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Why Nice People Shouldn’t Work in Customer Service

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angry phone call

Employers love to put nice people in customer service positions. Especially if they’re authentically nice people—I’m talking about the kind it’s impossible to get mad at because they’re just naturally so dang polite and pleasant. It’s obvious they genuinely want to solve everyone’s problems, and they’re working really hard to make it happen.

This setup makes sense (put nice employees in front of clients = a no-brainer) and works out well for all involved—except you, the sweetheart professional.

For you, the arrangement is stressful and trying and leads to major job dissatisfaction. Here’s why:

Nice people are sensitive

Customers are loud, abrasive and impatient. They’re rude. There are exceptions, of course, but anyone who’s worked even one day in a client-facing position knows that people coming to customer service are usually upset. And for some reason, many clients find it acceptable to take their frustrations out on you, the well-meaning customer service employee, as if you’re intentionally out to make their experiences with your company crappy.

The main problem with this is that you internalize the insults and absurd accusations and take it all personally. As a truly nice individual, you absorb this non-personal angry venting and blame yourself for the issue. The more customers you work with, the worse you feel.

Nice people are easily flustered

All you want to do as a nice person is make the client happy. That’s a difficult enough endeavor on its own, but when several customers are barking commands at once, your people-pleasing brain starts smoking. All these clients need help, and most of them are mean about it, and you so desperately want to take care of all of them immediately—but the high level of negative input impairs your ability to problem-solve.

And so you bounce around from complaint to complaint, attempting to put out each fire but getting pulled away before it’s out by a larger one—and ultimately, you hardly accomplish anything.

At the end of the day, you reflect on all the issues you weren’t able to resolve and doubt your capabilities as a professional.

Nice introverts have it even worse

Extroverted people get their strength from speaking with others. Chatting and interacting excites and enlivens them. Introverts, on the other hand, find too much verbal communication tiring. It leaves them mentally exhausted, and they need some alone time to recharge.

It makes sense, then, that if you’re an introverted employee in a customer service position—where interacting with other people is the name of the game—you’re at an increased disadvantage. Not only is your “niceness” working against you, but you’re also operating in an environment that depletes you of energy.

A nice customer service employee leaves work feeling offended and doubtful; you, the nice introverted customer service employee, leave work feeling offended, doubtful and drained.

The exception: when customers are awesome

There are situations in which darling you working in customer service is a beautiful scenario for all parties. For example, let’s imagine you work for a charity, and your clients are donors or volunteers. Or maybe you’re employed by a Hawaiian resort, where your customers are vacationers.

If the clients are participating in a feel-good activity, or are arriving at the scene already in a fantastic mood, it’s likely those conversations are going to go swimmingly. That’s a win-win-win for the customer, the employer and you.

Bottom line: know yourself well and navigate the professional world accordingly.

And if you’re honestly nice, stay far, far away from most customer service roles.

Cassie Nolan is the blogger behind Alternative Badassery, “A creative guide to being good at life,” where she covers career, writing and health topics. She also regularly disseminates awesome on Facebook and Twitter.

Brazen powers real-time, online events for leading organizations around the world. Our lifestyle and career blog, Brazen Life, offers fun and edgy ideas for ambitious professionals navigating the changing world of work.

  • Leslie Pauley

    I’m a nice introvert and I don’t find this at all to be true. Good customer service comes from training and experience. I will bend over backward to solve someone’s problem or get them escalated to someone who can solve the problem, but if a customer is cursing at me or trying to put me at fault then I’m the first person to let them know I can’t help them unless they adjust their attitude. You can be nice without being a pushover.

    • http://twitter.com/cassieranae Cassie Nolan

      Hey Leslie,

      That’s awesome that you’re able to put rude customers in their place. Sounds like what you don’t find to be true is the “easily flustered” part. I think there are probably varying degrees of “niceness,” and for some, the desire to be pleasant and non-confrontational overrides any need to stand up to a customer.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

  • Latisse

    Nice blog post, i like your blog post.
    http://www.anymedsrx.com/latisse/

  • Colleen

    Thank you for posting this article. I have been so confused and upset over the past year as I navigate the daily horrors of customer service. I’ve had significant training and have read many books. It isn’t a problem with know-how; it’s a limbic reaction based on personality. It’s “nice” PLUS “highly sensitive.” For years people told me I would be “so good” at customer service because I’m “so nice.” Now that I’m in this role, I see it’s a terrible fit for me. Not only am I a nice person, but also I’m a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). I’ve tried for years to be less sensitive, but it’s just who I am. I don’t “get” people who aren’t sensitive, and those people don’t “get” me. I feel like a failure in dealing with the mean-spirited, manipulative customers at my workplace, and I just DESPERATELY want to run out the door. It tears me up. I’m becoming WORSE at the job as anxiety sets in each time a new face approaches. Based on my work history (over 22 years), this is the FIRST time I’ve not been complimented. It’s also the first time I’ve felt unsuccessful at my job. I’m miserable, but I need and WANT to work…and most jobs require excellent customer service “in a high-stress environment.” Though I’m a highly capable professional (master’s degree & former small business owner), I now have health issues that force me into the part-time paraprofessional world – – would ANYONE value someone like me in a workplace where I actually fit? I honestly feel doomed.

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