Editorial June 2014

The Art of Listening

Photograph of Mark Cummings

It’s hard to imagine, much less remember, a time when Choice customer service was carried out almost entirely by the United States Postal Service, which dutifully delivered the magazine to your library on or about the first of every month, rain or shine. They say life was simpler then (it wasn’t), but it is certainly true that our customer service was simpler—and considerably more dour—than it is today.  Enter, Rita Balasco, Choice customer service representative.

Rita was a freelance proofreader for Choice way back in the 1990s, but when, in 1999, we launched Choice Reviews Online and she was pressed into temporary service answering customer queries, it quickly became apparent that her true métier lay elsewhere. Within a year Rita was offered a full-time position as the CRO customer service representative, where her aptitude for listening and problem solving has stood both Choice and our subscribers in good stead ever since.

Customer service is a complex transaction, compounded of both technical and emotional issues.  On the one side is a customer who—by definition—has a problem and is by turns curious, flummoxed, frustrated, or—occasionally—angry.  On the other side is a serviceperson who never knows, when she picks up the phone, what the technical problem will be or which of these reactions she will encounter.  As you can imagine, dealing with people on this level requires an understanding of human nature and a vast patience.  One of Rita’s great strengths is her ability to listen and listen and listen until the emotion is bled from the issue and she is able to steer the conversation toward finding a solution to the problem.

If you ask Rita what makes her successful in her work, she will answer without hesitation that it is because she likes people.  Rita is one of those individuals who seems to know intuitively how to make others feel comfortable.  Over the years she has become friends with some of her “regulars,” going so far as to be able to recognize their voices when she meets them at conferences.  One of them even invited her to her birthday party.

But there is another quality that makes her good at her job: her inability to let go of a problem until it is solved.  While this may sound de rigueur for the position, the ramifications of this quality are profound.  When done well, both parties benefit from the transaction: customers whose problems have been solved respect her persistence and come to have faith in her—and in Choice—as a result.  And for Rita, there is the satisfaction that derives from knowing that she has made someone’s job easier.

In the end, we learn a lot from Rita.  She is, after all, our only direct conduit to our subscribers.  What she learns through patient listening helps us not only in resolving issues here and now but also in planning for future products.  So while we hope you never need to call to have a problem resolved, we are confident that if and when you do, we will both be the better for it.—MC