My Time Working at a Call Center

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While working in customer service, I encountered my fair share of difficult customers. With any job, we all have to put up with difficult personalities, but retail and contact center employees often don’t get the credit they deserve.

My time in customer service kicked off in retail at an office supply store. This is where I spent the first few years of my working life. You might be envisioning that an office supply store would be boring (think pens and printers). While this was the case most days, I certainly did encounter challenging customers. While working with these customers face to face, they at least tried to be pleasant enough, though there were the occasional few who would come in loud, entitled, and demanding. We were trained to deal with this type as quickly as possible to get them out of the store.

A few years later, I decided it was time to move on. I found myself entering the world of call centers at a large, global company. We’ll call it Company X. One of the perks of this job was that it was a work from home position. I went to their campus for a day of training and to pick up my equipment, but it was otherwise based in the comfort of my home. My time working at a call center only lasted eight months, but that was more than enough for me.

I found that customer interactions as a call center agent are vastly different than those that are face to face. Perhaps the customers feel emboldened by the shield of a computer screen or a phone line. Whatever it is, you really get some brazen personalities calling in.

Customer: “I want to talk to someone who actually works for Company X.”
Me: “Sir, I am a Company X employee.”
Customer: “No, I want to talk to someone who has Company X on their paycheck.”
Me: “My paycheck does say Company X on it. Could you tell me how I can assist you today?”

Click.

He hung up, probably only to call back to start in on another agent.

Hang-ups were encountered by agents daily. In most of these instances, the caller wanted to talk to someone in the US and would hang up and call back any time an agent answered with an accent. When I’d answer they’d say “Oh thank god, I got someone in the US.” Interestingly they based this assessment on how I spoke, most not even asking where I was located. This happened often enough that I was thankful the caller couldn’t see my eyes roll on the other end of the line.

At the time, Company X had a de-escalation policy for verbally abusive customers where the call could be disconnected. Before doing so, you first had to make three attempts to calm the situation. If the attempts failed, you then had to inform the customer that you would be ending the call. In my 8 months as a call center agent, I thankfully only had to follow this policy once.

A woman called in regarding an order she had shipped to her daughter who was recovering from surgery. The order didn’t arrive as expected and due to the weekend, the package was delayed until the following Monday. It’s important to mention here that my time at Company X took place from 2011 to 2012, before subscription and expedited delivery became then norm for online ordering.

From the start of the conversation she was yelling about what f-cking idiots we all were. We didn’t get the package to them on time and we needed to get someone out there to deliver the package that night. When I explained to her why this wouldn’t be possible, she only became more irate. So irate in fact, that I could hear her husband in the background asking her repeatedly to calm down.

I talked and she screamed for a couple of minutes longer until more name-calling began. With a fake smile on my face in true call center fashion, I asked her nicely to calm down or I would need to disconnect the call. Needless to say, that certainly did not go over well and I did just what I told her I would do — I disconnected the call.

Though the bad experiences are the most memorable, these types of calls were few and far between. Most of the call issues were quite boring though there were some awkward and odd ones as well. For example, there was an issue with an order of various sex toys a woman had placed for an upcoming bachelorette party. On another day, I received a call where a couple received an adult toy instead of the toy they had ordered for their child’s birthday. Thankfully they checked the order before giving the box to their kid to open.

My time working at a call center was short-lived. Quite frankly, I’m glad those days of dealing with a high volume of customer service calls are behind me. That said, I am appreciative for my time there. It taught me the basics of call center operations from an agent’s perspective which helped me at a later job. Coping with tense and sometimes sensitive situations in a high volume each day can be draining, but you quickly learn to keep your cool when under pressure.

The moral of the story? Be nice when calling, emailing, or chatting with a customer service representative. They don’t define or control the company policies and procedures, however, it is their job to follow them. Be tolerant and patient while they research your issue. They are trying to help and are more likely to go above and beyond when working with a friendly customer. If you feel you aren’t being helped or are being misunderstood, ask nicely to be transferred or escalate the call. Finally, not all call center agents are perfect. There are bad employees at every company and in every job. Call centers are certainly not exempt.


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