I Am In Sales, Not Service

If I am in the right mood, listening to easy-listening jazz is fine. If I have been on hold for fifty-seven minutes waiting for customer service, easy-listening isn’t easy to listen to. It struck me that, when I first called Big Behemoth Communications to help my aging parents switch their internet and cable service, my call was answered tout de suite (or, as we Americans mispronounce it, “toot sweet”). That was because I was buying their service. Now, however, I was calling to report a problem, and the response was trés lent (no, I don’t speak French). But the problem with the call wasn’t the speed of response, it was the response itself.

When I first called Big Behemoth, they were anxious to get my parents to agree to a two-year service plan; so much so that they offered a free computer tablet if we signed up that day. The agreement was signed, the equipment was installed, and my parents were back to watching Shark Tank and e-mailing the grandkids. A few days later, they received an e-mail that stated that, in order to receive the free tablet, they had to go the Big Behemoth website and enter a ten-digit account number. Their account number was only nine digits. I was positive that a quick phone call would solve the problem, but I was quickly informed that, in order to receive the free tablet, we needed to add cell phone service to the package. When I explained that I was told that the service we purchased included the tablet, the guy said, “I am in sales, not customer service.” I was quickly forwarded to customer service.

I explained the problem to the young lady in customer service and she said she was very sorry about the mix-up. (Ever notice that you don’t feel any better after a customer service rep apologizes for the inconvenience. It is because you would rather they used the time spent apologizing to fix the problem.) She informed me that the free-tablet program had concluded months earlier, and that the first salesperson I worked with should have never promised the gift. I informed her that it wasn’t my concern as to the dates of their promotion; I was told something by a representative of their organization, and they either needed to honor the agreement or make some kind of compensation. “I’m sorry sir,” she said. “There is nothing more we can do.” I said, “You know, if you buy a car and give the dealership a check, you expect to either get the car, or to get your money back. You are telling me that I am not getting either.” “I’m sorry sir,” she said. “There is nothing more we can do.” I informed her that the company’s revenue for 2017 topped $160 billion. That’s billion, with a “B.” They can get a deal on a computer tablet for around $100.

When I asked to speak to her supervisor, she said that she was the manager, and there was no one else I could talk to. I assured her that, unless she owned Big Behemoth Communications, she did indeed have someone above her. After an extended back-and-forth over whether there was indeed someone who signed her checks, and who might care about honoring the company’s offer, I was transferred to the Customer Experience Department. I didn’t ask about the difference between the customer service and customer experience departments, I was just happy to speak to someone else.

When the customer experience rep heard my story, she was appalled. She promised to get to the bottom of it. She was going to review the tapes of all my phone calls with them. Remember those “this call may be recorded for training and quality assurance purposes” messages you hear? Maybe, for once, those tapes would come in handy. I was told to wait ten working days for a response. That was over a month ago.

I didn’t tell you this story to get a “woe is you” response. If you haven’t had a phone call like this yourself, you live in Antarctica. I relate the story because of one statement throughout the interactions that stuck with me; when the employee said, “I am in sales, not customer service.” I have hundreds of business leaders tell their staff, “No matter what you do for the company, we are all in the business of customer service,” but I almost never hear the leader say, “You are each empowered to take whatever steps necessary to solve the problem.” What good is it to admonish staff to all consider themselves customer service professionals if the only thing they can do is shuffle the customer to someone else?

Successful companies train their employees to treat the rule book as a guide, not a set of handcuffs. Well trained employees are taught to be creative, not reactive; to use their brains, not the policy book. And, if employees are trusted to safeguard the assets of the company, they know to start with sensible solutions that won’t break the bank, but will still please the customer. In every instance where employees refuse to budge from the rules, you can trace the problem back to a situation where they landed in hot water for thinking and acting for themselves. In the end, the problem can usually be traced to bad leadership. It starts with taking a long look at exactly what each employee can do to solve a problem without relying on the customer experience department. Frankly, if a customer needs to speak to the Customer Experience Department, it’s too late.

