How We Treat Call-Center Representatives

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A few weeks ago I posted a tongue-in-cheek ‘Customer Service Kindness Test’ in which I suggested that our treatment of call-center representatives is a good way to assess our general kindness. Of course, my goal in doing so was both to amuse and to educate readers about how poorly we treat call center representatives and how unfair it is of us to do so.

This issue is one I feel deserves far more attention than it gets. In The Squeaky Wheel, I devoted an entire chapter to a behind the scenes look at call centers (with section heading such as A Day in the Life of a Human Punching Bag).  In my Psychology Today blog I posted an article titled The Last Bullying Frontier, in which I claimed our treatment of call center representatives represented an example of bullying on a national scale, and that this phenomenon received neither recognition nor empathy from the public or the media.

A few days after I posted the Kindness Test a former call-center representative left a comment on the Bullying article which I felt represented exactly the concerns I’ve been trying to address. Only their comments came after having personally experienced the painful consequences of working with a hostile public on a daily basis. Here is the full version of the reader’s comment.

“As someone who has worked at call centers for the last two and a half years I’m glad to see an article about this issue.

I’ve worked at two centers and I’ve left both after hitting breaking point with the abuse suffered. The first time I quit I took a month off before I was ready to try it again, this time in a significantly different field. The second time I quit saw a few months of daily binge drinking, serious depression, failed therapy sessions and finally starting to settle down after getting onto anti-depressants.

Prior to my first call-center job I was a poor as dirt deadbeat with no qualifications aside from high school graduation and some technical skills, despite this I was a pretty happy guy, confident in what I did know and a fast (albeit lazy) learner. I took that first job mostly for the pay which was excellent for someone of my skills, hoping to do it for a few years and use that to pay for future study.

I’ve had two and a half years of work but at the end I don’t have anything to show for it. As a person I’ve changed and not in a good way, financially I’m not any better off, my old social life is well and truly gone, I’m nowhere near as fit as I used to be and mentally I’m not in the best of places. Many of the physical issues are entirely my own fault, resulting from poor decision making and I’m not too stupid to attribute them to anything else but the depression, the nerves, the inability to feel anything slightly resembling empathy, they all come from what I went through as a CSR.

I honestly can’t recommend this kind of work to any sane person. If it looked like I’d have to work at one again, I think I would become a mugger before I would even consider another call center and the worst part is…I’m not even sure that’s a joke.”

I was truly saddened to hear the reader’s account as it conveyed the real world impact we consumers can have on the mental and physical health of call center employees and indeed on their lives as a whole. I promptly left a reply to the reader and asked them to contact me. Sure enough, the reader reached out to me through the contact sheet on this website (always a good way to reach me). I was glad to hear they were doing somewhat better, although still not fully recovered.

I hope we can begin to pay more attention to our treatment of call center representatives and spare other young workers from experiencing similar emotional ordeals. If you’ve had similar experiences, please feel free to comment.

Copyright 2011 Guy Winch

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42 Comments for How We Treat Call-Center Representatives

Anon

I work in a call center. People are really rude and hostile. It’s sometimes shocking what they will say. We are Human!!

    Ruby

    what about call centre agents from insurance companies, all is well until you make a claim, by the way this is from one call center employee to another. I work in a call centre as well. However twice I have had terrible terrible experience when making an insurance claim. You are dealt with as if anything coming out of your mouth is a lie, You are asked the same question 3 times in different phrases. In all this both times i have kept my cool but im quite aware that unfair comments have been left on my file. some call handlers express hostility immediately after you ve given them a reference number or explained your problem. As someone who has worked in the call for 4years i hope I dont sound as rude and judgmental as the insurance call center agents seem.

Call center employee

I currently work in a call center for a very large company. We get treated awfully by people. I don’t understand how someone can be so blatantly mean to someone who is just trying to help them. Especially the people who yell and name-call because I can’t extend their promotional discount. Is calling me a bitch, retard, dumbass really worth $30 a month? Someone could pay me $1000 and I wouldn’t say some of the things that have been said to me.

For anyone reading this who hasn’t endured this abuse, please, be patient, be courteous, it’ll get you a long way. I spent nearly 2 hours today trying to go above and beyond for a lady who was obviously upset but never raised her voice, swore or belittled me. I had absolutely no problem spending all that time with her because she wasn’t treating me like garbage. That’s how you get great service, if you’re rude, we’ll do the bare minimum.

Be nice to call center employees… your words really do affect us…

    Guy

    Well said!
    Thanks for your comment
    GW

Katy G.

