“Thank you for calling Comcast. This is Nicohlette Perry. How may I assist you today?”
That's how every call starts. Then there are the customers, sounding tired or irritated, describing a problem they'd rather not have to deal with.
He can't get online. Her favorite channels aren't coming in. His bill seems too high.
“How is your day today?” asks Perry as she flips through windows on her computer screen, pulling up customer account information.
“Well, it's going pretty well, but I've been told that everyone else can get that Soap channel,” a vexed-sounding customer told her earlier this month.
Perry, a 26-year-old Everett resident, is one of about 320 representatives at Comcast's call center in Lynnwood. She spends her day at an L-shaped desk in a labyrinth of cubicles.
This month, she shares her space with a Comcast-issued calendar picture of “Californication” star David Duchovny.
The Lynnwood center chiefly fields calls regarding Internet service. A center in Everett handles calls regarding cable service and a center in Fife fields billing questions.
That's how it's supposed to work, anyway. Perry can tell you, customers don't always key in the right number at the start of the call, and they sometimes have more than one frustration.
That's when it comes in handy to have some tricks managing difficult people.
“With any customer, I treat them like family,” Perry said. “If it's an elderly person, I treat them like I would my grandma or grandpa.”
When the angry calls come — and they do — she says has a strategy for that, too. Sympathy, patience and a promise to make things better.
“They kind of calm down at the end after they vent,” she said.
That's the tricky part of Perry's job. The young-looking blond with a sweet, pleasant voice didn't get hired at her first interview with Comcast — it took a second try to convince managers she had what it took to work in the call center.
“I guess I wasn't able to show them I could handle upset customers,” in the first interview, she said.
About 900 representatives in Lynnwood, Everett and Fife handle calls for Comcast customers all over Washington state. That usually translates to between 150,000 and 170,000 calls every month.
Cindy Gallanger, vice president of customer care for Comcast's Washington market, said the job isn't for the faint of heart.
“If you're the kind of person who has a really high stress level, you're not going to be successful with customers,” she said.
Customer expectations have gone up lately, she said. So Comcast revamped its customer service operation using a troubleshooting portal that allows one representative to handle questions about cable, Internet or billing. The company also uses blogs and Twitter to communicate and seek out customers experiencing problems.
Perry doesn't have to seek out problems — she just hits a button and her headset does the rest.
She said it's strange sometimes, getting to listen in on people's lives. Customers sometimes tell her about their frustration with kids — or what they're doing later that day.
“Sometimes people don't realize how loud it is for me, and a mom will be holding a screaming baby right next to the phone,” she said.
But besides the screaming babies, she doesn't have many complaints.
“We're hired for this job to help customers,” she said. “Why complain about anything?”
Read Amy Rolph's small-business blog at www.heraldnet.com/TheStorefront. Contact her at 425-339-3029 or email@example.com.
MORE HBJ HEADLINES
Our new comment system is not supported in IE 7. Please upgrade your browser here.