Stevie Ray is a nationally recognized corporate speaker and trainer, helping companies improve communication skills, customer service, leadership, and team management.  He can be reached at or

This Technique Will Shorten Conversations and Get You to “Yes” Faster

There is a little known technique that is one of the most effective means of communication; whether you need to explain an intricate concept, persuade someone to your way of thinking, or ease a disagreement. The technique is the use of metaphor. A metaphor is a comparison of two things that are not the same, but share similar characteristics. For the grammar nerds out there, a similar term is a simile. A simile is a type of metaphor that uses the phrase “is like” in the comparison. “My heart is like an open book” is a simile. “I am steaming mad” is a metaphor. All similes are metaphors, but not all metaphors are similes. But let’s get back to practical application.

I have often mentioned in my columns that the brain’s least efficient function is data processing. The parts of the brain that handle what is called executive thinking—judging information, organizing it, and storing it—were the last to evolve in the human brain. Judging by the behavior of some people I see in the stands at sporting events, the evolution is still not complete. Because these areas were the last to evolve, their functions don’t come naturally to us. No matter how adept you might be at processing information or evaluating facts and figures, your brain doesn’t participate in that exercise naturally, or willingly. Ask the brain to process too much data and it will simply shut down. How soon the shut-down occurs depends on the individual. An actuary can stay focused for hours while analyzing the cost-benefit of insuring a teen-aged driver with three multiple-vehicle accidents on his record. I, on the other hand, start to check out the moment my account says, “I have something for you to read.”

On the flip side (a metaphor), the brain’s most efficient function is also one of its default mechanisms; pattern recognition. The brain seeks patterns all day, every day because patterns ensure survival. Patterns of behavior—or habits—help us perfect skills; and following habitual behavior is less stressful than trying something new. These two disparate brain functions dictate how we accept or reject new information. If you are trying to explain a concept that is difficult for me to understand, but one that is familiar to you, you are likely to rattle off a string of statistics. You use data to try to prove your point, thinking that if I get enough information thrown at me I will eventually give in and admit that you are right. Nothing could be further from the truth. The more data you shove at me, the quicker my brain will wave the white flag (metaphor) and start day-dreaming about that slice of cheesecake I left in the fridge that I hope my wife doesn’t get to before I do.

Metaphors are better at creating understanding because they access the pattern-recognition part of the brain. Because the brain likes patterns and hates data, it is easier for the brain to remember something old than to imagine something new. (Imagining, in this case, refers only to imagining the concept you are forcing upon me, not the fanciful daydreaming kind of imagining.) Imagination requires processing, however memories are simply patterns set in the brain’s neural network. If I said, “This new policy is better for you because it provides a 3% higher return than the national average, due to an accrued interest based on the basis point of…” the listener will smile and nod her head, but not know what you are talking about. If, however, you said, “Policy A is like driving a Porsche; it will get you there faster, but sports cars get in more accidents. Policy B is like driving an eighteen-wheel truck; it will carry more stuff and get you there safely, but it’s not as much fun.” the concept is clear, and more easily understood.

The magic of metaphors is that they not only make concepts easier to understand, they make them easier to agree with. When people get a light-bulb moment (another metaphor), they tend to agree with you. Sudden realization, or enlightenment, is accompanied by a release of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is released when we experience pleasure (food, sex, or when a police officer says, “I’ll let you off with a warning this time.”). Dopamine also controls the flow of information in our cognitive system. So a release of dopamine not only makes learning pleasurable, it makes it more mentally efficient. And we tend to agree with people who make us feel good.

To make metaphors effective, you must tie the comparison to something with which the listener is familiar. Using a fishing metaphor is useless with someone who has never picked up a rod and reel. Take a look at all the information you have to share when talking to others. Almost every concept can be broken down to a simple metaphor. Doing so will make the conversation shorter (metaphors take much less time than detailed explanation), and will make agreement a piece of cake (one last metaphor).



Stevie Ray is a nationally recognized corporate speaker and trainer, helping companies improve communication skills, customer service, leadership, and team management.  He can be reached at or