I got an ish on this test and I realize that it isn’t the representative’s fault that their company treats their customers so poorly and that the phone service is so frustrating – but some days I really get to the end of my rope and sarcasm and sighing are inevitable. Just one of ten examples in the last few weeks, an insurance company sent me an email with a link to a pdf that they wanted me to fill out that day or else. Their website was broken and I couldn’t download it. I called, the rep said that they knew about the problem and didn’t know when it would be fixed. I asked that she email it to me. The rep said that she couldn’t send an outgoing email. I was still feeling reasonable at this point and asked if I could speak to her supervisor, because surely her supervisor had the authority to send an email. Nope. She offered to fax it to me (which she never did). I truly get that the rep is not responsible for the company’s policies – neither the policy that I had to fill out this form on that date or the policy that no one can send out an email. But this is not the first company that has put me in an unreasonable situation, nor the second, nor the third – just in the last few weeks. I have spent over 20 hours in the last few weeks on the phone with customer representatives from two banks, a computer company, an insurance company, 4 insurance agents, 1 shipping company, a phone company and a credit card company. Surprisingly (since I have spent unproductive hours on the phone with them in the past), only Chase bank has given their customer representatives enough authority to actually clear up a problem when I call. I have been a customer service representative at several different companies, so I really try to be nice. But I am worn down and I do sigh aloud when I hear that NO ONE in the company can send an outgoing email. I even sarcastically ask if the president of the company has the authority to send an outgoing email – because that is an unproductive rule and because there is no one at the company that has the authority to help me fill out the form THEY want. At the same time, I am dealing with equally unreasonable rules from multiple companies. It has been several years since I worked customer service phones, but I don’t remember ever having my hands tied so completely that I couldn’t work with the customer on a solution. I have kept my cool with 8 out of the 10 frustrating interactions I have had in the last few weeks. I was sarcastic and peevish on the other two. It shouldn’t just be on customers to continue to be nice while being faced with customer service reps with no authority to help you. It may not be the rep’s fault, but if they won’t/can’t transfer you to the person who has the authority to help you – sometimes the frustration bubbles out.

    Guy

    I completely understand your feelings about this. Let’s hope company execs hear their customer’s frustrations and make changes.
    Thanks for your thoughtful comment!
    GW

    Holly

    I got a super low score on the test, which fits because I actually do bake a lot of cookies. But, like you, I can’t help being sarcastic sometimes. I got what I deserved once when, after being on hold for over twenty minutes listening to smooth jazz muzak, a service rep finally picked up and asked what she could do for me today. I stupidly said something like, “A good song finally comes on for hold music and THAT’S when you pick up?” She said, “I’m sorry, ma’am. I’ll come back in two minutes” and put me back on hold! Yup, totally deserved that.

    Tami

    If a company says they cannot send an outgoing email has nothing to do with authority. It is because some institutions are very secure and heavy ecryption simply blocks anything coming in or going out. Espeically if they are companies that deal with sensitive and/or financial personal client info. These companies are hit over 10,000 strkes a minutes with attempted hacks, viruses and trojan horses. And they tend to ride in on that one email tha may have slipped through.

E.S.

I happen to work for a call center for a huge hospital in CA. I don’t know how I do it, I’ve been working in call centers for the past 12 years which is longer than the norm. I admit, I have my bad days and I try not to take it out on patients. However, yelling at me because you decided to wait until the last second to book your kid’s physical that was supposed to be done a month ago and is now due the next day for school? NOT MY FAULT! I understand you hurt and you need medicine, maybe you should have read the bottle that said (call 24-48 hours in advance) and not wait the day before a holiday. Again, not my fault. Customer service goes both ways, patients/customers have to be smart when they call in and companies in turn have to know what makes their patients/customers tick. I would never take action against any patient but, hanging up on me because your doctor doesn’t call you back in one hour…..don’t yell at me. I can always call you back, your information is on my screen! Ever since I started working in a call center, I am sensitive to how I treat others when I go shopping or interact with customer service over the phone for my cable. I never yell, I never curse, if I have a problem, I will write to the Better Business Bureau and to the local t.v. station, or even the attorney general of my state. Those 3 things will get a company’s attention REAL QUICK! Not dehumanizing call center reps.

    anonymous

    E.S. is on the right track here. If you think that you’re getting treated unfairly by a company, please don’t take it out on the poor guy or women that answers the phones, e.g. not getting assistance with a repair for something only 5 months out of warranty. The guy who answers the phone will almost always be just troubleshooting; you’ll want the department above him in that case. As sad as it is to say, companies really don’t care if you degrade or dehumanize their employees. You could call in multiple times in one day and curse out every CSR you talk to, and it won’t make a difference. It will usually make a difference if you get escalated and say that you’ll post this and that on twitter, youtube, etc, or write the BBB about this.

    There’s really no reason to be so nasty to people who are just trying to do their job. Not everyone you talk to will be helpful or know what they’re doing, but if you have to call multiple times, please don’t take it out on someone else who’s just trying to help you. If anything, politely ask for a supervisor and have that supervisor take your concern about reps that are rude or unhelpful.

