Call center employees on what they love to hear, how they help, and the worst things customers have said to them.

We Asked Call Center Employees About the Worst Things Customers Ever Said to Them

We Asked Call Center Employees About the Worst Things Customers Ever Said to Them

Always Right
A pop-up blog about customer service.
Sept. 11 2017 5:52 AM

Call Center Confidential

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Thinkstock.
“I’m smiling, but this person is saying truly awful things to me.”

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Thinkstock.

Always Right is Slate’s pop-up blog exploring customer service across industries, technologies, and human relationships.

Dialing in to a customer service line is no one’s idea of fun. You often have to navigate through a labyrinth of menu options, crude voice recognition software, and grating hold music before finally reaching a breathing human being. And then you must explain in painstaking detail the problem with your cable box to some person thousands of miles away.

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But what about that person? It’s no cakewalk for the service professional on the line, either. What is it like for company representatives fielding thousands of calls every day from customers—many of whom are irate, unreasonable, and/or clueless? We asked members of this invisible workforce from around the country to speak their minds. We didn’t record those conversations for training and quality control purposes—we recorded them to give you an idea what life’s like on the other end of the call.

What's the worst thing that a customer has ever said or done to you?

A customer said to me that they hoped that I had a son who died when he turned 5. He had just gone through that, basically. I worked in benefits administration, particularly in health and insurance. So he had a son who had passed away at 5 due to some health concerns, and had made some mistakes with the benefits he chose based off of losing a dependent. We couldn't go in and just immediately fix those; we had to go through an appeals process. He didn't want to hear that. He said, “Well I hope you have a son, and when he turns 5, I hope he dies, and you have to go through this bullshit.”
—D, customer service rep, insurance

I was calling to follow up on a payment, and he asked me to take the penis out of my mouth. And I was like, “Huh?” Not thinking he would repeat it. And then he said, “You heard me, monkey. I said take the penis out of your mouth.”
—A, customer service rep, financial services

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There was a woman who said she was going to report me to the Minnesota government office because I didn’t know where the ticket window at the Minnesota State Fair was.
—P, customer service rep, ticketing services

On the HR end, we were frequently listening to calls. Everything is recorded. One that I remember vividly was an employee repeatedly being called the N-word over and over by a customer very early in the call. The employee did a great job at de-escalating the situation—just sort of kept listening to the customer, kept diverting it back to what the issue was that they were trying to deal with. That employee probably needed a break, probably needed a walk around the parking lot afterwards.
—M, human resources partner, telecommunications

There was a woman who told me that it was my fault that her husband wouldn’t make his mother’s funeral on time, because their check bounced at the store. She was buying a suit for him.
—L, customer service rep, retail

What should customers say and how should they behave to get what they want?

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I would say just be clear on what they want, and sometimes they may know what they want and not how to ask for it. I would just say, “Hey, this is what I’m trying to accomplish.” Even if you don’t know specifically what to ask for, maybe say what the goal is.
—A, customer service rep, financial services

Pet peeve for me is when people cut me off. If I’m asking you a question, let me finish my question and then feel free to insert your opinion.
—J, customer service rep, international benefits

You don’t have to bake us cookies or anything, but just be nice to us on the phone and we’ll be willing to go the extra distance for you. Versus someone who’s cussing us up and down and yelling at us—we’ll still get the issue done, because that’s our job. But we’re not going to be willing to go as above and beyond.
—E, customer service rep, financial services

It’s not like a lot of people want to make being a customer service representative their life’s work. A lot of the time that’s an entry-level position so that they can get where they want to go within the company. It may already be a frustrating situation for them in that regard. I try to remember that and treat them with respect.
—L, customer service rep, retail

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What’s the most positive experience you’ve had with a customer?

I dealt with an elderly person regarding a pension payment that she was expecting, and she called on the deadline to update her direct deposit. We were saying initially, “Hey, you missed the deadline, so your payment is going to be delayed.” She was like, “I need it. I depend on this money. I’m on a fixed income.” So I just reach out to the department that handles those direct deposits and said, “Hey, is this something that we can manually push through?” They said yes. I got back to her, and she was eternally grateful. She ended up sending me cards and stuff just thanking me.
—A, customer service rep, financial services

I was talking with a lady that had just lost her car and home because of Hurricane Harvey. She just had no idea what to do—she couldn’t get out. We had compiled ahead of time a list of emergency services, like how to get in touch with first responders, what to do, how to be prepared. I said, “I’m going to give this to you, but is there anything else that you’d like us to search for?” She was like, “Yes, please. I need help finding a shelter.” And then she let me know that her grandmother was with her. She was just so afraid that something was going to happen.
—J, customer service rep, international benefits

A guy called in and canceled his wife’s insurance because they were going through a divorce. She had Stage 4 cancer. She called us up and was obviously quite distraught. We were trying to figure out what we could do for her and find some loopholes and pull some strings by reaching out directly to her husband’s employer. I was able to call her back and say “Hey, we’ve got great news for you. We got you back into your benefits. You can get the medical attention you need.” That was probably the best moment that I’ve had there.
—D, customer service representative, insurance

Grandmaster Flash landed on my desk a couple times. And then when I was the manager, there were a couple times when he was escalated up to me just because he wanted to chat.
—M, customer service rep and manager, audio tech