Like most people, I occasionally have problems with customer service. Unlike most people, I rarely have problems with customer service people. This is largely because I don’t give them problems.
Let me tell you a story. (Pretty please?) A number of years ago, I was coming home from a business trip to the Boston area. It was the Friday before Labor Day weekend, and the airport was packed. When I got to my gate, most flights out of Logan were cancelled due to storms all through the Midwest grounding the planes we were planning to use to leave. (Interesting science fact: If you have enough storms in the Midwestern United States, you can cause a butterfly in South America to flap its wings. This is one of the less useful aspects of chaos theory.)
Anyway, the lack of outgoing planes forced all of us to rebook our fights. This was in the days before ubiquitous smartphones, so we had to stand in line. The person in front of me was not a happy camper. He stood at the reservation desk and screamed at the woman trying to change his flight. She kept trying to calm him down, to no avail. (This was also before misbehaving in an airport elicited the helpful attention of the TSA.) Eventually, he shut up and went away, and it was my turn. I had never been to Boston before, so I had the following conversation with the reservation clerk:
Her: How can I help you?
Me: I have a question. Is it your fault that it’s raining in the Midwest?
Her (confused): No, sir.
Me: Are you hiding all the planes?
Her: No, sir.
Me: If I yell at you like an escaped mental patient, will my flight arrive sooner?
Her (smiling): No, sir.
Me: Are you sure?
Her (smiling more): Yes, sir.
Me: Then I’d like to have a calm, rational conversation about booking a flight to Raleigh.
Her: Thank you, sir.
Me: No problem. However, if at any point screaming like an idiot will make this go more smoothly, please let me know. I’d prefer not to, but I’m willing to help any way I can.
Curiously, this approach resulted in a ticket on the very next flight home.
Ever since that incident, I’ve been engaged in a semi-scientific study to see if yelling at people who are trying to help me with things beyond their control improves the situation. I say “semi-scientific” because I’m not doing a controlled double-blind experiment. Usually I just interview the customer service rep I’m dealing with, always using the same question: “Will yelling at you help?” My sample size is varied but not large, and includes (among others) waitresses, flight attendants, the cable company, the IRS, and today, the brokerage that handles my company’s stock program. I can’t make a statistically significant finding, but my preliminary data shows that roughly 100% (give or take) of people in the customer service profession don’t find blind rage helpful, and in some instances, I have been told that it can actually interfere with the process of problem solving.
Giving the prevalence of rage-based customer behavior, I assume I’m missing something. More study is clearly warranted.