Julie

I am actually sitting here right now unemployed because I could not handle the abuse both as a teacher in an inner city school district and more recently at a call center. I serviced orders for clothing for about as much as I would’ve made working fast food. People cursed at me, yelled and made personal insults because something was wrong with an order or a piece of clothing. It didn’t take me very long to quit without notice because no matter what a person does not deserve to be treated that way, not even for a paycheck. I think many Americans are spoiled brats who are used to having things handed to them on a silver platter, and if it doesn’t happen that way, then they will cry like babies. Maybe we should go back to killing our own food and sewing our own clothes and having the dignity that hard work brings instead of expecting giant corporations to care for our needs then crying when they don’t. Do you think that a giant for-profit corporation really cares about its customers or its employees? Only as each relates to the bottom line.

little

I am a csr for a tv satellite provider, I am often called a C*nt and B*tch and other fun things because I cannot fix their satellite signals or get them same day technicians on game day. I have customers that want technicians to climb on icy roofs. I have customers that expect problems fixed when they decide to wait a year to call about a problem. “i have had this issue for a year…i want it fixed for free without following my contract”. Television has caused such problems i come home and dont even turn mine on half the time :(

Nathalie @ Call Center

when i worked in a call center, we were trained to NEVER be rude to customers, regardless of how snide or snarky they were to us! I can not imagine being trained to be rude to rude callers, that is sad.

Bob

Below is my experience with one of these call centers that the police have told me is typical of call centers they’ve dealt with. My work and the surrounding legitimate businesses including a church in our complex have taken the toll of the crime this call center has brought into the business neighborhood.
Examples of what I’ve have witnessed, my workmates and surrounding businesses have seen from this call center’s criminal element the past several years. Keep in mind; this is an industrial area with high tech businesses in a nice part of town:
-Day one – several years ago: When they first moved in and was demolishing the drywall on a Sunday morning, the dust drifted into our church service, one of the deacons went over to tell them that we were choking down drywall dust, the response – they ramped up the demolition and yelled louder in an attempt to disrupt the service
-Drug distribution and use
-Hard liquor consumed while on the job
-Empty liquor containers littered on the parking lot, adjacent businesses properties and on the city streets
-A lot of litter including uneaten food and sodas, trash of all kinds etc etc littered on the parking lot, adjacent businesses properties and on the city streets
-Cars vandalized
-Cars broken into including cars for Sunday morning services at the church
-All the employees of the other businesses in our complex including my workmates now park their vehicles in the front lot because their cars being keyed and damaged due to the call center employees and the bad element that the call center has attracted in the back lot.
-I told the girls at my work not to venture in the back lot, that I’ll take the trash and recycling out. When the lady from our cleaning service takes the trash out back, I spot her to make sure she’s safe.
-Car stereos booming literally vibrating my workplace and adjacent businesses
-Neighboring businesses vandalized (ex: saw 2 guys drive down the street one night with their headlights off to vandalize a business, then return to the call center parking lot to hang out.)
-Neighboring businesses have been hit with more break-ins the past 2-3 years compared to previous years, not iron clad proof it’s the call center but a possibility based on all the other crimes
-My workmate got blocked off while in his car one day by someone leaving the call center, he was cussed out with the guy right at his car window simply because my workmate got in the way backing out of his parking spot. My work mate was unable to leave because the guy had blocked his exit with his van, luckily that’s all that happened
-Very dangerous driving, my work building was almost hit by a drunk driver while leaving the call center parking lot, another call center driver wrecked at the nearby intersection, this car was dragged to the call center parking lot and left, then it was broken into overnight. Call center drivers jumping curves, driving in the grass, hitting other cars. With the church in our complex, it is a dangerous situation with children, elderly and handicapped members using the same parking lot. I have been almost run over while on foot, on my bike and in my car. I have heard MANY complaints from my workmates, church goers and the other businesses about almost being run down in the parking lot too. A couple times I saw cars driving backwards at high speeds in the parking lot. 40-60mph driving in our parking lot was common.
-Cars dropping off and picking up people hidden away from the call center’s front and rear entrances, these people would then walk several hundred feet to enter and leave the call center. Sometimes they would only visit for a few minutes making multiple visits to and from the car that dropped them off walking the distance. Based on what I’ve learned this is a possible sign of drug distribution/activity.
-Multiple cars with black tinted windows, high dollar rims, with booming stereos very slowly cruising the parking lot OR driving very, very fast.
-The owner of the business in our complex right next to the call center actually warned me to not make too many waves as it could be dangerous for me based on what he’s heard and seen.
-One of the call center employees left a note on the church door stating that his supervisors/mangers were involved with drug distribution, breaking into cars, tagging a nearby business with gang symbols etc etc. He also said that his manager broke into his car, stole his stereo and installed it in his car – that’s how ridiculous that situation was – even the call center employees were being victimized by the criminal element working there. His attempts to complain to the police got no response. I still have the note filed away with my personal notes of my conversation with this employee and another employee who verified the same problems when I called to talk to both of them.
-An element that hangs out in the call center parking lot that does not work there.
-Dumpster:
>It was set on fire one night and we had to call the FD to get it put out, our work smelled of smoke as it was directly behind our back doors.
>The locks kept disappearing as the keys or combination was given out, someone from the call center would help themselves to a free lock. After this happened several times, the condo assc gave up. This resulted in a lot of dumping by outsiders at night which over filled the dumpster and created a huge trash problem at times in the parking lot.
-Openly smoking and making up marijuana blunts in the parking lot even during the day
-Odd ball stupid crimes the surrounding businesses have dealt with: Bike rack drug off, sprinkler pulled out of the ground, outside AC outlet weather covers stolen off buildings etc etc
-When I mention call centers to any police officer I happen to come across, they are quick to say that call centers are a big crime problem around town. One time I saw the police in our parking lot, he was called out due to a disturbance at the call center. He told me that with the young people that get into trouble with the police in town, they are finding that a lot of these young troublemakers work at the call centers that have moved into town.
-I heard through the grapevine that this call center sent out 1100 W2s one year, that’s how high the turnaround is. This supports what the police have told me, the type of people that are hired stay just long enough to get money to buy drugs and disappear.
The list goes on and on – again according to police I’ve talked too, this is typical of the worst call centers that have moved into our town….

