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Phone Rage, Incivility and Why I Love Westerns

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Phone Rage, Incivility and Why I Love Westerns

/ People, Culture
Phone Rage, Incivility and Why I Love Westerns

It seems that rude and disrespectful behavior is becoming more and more common these days.

Back in the day, George Washington (Google “First president of the United States”) wrote a publication called “Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.” In it, he covers 110 rules on civility with the primary message focused on good manners and how to converse with people properly. Fast forward nearly 300 years and we find here in Arizona, home of Saddletree Research Global Headquarters, that Arizona State University offers an undergraduate certificate in Civil Communication. Kansas State University, my daughter’s alma mater and home to my adopted favorite college football team, has developed academic programs in dialogue that involve codes of behavior that foster constructive, civil discussion.


According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, which has been around almost as long as George Washington, civility is defined as, “Polite, reasonable and respectful behavior; especially courtesy.” The Oxford Dictionary, which probably has been around longer than George Washington, defines civility as, “Formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech.”


So, what is it about civility, or lack thereof, that has a burr under my saddle this month?


Incivility, which is, of course, the opposite of civility, seems to be rife on social media today. Barely a day goes by in which we don’t get excruciating detail in the news about some bonehead celebrity posting or tweeting something that is not only rude and/or offensive, it is something that said bonehead celebrity would probably never say to someone’s face regardless of how famous and overpaid they are. Case in point: Roseanne Barr. Enough said.


But incivility on social media is not limited to bonehead celebrities. It seems to me that it’s becoming more and more common among regular civilians—people like you and me—to engage in online behavior that can only be defined as hateful, rude and disrespectful at the very least. Almost anyone, with the exception of Roseanne Barr, can post the most hate-filled spew on social media today with impunity. It almost seems to be acceptable, perhaps even expected. There is no one to answer to for behavior that only a few short years ago would have been considered unacceptable in a civilized society.


I have recently begun to hear stories about what can best be described as raging phone calls, or phone rage, in the contact center. I know—phone calls from angry customers have been the norm in the customer service profession from the days of the first call center, but I’m hearing more about calls from customers that are really unhinged—beyond just the usual blaming the agent for something that agent has absolutely no control over. To validate these anecdotal tales of phone rage in the contact center, I turned to members of the National Association of Call Centers (NACC), the not-for-profit industry research and membership organization based at Middle Tennessee State University.


NACC member Adam Harvey, who runs the contact center for the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc., has seen the changes in phone behavior that I’m talking about. “The agents who work in our contact center have indeed experienced more incidents of phone rage over the past year,” said Harvey. “It’s a category that is highly underreported by my team, perhaps because they think they may be evaluated poorly for not being able to handle ‘tough’ calls despite consistent messaging by me to the contrary.


“Interestingly,” Harvey continued, “Most of the phone rage seems to occur with older individuals.”


So, I guess we can’t blame millennials for the increase in phone rage. Older folks weren’t the only group of rage callers that surprised me.


You’d think that people who practice yoga would be pretty mellow. After all, yoga is supposed to keep you calm. According to WebMD, one of the primary purposes of yoga is relaxation. Yoga will reduce anxiety and help one maintain a state of mindfulness. So, in principle, yoga practitioners should be pretty easy customers to deal with.


Cathy Colas is the manager of client services, which includes the contact center, for Level 4 Yoga. She told me, “You’d think that working for a yoga company, our clientele would be pretty zen. But about 10 percent of our calls and emails today are so nasty or rude that they have made some of my reps cry.”


Another NACC member who works in the financial services sector told me that they are now spending much more time on soft skills with their agents in order to be able to cope and develop the skills necessary in today’s contact center world. They have recently moved into a new building and turned one of the rooms into what he refers to as a “decompression chamber.” After an agent gets a phone rage call, he or she can go to the decompression room afterward and, well, decompress.


On the other hand, longtime NACC member Allan Fromm of Anser hasn’t seen much real phone rage in his contact center. Fromm and his managers coach their agents to consider the circumstances under which the customer may be calling, and to remember what the caller might be going through whether or not it’s related to the reason for their call. “When we first interview a potential agent,” said Fromm, “I tell them they may occasionally have to take an unpleasant call and not to take it personally, just let the caller vent.”


One of my favorite westerns of all time is “Lonesome Dove.” Based on the book by the same name and written by Larry McMurtry in 1985, the 1989 TV miniseries starred Tommy Lee Jones as Captain Woodrow F. Call and Robert Duvall as Captain Augustus “Gus” McRae. These main characters are retired Texas Rangers. The story revolves around the adventures the main characters have as they drive a cattle herd from Texas to Montana in order to establish a cattle ranch there. They make the drive with a crew of cowboys, including 17-year-old Newt Hobbs whose mother was a prostitute and whose father is widely believed to be Captain Call.


In one particularly memorable scene, and you Lonesome Dove fans know what I’m going to talk about here, the cowboys go into a town to get supplies. As the younger cowboys enjoy bags of candy and ponder the other “treats” the town may offer, a group of Cavalry soldiers ride up and tell the young cowboys that the Army needs to “requisition” their horses. Young Newt tells the Army scout who is riding with them that his horse isn’t for sale, so the scout is told by the commanding officer to go take the horse. When Newt won’t let the horse go, the scout starts beating him with a heavy whip to try to make him give up his horse.


Captain Call comes out of a store carrying an armload of supplies when he spots young Newt being beaten at the other end of the street. He drops the supplies, jumps on his horse and rides to Newt’s rescue. When he reaches the scout, he proceeds to beat him to within an inch of his life with a variety of handy blacksmith tools while the townspeople gather to watch the carnage. When Captain Call is about to deliver the coup de grâce, Gus rides up, ropes Call and pulls him away from the scout, thus saving the scout’s life.


When Captain Call regains his composure, he mounts his horse and before leaving turns to the gathered townsfolk and says, “I hate rude behavior in a man. I won’t tolerate it.”


And that’s why I love westerns.

Paul Stockford

Paul Stockford

Paul Stockford is Chief Analyst at Saddletree Research, which specializes in contact centers & customer service.

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