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Last week, we marked the official start of the holiday retail season with a segment on the problems with customer service.


We heard a few complaints like these.

Unidentified Woman: If you make it fuss or you look fierce, they usually respond well.

Unidentified Man #1: The customer service in America is going downhill.

Unidentified Man #2: Ten dollar an hour job, people don't really care about, in California, at least.

BRAND: Of course we did forget one important thing: the customer isn't always right.

COHEN: In fact, sometimes the customer is downright rude.

BRAND: Here's the start of one letter we received from a listener. Having spent about 15 years working customer service, I can honestly say that customers made us suffer too. People are ill-mannered, obstinate, and mathematically impaired.

COHEN: We called up the writer of that letter, David Miller, in Rancho Cordova, California. We asked him to explain his side of the customer service story.

Mr. DAVID MILLER: I run into many situations where customers were rude without any cause or reason for being so, saying things about me personally, telling me to do things that are biologically impossible.

BRAND: You wrote to us that you've watched videos that were meant to train customer service reps on how to deal with difficult customers. What do these videos suggest you do?

Mr. MILLER: Be rational, be calm, not let what they're saying affect you, because normally they're not actually mad at you personally. They're mad at the situation or they may have something else going on in their day and they're just taking it out on you. The flaw on all those videos is that the people they show, the actors portraying the customer service reps would be rational and calm and say things like, I'll be more than happy to help you if you please refrain from using foul language, or if you would just remember I'm here to help, something along those lines. And inevitably the customer calling in would always suddenly change their attitude and say, oh, you know, you're right, I'm sorry. Well, that never ever happened.

BRAND: Were you ever tempted to just hurl some of those obscenities right back at the customer?

Mr. MILLER: Often. Part of my job was curbing what I really wanted to say in place of what was appropriate.

BRAND: Mr. Miller, might I ask, are you still in customer service?

Mr. MILLER: No. Thank goodness. I'm still working for an insurance company, but I'm in the claims processing area, where I never have to speak with people at all. I spend all day looking at paperwork and X-rays, and I'm joyous about it.

BRAND: Listener and former customer service rep David Miller, thank you so much.

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