Customer Service: The Importance of Letting Employees Use Discretion and Judgment


call_centre_employeewithheadsetportrait_26747-300x226Last week I had two experiences with government-sponsored call centers within twenty-four hours. One was pleasant, and the other was a waste of my time. The comparison caused me to think about the importance of giving employees discretion to handle situations to the best of their abilities.  When employees are allowed to use their best judgment, their ability to satisfy customers improves.

One evening I had to call my municipal government’s 311 action line to complain that my trash had not been picked up on our regular trash day. The garbage truck had been to most of the homes in our neighborhood, but for some unexplained reason it had skipped our block.

Even though I called about 6:30pm (well after normal government working hours), I got a live human being on the phone. “Derrick” took my call, was pleasant and knowledgeable as we talked, looked up my information in his computer as we spoke so I didn’t have to tell him everything, joked with me about Thanksgiving plans, and promised to send another garbage truck the next day. (That didn’t happen, but the call itself was pleasant. The trash was picked up later in the week.) Throughout the phone call I felt like I was talking to someone who cared about me and my problem, who was knowledgeable about his job, and who would do his best to satisfy his customer.

The next morning I had a different experience. I received a survey call from the federal Department of Health and Human Services. I try to take survey calls when I have the time, particularly when I am interested in the topic, and this survey was about health care, which does interest me.

“Rolando”, the representative conducting the survey, launched into his introductory spiel, which he could barely read. I stopped him to ask how long the survey would take. He gave me the usual “That depends on how long your answers are” response that surveyors are trained to use to keep you on the phone. Then he started the introductory spiel all over again . . . from the very beginning, as if I hadn’t heard any of it before. Or maybe he didn’t know where in the speech he had left off.

After the introduction, Rolando started the actual survey. We got through a few demographic and geographic questions, then he asked “How do you get your health insurance?” and he read a long series of options, such as through my employer, through my spouse’s employer, through an individual policy, through Medicare, through military plans, etc.

When he got to the choice that applied to me, I said, “That’s it.”

Rolando didn’t acknowledge my answer and continued reading the options on the page in front of him.

“You read the one that applies to me,” I said, stating it again. “That’s the only health insurance I have.”

“For quality purposes,” he said, “I have to read everything.” And he started reading the list again, from the top, as if I hadn’t said or heard a word he had previously spoken.

At that point I stopped him again. “If you’re going to waste my time reading the whole list instead of listening to me,” I told him, “I won’t take the survey.” I hung up.

HHS sealI probably wasn’t very nice to poor Rolando, but I have no patience with people who waste my time. I don’t know if Rolando’s lack of customer service was due to his cluelessness or if he had been trained that way. Regardless, if HHS doesn’t give its survey conductors any discretion to respond to me as an individual, or hire surveyors who have the capability of using their judgment, then I see no reason to accommodate them by sitting through their survey.

And if HHS cannot allow survey conductors to use some judgment and discretion, how can we expect them to manage the entire healthcare industry? Or even to get Healthcare.gov working?

What are your pet peeves about employees who don’t (or can’t) exercise good judgment?

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1 Comment

Filed under Employee Engagement, Human Resources, Management, Workplace

One response to “Customer Service: The Importance of Letting Employees Use Discretion and Judgment

  1. Pingback: When Your Service to Customers Fails, What Do You Do? | Sara Rickover, Behind the Corporate Veil

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