    Holly

    Your experience is unusual. Your description is a bit too long as well; not all of this applies to the discussion, and I really couldn’t spare the time to read it all. I can say this to you, though: please be kind.

      Bob

      6.5 years of this including being threatened; attempts to get me fired when I tried to start up a neighborhood watch and threatened with a lawsuit for simply complaining to the city about code enforcement with all the trash, drunk driving, drugs, crime, overcrowding etc. The police, nearby businesses, and call center ex-employees tell me of jaw dropping stories of being victimized even by the call center managers who are thugs, gang bangers that are distributing drugs out of the call center – I finally did what I should have done years ago, sold my house and moved outside of town – that’s my advice when one of these places moves in your neighborhood; don’t think that you can get something done about it as there’s too many loopholes in the laws – instead immediately get a hold of a realtor and start your plans to move away…..

    Ontheedge

    I know this is an old post, but..
    I’m sorry, and I agree this is an unusual situation, I do understand the frustration you have experienced.

    But this smells more to me like the area, and you are implying this is the norm for all call centers and employees. I find it hard to believe that this is the situation with every call center.

    Your post comes off as if you are “better” than any call center employee, and that is sad.

    Did you know most call centers require a drug test, background and aptitude tests to even be considered for employment? They do.

    I am an educated woman with a degree in Technology, and love helping people. I am currently employed, do not take part in an illegal activity, do not do drugs, is it fair to treat me poorly because of what is going on in your surroundings? I will not treat you poorly if you phoned with an issue requiring assistance and I just had 10 back to back dehumanizing calls, I would treat you with the respect you deserve.

    Thank you for your insight, and I hope the situation changes for you, it must be very difficult to have to put up with that.

      Derek

      Every call center I have worked in at least 80% of the people did drugs. All of those call centers had drugs tests. What this man is describing seems to be both a mix of the area, and the general environment of call centers.

        Bob

        Yes – good assessment! The call center crime was allowed to continue because the former city counsel punished its citizens when a vote to increase taxes failed. So they cut/moth balled city services across the board to the point that citizens had to take over doing their own security, take care of the city parks, mow the street medians so we could see the other side of the street etc. When I would call the police when I saw call center crime go down no one would show up, there was not enough police to handle the 911 calls. Even at times citizens would have to haggle with the 911 operators to try and get police dispatched, even one instance of a 911 operator telling the caller that the criminals have rights too!! Citizens who had their house broken into and their property stolen couldn’t get police to respond. Remember the movie ‘It’s A Wonder Life’? Our city went from Bedford Falls to Pottersville, definitely a lesson of what can happen to any city when the wrong people are put in charge…
        Thus for years the criminals had almost free reign and openly did and dealt drugs, drove drunk, vandalized, broke into cars etc etc even in broad daylight ….

    xav

    “-Day one – several years ago: When they first moved in and was demolishing the drywall on a Sunday morning, the dust drifted into our church service, one of the deacons went over to tell them that we were choking down drywall dust, the response – they ramped up the demolition and yelled louder in an attempt to disrupt the service”

    Sounds like it might been the construction company you dealing with. I mean, the call center isn’t going to have dedicated employees that handle construction.

    “-I heard through the grapevine that this call center sent out 1100 W2s one year, that’s how high the turnaround is. This supports what the police have told me, the type of people that are hired stay just long enough to get money to buy drugs and disappear.”

    Re-read the article, the author just explained why this is typical of call centers.

    The other elements are not common of all call centers but are typical of having a building/business/community nearby that deal large amounts of a lot of people in a rapid amount of time (that list would include certain schools, businesses, apartment buildings, duplex neighborhoods etc)

    I’m not sure if your experiences have made you biased towards call centers or not, but if they have, I definitely recommend you consider. It’s a tough industry and although most don’t make it, the amount of patience and determination required to succeed in a call center make knowing the ones who do make it well worth it.

