A reader writes:
I a new supervisor (six months) for an inbound call center for a larger company. We don’t have a manager for the department, but we do have a director who is over us. We provide transportation services. Often times, we deal with third parties who are booking service on behalf of their customers rather than their customers directly dealing with us. These third party reps tend to be poorly trained and extremely demanding. For the most part, people in that industry work on commission for services completed, so they get extremely agitated about any delays, even if the delays are caused by their customers. They don’t seem to have an understanding about what is their responsibility or their customers responsiblity vs. our responsiblity.
Today, I had my fourth contact in a month with a specific rep, “Beth,” from one of these third party companies. Beth always complains that our reps are rude, have bad attitudes, and refuse to answer her questions. I always offer to pull the calls in order to review the call and see if our rep needs coaching. Beth usually demands that I follow up with her after I have reviewed the call. In every single case, I have found that Beth is the problem — she is short with the representatives, not paying attention to questions asked, forcing representatives to wait while she emails her customers or makes extensive notes, screams at the reps, and tells them that they have no idea how to do their job. Usually, I will follow up with her, tell her I have reviewed the call and that I will coach the rep. I understand that we can’t choose our customers, and I do coach our reps about how to handle extremely difficult people like Beth. This includes suggesting that the rep transfer difficult customers to me before they get too frustrated.
Today, a rep transferred her to me because she was being difficult. The problem: she wanted us to transfer her to a separate company to track other orders that we had nothing to do with. The representative offered her the phone number but refused to transfer her. Although we do have some affiliations with this other company, they are a separate company with an office on the other side of the country from us, and we cannot see their orders. She admitted to me that she knew that it was a separate company but that reps had been able to transfer her in the past. I stood by our rep and told her that in those cases that she would need to call the other company. At this point, she began to berate me about my attitude and how I was clearly the problem with our department. In her words, “it’s a trickle-down problem — you have a piss-poor attitude, so your reps do too.” She then hung up on me.
As I mentioned, the attitude problems seems to be with her. The next time that I have dealings with her, I’d really like to ask if I could speak to her manager. I would want to know if one of my reps was acting as unprofessionally as she behaves on the phone. Is this totally out of line?
Yeah, I think it would be out of line. Your job isn’t to manage her or to provide feedback about how she operates; it’s just to decide whether and how to provide services to her.
I do think you’re right that a good manager would want to know if one of their reps was behaving that way, but I don’t think that trumps the strangeness of reaching out to them. It would be like if a peer demanded to talk to your parents about their concerns with your behavior. It’s not access that’s typically given in that context.
However! You have a bunch of options here:
1. You can refuse to continue to provide service to Beth at all. You probably need to clear this with your own manager first, but unless Beth is bringing in a huge amount of business that you’re dependent on, it would be pretty reasonable to say, “Hey, in order to continue working with you, I need you to be polite and respectful to our reps. If you continue to berate them, we won’t be able to help you in the future.”
2. You can do a somewhat lighter version of #1: have a direct conversation with Beth, where you say something like: “You’ve seemed dissatisfied with our service. I want to tell you about how we operate and why, so that you can decide if we’re a good fit for you or not. If we’re not, then of course we’ll understand that you need to take your business somewhere else. But I need to ask you to be more polite to our reps, and I can’t allow you to scream at them.”
3. You can make it really clear to your reps that you know Beth is a huge pain, that you know her complaints don’t carry any weight, that you’re grateful to them for putting up with her, and that you support them in transferring her to you at any point in their conversations with you. Be particularly clear that as long as they maintain basic civility with Beth, they don’t need to worry that they’ll ever get in trouble from her complaints.
4. You can establish a policy that Beth is only dealt with by you, and that your reps should immediately transfer you to you when she calls.
If you’re unsure if you have the authority to do some of these, definitely talk to your own manager and see what options might be in play.
But even if you only do #3, it should go a long way.