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How To Navigate Frustrating Customer Service Experiences 'The Smart Way'

October 15, 2013 1:14 p.m.


David Silvey is author of "The Smart Way to Deal with Stupid People."

Related Story: How To Navigate Frustrating Customer Service Experiences 'The Smart Way'


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

FUDGE: Let's say you have a question, some need for service. Maybe you've got an airline connection that needs to be dealt with, and things aren't going very well. You make the call or stand in line, and the person you deal with is not very helpful. A guidebook is out there now to-you, the smart way to deal with stupid people! And I'd like to welcome its author, David Silvey. Thanks for coming in.

SILVEY: Thanks for having me.

FUDGE: Well, David, that's a title that's about to get a reaction. Who are these stupid people we're talking about?

SILVEY: Well, let me just put it out there, I'm not trying to do any name-calling, and I'm not trying to say I know who the stupid people are. I'm just trying to be a provocateur. When you're trying to get something done and the person ahead of them is not being effective or efficient in their behavior.

FUDGE: So when a person says oh, this person is stupid, what does that set them up for?

SILVEY: It sets them up for a win lose situation, really. Whenever we go into a situation where we want something or need something from another person and set it up to be confrontational, someone is going to win and someone is going to lose. Just like our friends in Washington DC are finding out.

FUDGE: Lots of the information in this book makes it clear that bad customer experiences are a 2-way street. Before you go to a service worker, you have to know what you want. People don't know what they want?

SILVEY: Well, surprisingly, no. That's what my experience has been. I've seen a lot of what I would call power brokers who are very successful in their own arenas, but when they get outside of their arenas where they normally operate with power and authority, they fumble and don't have any idea how to get what they actually want because they don't understand that there could be solutions available to them that are better than what they're trying to get.

FUDGE: Well, this is in the first chapter, a flight was canceled at an airport, people were freaking out, and you were one of those people who was going to be delayed or inconvenienced. But you made out pretty good. What happened?

SILVEY: Yeah, I saw grown men and women behaving badly. It was a Friday night, people wanted to get home, so I just saw people step up to the counter and say I've got to get home, I need you to do this, that, without thinking what's my ultimate goal. And they just started barking orders at the attendant and really being condescending and belittling. So I was watching all this and thinking there's got to be a better way. So my experience when I get up to the counter was what can you do for me? What's available? So I got all these options offered to me that nobody else was offered. And that was the big ah, ha moment for me. I said you know what? I know people, I know things, but when I view other people as being less important than me and don't stop and consider who they might know, what they can do and the power they have, I could be cutting myself off from a lot of wonderful solutions to all my problems before I even get there.

FUDGE: And they do have power, these people?

SILVEY: Everyone does. Everyone knows somebody, and knows something that you and I don't know. I take a clue from the Chinese. I lived in China for several years. And my students used to tell me we look up to anyone who's older than us. And I said in America we don't do that! If we have a young person in their 20s, but they're super successful, or they've started a business, we look up to them. And they said, no, we don't. Even if they're one day older than us, we look up to them. And I said why. They said because they've lived on the EARTH one day longer than me, and that means they may have seen something or done something or know something that I don't know.

FUDGE: Now, that star you tell about being in the airport, getting lots of options for another flight, for what you could stay at a hotel, what's the moral of that story? What did you do or what did that person or what did that service worker recognize in you?

SILVEY: I think they recognized that I acknowledged them as a person who was trying to do their job. Someone who wanted to solve problems, someone who didn't want to be blamed for the problems that they weren't responsible for. And so the way that I describe it in the book is coming alongside that person and becoming on the same team with them and getting them involved in the solution generation process. So what I did was I helped someone realize that, hey, I'm on your side, I'm not here to shake you or try to get you out of the way as an obstacle.

FUDGE: You also have advice for getting service help over the phone. I think we've all spent some time in that phone tree from hell. Don't tell the whole story to everybody you're transferred to.

SILVEY: That's right. I think we get caught up in our frustration and the emotion we're feeling, so we want to tell everybody exactly what happened since the day that grandma came in the door and set us off. And it just can be very distracting to the person on the phone and unproductive.

FUDGE: Okay. So just keep it short?

SILVEY: Well, again I would say go back and start with understanding who I am and what I want and what I'm trying to get. I just had a situation with my cable company where I was considered a chronic problem and three technicians came to our house to work on our cable and our internet, and finally I talked to the technician and he said I'm going to give you a phone number, and this is going to take you directly to the department that has all the authority to give refunds, rebates, special deals, all kinds of money. So before I got on the phone with that person, I had a lot of information about what I wanted, but I also knew that they could help me in ways that I might not even know were available yet.

FUDGE: You sound like you're very Zen. It sounds like you try to avoid getting angry in situations like this.

SILVEY: I can get angry just like anybody else, and I can certainly act stupid just like anybody else. When I do something, I'm doing it logically for a reason that makes sense for me, which is what I say in the book. There really are no stupid people, there are only stupid behaviors. All of us can act logically in our own mind and look ludicrous to the people watching us. If I channel my emotion and actually use it to set up a win-win situation, it makes the world work better for all of us.

FUDGE: And your day job is as a customer satisfaction and operations manager. So it sounds like you've seen it from both sides. &%F0

SILVEY: Exactly. My career has been spent in helping companies become more efficient and effective. And now I focus that on customer satisfaction.

FUDGE: Do you think that people often use confrontations with service workers to release pent up frustration that has nothing to do with the issue at hand?

SILVEY: I think they can, yeah, I think they can definitely take out their frustrations on someone that can actually help them rather than -- they get angry and upset not realizing this person can help them. And probably help them in ways that they haven't even imagined.

FUDGE: You talked I think once or twice about some steps that people should take. Have you told us what those steps? Are

SILVEY: I don't want to give away the whole book. The listeners can go to and get it very easily. But it's five simple steps. The first four are all mental preparation, and it's -- so they're internal. And the only action step is step No. 5.

FUDGE: And get the book if you want to find out. When you start to think that a person you're speaking with is stupid, what should you do

SILVEY: I've trained myself, obviously, to stop and say there are no stupid people, even though I think this person in front of me and being stupid. There are only stupid behaviors. So I try to separate the behavior immediately from the person. And then kisay to myself, okay, they're doing what they're doing, thinking what they're thinking, saying what they're thinking for a reason that's logical to them. So then I can start down the path of trying to understand what it is that's motivating them.

FUDGE: So the next time you get stuck on hold, think about David Silvey and his book, the smart way to deal with stupid people. David will be at Maxwell's house of books in La Mesa on Saturday, October 19th at five PM to meet folks and sign books. Thank you very much for coming in.

SILVEY: Thank you. And thank you to the listeners who make Midday Edition possible.