      Bob

      At first it definitely seemed like all call centers were bad to me:
      -The political survey call center with all the problems I’ve already described
      -Across the street a well known communications company call center with police officers expressing their frustrations about the criminals and resulting crime. At one point we watched paramedics and ambulances show up daily and sometimes twice a day carting people out on gurneys
      -Down the street about a half mile was a cell phone support call center that also had the police officers frustrated and also hearing horrible tales from ex-employees who couldn’t take it any more and quit
      -A few miles the other direction my chiropractor had another one of these problem call centers in the same complex where he told me of problems including almost being run down in the parking lot by these derelict cars.
      >>With all of this around simply running an errand to the grocery store got dangerous from all the DUI type driving that damaged grass, landscaping, running into other cars, hitting business signs, driving up on the sidewalk, hitting a power transformer, one car loosing control and driving through the front doors of a business as. With the state I live in dropping the requirement for car inspections and so little police around these call center workers were getting away with driving these cars with no license plates, fenders and bumpers missing, whole side of the car caved in and taped with plastic, no mufflers, CV joint bearings grinding, metal to metal from worm out brake pads – most blowing stop signs and doing at least twice the speed limit. This was allowed to go on for over a half a decade. Then add to that witnessing all the drugs, break-ins, vandalism, building tagged, stuff stolen off of buildings etc etc

      In talking to a guy whose in the call center industry he was one that helped me realize that what I was seeing was is what he called it as a ‘boiler room call center’. This term came from the days when phone were first invented these scam call centers would set up in basements in the boiler room and sell scam products. The city I lived in with all the cut backs and lack of enforcement combined with the bad economy I believe provided the environment for fro these boiler room call centers to operate for years. And once these places were entrenched it impossible legally to stop the source of the crime because of all the loopholes in the laws.

      After being away from this toxic call center neighborhood I have come to realize that there are many call centers that are legit and not milking the loopholes in the law. Almost weekly I’m using the services of a call center for my bank, cell phone, insurance, 911 operators and they are all there to help.

      So my advice now is before moving into a neighborhood and looking out for problem neighbors that we all don’t want and normally look out for – include in your research to look out for any of these boiler room call center(s)….

Ariel

I worked at a call center a few years ago, and I got hostile callers, but they never bothered me. I’m good at staying calm in the face of a lot of things, so I’d remain calm, friendly, and helpful. Most of my customers were great, and I got commended multiple times.

My company allowed us to hang up on hostile callers if they began cursing (after a warning). If a customer just wasn’t calming down after I started trying to help, I’d sometimes fake dumb to goad them a bit until they cussed. Once they did that, I would warn. That would usually annoy them enough to cuss again, and then I’d drop them. But most of the time we could work through it.

I quit because, as with my other previous tech-related jobs, I was being sexually harassed by a coworker. I reported him to a manager, but no real action was taken. Some idiot on the phone? Fine. Creepy dude in my personal space? nope.

    Darlene Woodhurst

    I am a IT tech in a call center as a contractor on a government contract. The first in line supervisor is what I would call passive aggressive, has locked down all the tools in the software to make our jobs easier, is a control freak and a trouble maker. I was of two weeks with a pinched nerve, followed all procedures, while I was out she attempted 4 times to get me fired and even went as far as to plant the idea I may be a drug addict to our next level boss’s head.

    I am nothing more to them than a body that answers a phone, doesn’t matter how great I am at resolving IT issues at the first level or that our customers which are government employees send emails all the time saying how awesome I am etc. my work space rarely gets cleaned my 4X4 box in the back of the room I am trying to clean, and decorate as I can barely drag myself in there. The will never hire me at age 54 as a merit employee even thought I set up that call center years ago.

    Everyone tip toes and gives this woman a pass, and all the management well the environment is a toxic one and I don’t mean by chemicals and such. Just a lot of BS’ing for everyone except us the Help Desk, that has to take every call for every wrong move all the other divisions make, because no one know how to management worth a lick and they won’t take appropriate actions against like the this passive aggressive person who is constantly conspiring against everyone taking all the fun, harmony and life out of all of us. Management doesn’t gives a rat behind about us, no on cares if their work wasn’t completely right or tested, they dump all of these issues on a pushou

Mike

Most people phone a call center just for the sake of messing up the call volume numbers, for stupid reasons that do not relate to sales. Some call just to bully and take their anger out on employee’s some call just to get rates to compare them to 3rd party websites. What all businesses need to do is to stream line these calls like the government agencies such as press 1 for sales press 2 for cancellations ect…. soon call centers are going to become a thing of the past as everything will be automated to a robot. What is really sad is the Psychos that call in for no reason at all!

