emily cardinPlease welcome guest blogger Emily Cardin, National Customer Service Manager for Specialty Answering Service; a US based multi-lingual customer service outsourcer.

Specialty Answering Service can answer a business’ phones when its staff is unavailable, when the organization expects an upsurge in call volume, or when it is running a particular promotion and needs all hands on deck for that added boost in sales and marketing.


Emily’s primary goals have always been customer satisfaction and client retention. Her straightforward, honest approach has earned her a reputation as an industry leader, and she is adept at de-escalating even the most dire customer service situations through her unruffled and reassuring demeanor. No matter how challenging or stressful the situation, Cardin sees to it that the clients’ needs are priority. Through her skillful and honed approach, everyone comes out on top, client,customer, and answering service alike.

Here’s her story about how she handled a client who was very angry but turned out to be ‘in the wrong’.

Emily’s Story

As both the owner and National Client Services Manager for Specialty Answering Service, my job is overwhelming to say the least.  When I think back to our humble beginnings, it is sometimes very hard for me to grasp the magnitude of what it means to now be nation-wide.  Client service management is no easy task, especially when considering the number of phone calls a national company may receive on a daily basis.

As any business owner knows, handling millions of anything, from phone calls to widget orders, can result in errors; my days are never boring, I can tell you that!  When it comes down to it, the most effective tool any client service representative has in his or her arsenal is an apology.  We live in a culture of finger pointing and excuses that make a simple “I am so sorry” a refreshing and genuine way to conduct business.

But what happens when the problem is not our fault?  After many years of experience in this industry, I would say that about a third of the mistakes made are a result of our actions, while another third are the fault of our client; the remaining issues stem from our client’s customer base.

So, what is the best way to tackle these problems?  We take the same approach to each situation.  We evaluate the problem, investigate, and report back to the client.  We pride ourselves on our honest approach, but in the case where the burden of fault lies on the client, it becomes a balancing act.

The Case of the Angry HVAC Company

Certain businesses require round-the-clock phone answering seven days a week, and twenty-four hours a day.  They may come on board with Specialty to handle overflow calls Monday through Friday, but utilize our service on weekends as well.  When something goes wrong with your plumbing or HVAC, do you say, I’ll wait until morning to call my plumber so he can get a good night’s rest?  Or would you prefer immediate assistance no matter the time of day or night?  Some things simply cannot wait until tomorrow, and that is where we come in.

Recently one of our clients called to complain about a very important phone call that was missed.  He has a commercial refrigeration business that recently landed an exclusive contract with a national restaurant chain.  On the very first weekend of the contract, several of the restaurant’s locations tried to contact him, only to have the phone ring and ring…ad infinitum. 

On Monday morning, he was contacted by an understandably irate customer and was faced with the likelihood of losing the contract that he had worked diligently for years to secure.

Needless to say, our client was about as happy with us as his customer was with him.  He called to let us know of the problem and, as one would expect, took his frustration out on me.  As he dressed me down with foul language and even threats of lawsuits, I remained calm and apologetic.  I told him that I would investigate the matter and let him know what had happened.  When the barrage ended and I hung up the phone, I was notably rattled.

Client service is my job and although it certainly has its share of unpleasant moments, this phone call was downright humiliating.  I did my best to maintain composure.  One of the most important rules of thumb about being a manager is, never let them see you sweat.  So shaking off the indignity that was just hurled at me, I began my investigation.

My job has become so much less tedious with advances in technology, as I now have the luxury of not only seeing logs of when calls come in, but also have the ability to listen to their recordings.  This is a fantastic resource not only for troubleshooting a client service issue, but also as a learning tool for new hires that aren’t familiar with industry practices or etiquette.  Technology makes life easier.

And in the case of our angry HVAC client, with just a few mouse clicks, I quickly realized that we never received any calls from the restaurants in question.  In fact, we didn’t receive any calls whatsoever. 

It was highly improbable that no calls came in, so the most likely scenario was that the client failed to transfer his lines over to the answering service.  In this case, calls would have only rung in their office, never giving our operators the opportunity to answer the calls.  As it turned out, this is exactly what happened.

Resolving the Problem (that he created)

While I was convinced that the client was responsible for the error, quality service isn’t about pointing fingers.  I contacted the client to let him know that we had ruled out several possibilities.  There were no power or phone line outages, and, based on running KPI (key performance indicators), I had determined that there hadn’t been an unusual number of calls abandoned.  I told the client that we were running a report to see if any of our toll free numbers were down and asked if he could check with his staff to confirm whether his phones had been transferred.  He called me back within minutes, realizing that the error was on the part of his staff.

After further inquiry, he found that the regular receptionist was not in and that her replacement was unaware of proper protocol.  We were able to absolve ourselves of the problem, however the problem still existed. 

This is where we took the opportunity to go above and beyond “good” or even “great” client service.  Realizing that the health of his company relied on keeping his cornerstone customer, we volunteered to accept responsibility for his error.  By allowing him to blame us, we risked the possibility that he would be forced to choose another service. 

Nevertheless, by placing the needs of his business in front of our own, we demonstrated a remarkable amount of loyalty, something that would be difficult to find from one of our competitors.

In the end, everyone got what they wanted – we were able to retain our client, and our client was in turn able to continue his partnership with the national restaurant chain whose business will have a tremendous impact on his future success.  This outcome could have only been reached by handling the situation with a delicate touch. 

Regardless of where the fault lies, grace and humility must always be an integral part of incomparable client service.  In the service industry as much as in life, we follow the golden rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  While many of our competitors are indistinguishable, this is where we stand out.

Disclosure:

I have no affiliate relationship with Specialty Answering Service, nor have they paid me to publish this article on my blog.

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Adele Berenstein

Adele Berenstein is an Experienced Customer Satisfaction Executive, recently retired from a Large Global IT Organization after a long productive management career including Sales, Marketing, Services, teaching and education center management and most recently, 19 years in customer satisfaction management. She turned around divisions with customer satisfaction problems, implemented measurable improvements and management systems, and implemented programs to prevent problems from ever affecting customers.

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