic listeners enable many customers to resolve their own problems, thus reducing the stress of a challenging telephone call. Interrupting customers only adds tension to both parties.
Being responsible and taking ownership of problems is hard work. If it were easy, then everyone would be doing it.
The most successful distributors hire Steve Coscia to train their dealers and contractors in Customer Service and Soft Skills. Call Steve at 610-853-9836 or e-mail him at [email protected] to learn more about his speeches and seminars. Visit www.coscia.com to download a free 60 page e-book.