Janet

I have worked in a call centre now for 4 years’ and am now at breaking point, infact I spent this morning crying at my desk thanks to our new operations manager who has decided to make my life as difficult as possible. having spent the year and a half working on a new project for no extra money, I have now been side stepped and am being put back on the phone with the worst shifts possible. the reason? quite simply the manager does not like me because I am quiet and keep myself to myself. like many call centre workers I have a degree and stumbled on this kind of work in times of need and have been stuck ever since. I have worked long shifts during which time I began taking strong painkillers to get through the day, my hair started falling out, I suffered from anxiety and drank too much. call centres are the modern day equivalent of work houses, management do not see the person they see a number and God help you if your face doesn’t fit. I am currently trying desperately to get another job that is not a call centre but work in my area is sparse. I am also seriously thinking about whistleblowing as the unfair treatment that goes on within my work place is disgusting. if anyone asks me how I find call centre work I have two words – soul destroying.

Jessica

Hey Guy,

I’ve been working in a call centre for just over one year now, and I never thought that I would still be here for this long. In my time here, I have move up to the role of supervisor, and it still sends my head spinning when I have to take that last escalation of the day and have someone on the other end full on screaming at me and threatening my job because we will not give him any more handouts that he just flat out does not deserve.

I’m tired of listening to people who feel that they are entitled to more free stuff because apparently “that’s what good customer service is”… must have missed that meeting. I always try to at least meet the customer half way, even if they are already at their limit. But most of the time, people can get just loud, rude, offensive, and threatening, and waste mine and my boss’ time, and sometimes even my boss’ boss’ time because they feel entitled.

Most people don’t understand that management positions do not solely exists for us to simply standby, waiting for our customers to refuse to take no for an answer from our front line employees.

Why is my question, why do people do this? When in a million years would it be deemed acceptable for one to call their service provider, and scream at 3 different people (who they do NOT know) in different ranking for over 4 hours, just so they can get $20?

I would never, EVER dream of doing what these people do every single day. Why would you speak to someone this way that you have never met, who has personally never done you wrong, and ultimately, are the ones who have the ability to help you, (who also, I might add, can see your name, your address, your social security information).

I have heard the worst things that I have ever heard in my life on calls with customers, and to be honest, they’ve probably hindered my empathy levels. We are trained and told to feel for the customer’s situation and invest emotionally in their situation, use the customer’s name a lot, help them. But honestly, I can’t blame people for wanting to withdraw from that practice, even though it is required. Why would you want to try to get to know someone’s situation and empathize with them if their sole reason for calling in is to try and threaten you to get free product because it’s Christmas time, and they can’t afford to pay their bill?

It’s been a long day Guy…can you tell? : P

I have spent so long and so much effort with customers who are kind, and honestly good people who aren’t abusive at all, and I get them what they deserve and then some. Why don’t people understand that that’s how other human beings work, and they are NOT going to want to help you if you are screaming abuse and profanities at them for doing their job.

Vic

Hello,

I just came across this post while googling the effects of verbal abuse on CSRs. I’ve been working at a call center for a trash company for two months now, and I already want to quit. At first, I was excited at the pay I would be receiving, but I quickly realized that no paycheck or BS company “incentives” can justify the crap that we deal with. How is it that I’m already jaded and extremely spiteful of this job? And the worst part is, we can’t fight back! Instead, the burden of dealing with these insane morons is delegated to us, disguised as empowerment! We’re taught to “own the situation” and “win the outcome”, but in reality, they’re telling us, “it’s your problem, not ours.” Why can’t we organize a union of sorts where we can demand better treatment and receive the proper tools to put these unruly children/adult hybrid inbreds in their place? I dread every day that I have to go into work, and the only thing that makes it somewhat tolerable is the monthly office potlucks.

Anon

I always try to be polite to everyone, but I find it difficult to tell people that I’m not interested without being hideously rude. If i had the time on my hands I would happily listen to someone trying to sell me things I don’t want, but its just a waste of both of our time, but i also get how awful it is to be abused by people at work. (I’m a student and at McDonalds. Fun.) So, whats the best way for a customer to tell a sales rep. that they’re not interested politely? Thanks.

    Deo

    I’ve been working in a call center for over two years now and it happened that the company I work for requires us to close sales. We have a target, and we may be in a bad position if we would not meet it, and that’s the reason why there are reps who are persistent in selling. But of course, we know if the customer doesn’t like it, however we have to rebut or else we will get reprimanded.
    Just say no as polite as possible. Just keep in mind the rep is only doing what they are asked to do. Just be firm with your no in a polite way, it is your right to decide what to do with your own money, and it is not a disrespect for us if you are going to decline… in a polite way.

nicole

I love this article.. people are so mean and demeaning. It’s so frustrating when I’m trying to help with all the resources I’m given and someone is just being a horrible person to you. I’ve seriously cried while on the phone and tried my best to hide it. Sometimes I feel like all I can do is cry after I get off a call, try to get my act back together and take the next call. People need to realize we are people too. It’s not my fault, I’m just trying to help.

jacob Eagleshield

I think what gets people so angry about telemarketers or whatever you want to call them,is they are trained to talk but not to listen.

Fidelius

I HONESTLY BLAME THE LACK OF EDUCATION AND GOOD MANNERS….

I used to work at Call Centers and hated every minute of it, all the centers I worked with were handling US Accounts and people were extremely nasty to me for more than 4 years until I couldnt take it no more.

A few yrs later I end up taking another call center job and my expectations were the samie, however something changed and it wasnt me. Clients were being polite even if having a hard time with a bad situation the company created, were open to my suggestions, werent abruptly hanging up the phone on me.

The reason why……I was dealing with Canadian Customers, so know I get it…Americans are just Nasty and they think is their rigth to threat people like scum.

Know I have a Job I really enjoy and change my mind about call centers, I just need to avoid US accounts.

Jane

I feel that everyone need to work six – 12 months in an inbound call center. Callers need to know that they can’t yell and scream and curse to get their way. They also need to be considerate to the customer service rep by not having them on speakerphone, do not txt while calling (it ping loudly in our ears). calling in a bad connection area where we can hear you, yelling at your family members and do not call when using the toilet toilet. Also when you call have paper and some to writie with. Callers need to take responsibility for their policy and be just as knowledgeable as the customer service rep.

bear1234

I quit my job today in a call center….i worked there 4 month and recently had a mental break down with depression. I don’t understand why people think that yelling at me is going to make me diligently fix the problem ….when the reality is I will do the bare minimum to help them …I would tell them whatever they wanted to hear weather it was true or not or transfer them to another department cause I just wanted them off my phone….. so in the end the customer is even more upset and why? its their rude approach thinking yelling and name calling is getting them somewhere. This lady actually said to me that it was my job to hear her yell and belittle me….I was like what? who is telling the public that it’s customer service and it’s their job to get yelled at?

Jane

Dear Dr. Guy Winch, PhD.,
I’ve written in the past and vented my concerns on how poorly customer services personnel is treated; but customer services personnel need to have someone to help be their voice.
Areas that received high level of media attention that’s making a different are many forms of cancers, heart disease, Alzheimer disease, Stroke awareness, bullying and domestic abuse. Customer Services needs a voice to stop the abuse (which is no different then bullying and domestic abuse). Sometimes its not just the caller its supervisor and managers (Employers are not helping the customer service personnel. I feel the only time they will make a change is when a family member is affected or a law suit) that causes the humiliation. You have written several wonderful books and article, but lets start going to the public media to make people aware of etiquette. Blogging about the negativity given to customer service is not enough. Needing to educate and provide etiquette.
I’m asking and even pledging for you to help myself and many many other customer service personnel about stopping the abuse.

Joe

As someone whose worked in a call center, I just have some tips for anyone who needs to make a is extremely hone call tp a call center:
1) Don’t assume that employees agree with their employers practices. I myself used to feel that the person on the phattention aligned themself with the company, therefore they are responsible if the company has unethical, greedy practices or lazy disorganized systems. But remember the employee may actually be intensely conflicted morally, and may be doing this job simply because they have no other choice, this job is litterally their best available opportunity.
2) don’t assume they work at a call center because of a lack of intelligence. Again, the main reason for working at a call center is lack of opportunity, not intelligence. call center work is extremely high stress, usually employees have very little training, and are often in situations where they have not been adequately prepared to assist callers. Combined with high turnover rate. Sometimes you’re just speaking to someone new or nervous.
3) don’t take their robatic answers personally. You’re not speaking with someone who doesn’t care, you’re speaking with someone who litterally can’t care anymore. They’ve emotionally shut down. If they sound scripted, robotic or like they arent paying attention, they are most likely in emotional distress.
4) remember that call center employees are Not Allowed to Fight back. Their calls are monitored and recorded. They are helpless to whatever you say to them, so have some compassion.
5) oftentimes the people who do last at call centers are people who are naturally not empathetic. Since the job doesn’t get to them. So most people who will answer are either clueless and new, completely burnt out, or an unempathic uncaring personality to begin with. The people who are genuine, empathetic and kind generally quit because the abuse actually hurts their feelings. A good employee is a burnt out one waiting to happen.

    Jane

    Thank you for the in site. I agree with your posting. I work in a call center for six years. I have a BA degree but live in an area with limited opportunity.
    As I posted requesting for a voice for the public to become knowledgeable on the call center. As a CSR been so verbally and emotionally abuse needing strength to help educate the public. The blog is focus on CSR to post his/her frustration because of the job.

Jeru

In the Philippines, most call center agents are aware that they’ll receive this kind of beating. In fact, they’re trained and educated not to take it personally (and that’s how it should be).

here’s what it’s like to work in a call center in the Philippines
http://auxbreak.com

The Ceej

I don’t like abusing the little guy any more than anyone else. Probably a lot less. But, it’s not just a matter of lashing out at those who have nothing to do with it.

If you work in a call centre, your company has already used you as collateral damage in the war against the customer. You’re already a human shield. I don’t abuse you because it’s your fault, or because I think it will allow you to change anything, and certainly not because I enjoy it. It hurts me more than it does you.

I abuse you because I’m trying to make you quit. I’m trying to raise the price of call centre reps to beyond what the company can afford to pay by making your job so unpleasant that it’s not worth it. YOU can’t do anything, but I can’t speak to those who can until EVERY CALL CENTRE REP QUITS OR IS FIRED.

I’m sorry that this is necessary, but your company has used you as a wall, an obstacle in the way of the customer service I deserve. I have friends in a few different call centres, and they have all confirmed the following:

1. Call centre positions are suited for sociopaths. Anyone else is going to have a really bad time, regardless of how they’re treated, because they’re forced to abuse customers.

2. Call centre reps are punished for providing customer service, and rewarded for refusing it.

It’s not you. It’s the policy. But I can’t fight the policy without destroying the mooks who enforce it. If you actually do your job, you won’t be abused by me, but you will also be fired for failure to follow the policy. So… You can’t win. I’m sorry. The moment you took the job, you were destined to be collateral damage in the war between Big Corp and little customer.

Judy Seltzer

I found this while trying to figure out why people are so incredibly rude, sometimes mean and disrespectful – mostly on the telephone… I am not a call center representative, I am an independent contractor, representing a large nationally recognized cremation provider. As an independent, EVERYTHING comes out of my pocket. Gas, miles, (around 32,000 per year) postage, etc. People send in a request for information, and the request is assigned to me. My job is to call to set an appointment to give them the information. People hang up, yell a me, refuse to let me explain my call, or try to find out HOW I can help them. They make appointments and don’t show up, that wastes a ton of my time and resources. They are consistently just mean and rude and all I’m trying to do is my job. I know it’s not personal, but it can make it difficult to pick that phone up again, even though I have to. Manners just don’t seem to matter to anyone anymore.

Sherry

Why is it that call centers do not, or cannot see this as mental abuse? Why not provide some type of on site counseling to the associates?

Christine Schuster

I work customer service for a high profile company that measures every minute of our day from log in to log off. We have to provide explanations if we are not logged in taking calls and are expected to provide excellent customer service in less than 8 minutes – no matter what the call. If a caller requests a supervisor, we are required to try de-escalating the call and if we are unable to actually bringing on a supervisor counts against us. If it only happens once a month, we are merely chided when our scores are reviewed, if more than that, we are put on an action plan that can ultimately lead to termination.

In addition to having extremely rigid metrics to meet each and every single day/moment we are on the phones, we must always appear sympathetic, even if the caller is calling us a dumb bitch of telling us to fuck off. Company policy is to allow the caller three strikes – and we must verbalize our warnings each time as in, “Sir, if you continue swearing at me I will have to disconnect.” Or, “Sir, I’ve already asked you once to stop swearing at me. If you continue yelling/swearing, I will have to disconnect.” And finally, “Sir, I will be disconnecting now.” These type of calls are reviewed and we are held to the warning/three-strike rule and if our disconnect is not determined to be for cause we can be terminated on the spot.

On one phone call, I reminded the caller that we were on a recorded line and the caller actually laughed and said, “That’s right, we are and you have to take whatever I shovel out, I can call you a bitch and you can’t do anything about it.”

At the end of the day, I literally have to decompress. I can feel the change in my brain – I feel like it has shrunk, and it takes a full week off of the phones before I start to feel my brain functioning normally again. Meaning, I no longer feel like my brain is clamped, I no longer worry about how I phrase every single sentence, I begin thinking outside the box again, I feel like I have unplugged – and that is exactly how we are treated: we plug in at the beginning of our shift and we are not allowed to unplug until it ends. Every phone call is recorded, our calls are reviewed and scored each month, and we have a set of goals we have to meet each month – the goal is usually 99.xxxxx – which translates into less than one error per month – and there are months where one rep can take over 900 calls and that is on a normal 8 hr/dy 40hr/wk schedule.

As I mentioned earlier – the goals are strict – less than 1 minute average on holds, less than 1 minute on after call work, less than 8 minutes per call, less than one call that goes to a supervisor, calling the “help” line less than .58 times per month. And if you are able to come close to the goals…well, that’s when they add another level of callers into your queue – naturally, that means you can take more calls. A promotion where I work does not actually mean moving up, it merely means receiving a broader/expanded client base that you can assist with.

The job is emotionally and mentally demeaning and the demands are absolutely unrealistic. I would never suggest this job to someone I care about and I would never provide the people I work for with the chance to do this to someone I care about. I’ve taken business psychology and I am familiar with the history of workplace practices, and the company I work for could be used as a case study from the ’50s.