My Worst Call of the Day

From the dozens of idiotic calls I take each day as a customer service representative, I humbly submit the winner.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

The Gentle Art of Diplomacy

Following in the footsteps of my last post, I'm writing once again about the vast difference between what is said, and what is true. With this entry, I'll be translating my typically polite, diplomatic language into the brutally honest sentiments that lie just beneath the surface.

What I say: Can I put you on hold for a minute? I need to look something up.
What I mean: I'm going to take a leak, grab a doughnut, and sneak outside for a smoke. I'm hoping you'll have hung up by the time I get back.

What I say: Oh, that's okay, sir, don't worry about it. A lot of people can't remember their own phone number.
What I mean: You shouldn't be allowed to breed, you dumbf*ck.

What I say: You want to talk to my supervisor? Sure, I'll put you right through.
What I mean: And he'll tell you the exact same thing I just did, jackass. Just because you didn't like what I told you, doesn't mean it's not true.

What I say: I'm sorry, ma'am, but I'm having trouble understanding what you're saying.
What I mean: Surely you can find a better time to finish eating that piece of chicken.

What I say: If you use profanity again, sir, I will disconnect this call.
What I mean: And because I have your name and address, I'll sign you up for a lifetime subscription to the raunchiest gay porn magazine I can find.

What I say: It appears that the gas company is investigating your account for some fraudulent or unauthorized usage.
What I mean: Duuuude, you are so f*cking busted, man.

And finally:

What I say: Thanks for calling us today, and feel free to call back if you need more assistance.
What I mean: You have wasted fifteen minutes of my life with your foolishness, and I can only pray that one of my co-workers will have to deal with you next time. So goodbye, and good riddance!

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Thursday, May 19, 2005

Liar Liar

My many years as a customer service rep have robbed me of several things. These would include, but are not limited to: my patience, my optimism about humanity, and my overall mental health. However, for each item lost, I've also acquired something new. Along with the carpal tunnel syndrome, various drug addictions, and the occasional homicidal urge, I have gained the unerring ability to recognize when someone is not telling me the truth. Whether my callers are merely exaggerating, omitting certain information, or telling me a whopper of a bald-faced lie, I hear the whispers of truth buried beneath their chattering lies. Some examples:

Caller says: I was only a little bit past due on my phone bill.
What I hear: I could only be bothered to make one payment in the past six months, and I sent it to the company knowing the check would bounce.

Caller says: The customer service reps at the gas company will not assist me.
What I hear: After I threatened them with bodily harm, I was permanently barred from calling their office.

Caller says: The electric company disconnected me without any warning!
What I hear: Except for the notice on my last bill, the letter I received, and the message on my answering machine, all of which I decided to ignore.

Caller says: I’d like to file a class-action lawsuit against the electric company.
What I hear: I have no idea at all how the legal system works, except for what I’ve picked up from TV. I threaten to file lawsuits all the time because I am a sad, bitter, lonely old man, and I desperately need attention.

Caller says: When I called my cell phone company after my service was cut off, they were very disrespectful to me.
What I hear: They had the nerve to insist that I pay my bill before they would turn my service back on.

And finally:

Caller says: I have NO idea who authorized these charges on my phone bill for “adult entertainment,” whatever THAT is, at 1-900-SHE-MALE.
What I hear: I was drunk, horny and lonely last Friday night. And I have some VERY specific sexual tastes.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Who's on First?

Today’s worst call was from a woman whose hillbilly accent makes Granny Clampett sound like the Queen of England. Fortunately, I grew up speaking the redneck dialect, so I can usually converse with other people from "down in the holler." However, Ma Kettle's deep-backwoods brogue was a little thick, even for me. And that, along with her, um, peculiar way of putting things, led to a conversation worthy of an Abbott and Costello routine:

Me: You have reached [the name of my agency]. How can I help you?
Caller: Tha gay-uhs comp’nee ain’t showin’ a payment I done made lay-uhst week.
Me: What was the amount of the payment?
Caller: Twunnuh-fie dollah.
Me: And when did you make this 25.00 payment to the gas company?
Caller: Awn tha fee-uff an’ tha uh-lay-vunth.
Me: So you made two payments? One on the 5th, and one on the 11th of this month?
Caller: Nawo, jes’ wun payment.
Me: I’m sorry, which day did you say you made this on?
Caller: Awn tha fee-uff an’ tha uh-lay-vunth.
Me: (shaking my head in confusion) How could you make one payment on two different days?
Caller: It wuz jes’ wun day, tha fee-uff an' tha uh-lay-vunth.
Me: (growing irritated) Ma’am, those are two different days. Which date is on the receipt?
Caller: Tha fee-uff an’ tha uh-lay-vunth.
Me: (feeling my ears grow red) How can a receipt have two different dates on it??? (At this point an eavesdropping co-worker chimed in with, "It's magic!")
Caller: It's jes' got wun date awn it; the fee-uff and tha uh-lay-vunth.
Me: (literally quaking with frustration) Ma'am, how on EARTH can the 5th and the 11th be ONE day? (Again I hear, "It's magic!" from my co-worker next door)
Caller: It's tha fee-uff monf and tha uh-lay-vunth day.
Me: (comprehension slowly dawns). . . and by this you mean . . . May 11th? Am I understanding this correctly now?
Caller: Thass riyaht.
Me: Okay, I'm glad we got that straight. I'm going to put you on hold now. It might sound like I'm hanging up on you, but I'm not, so just hang on the line until I come back.
Caller: Way-ell, okay, if--
Me: *click*

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Monday, May 16, 2005

How You Can Help Me Kick My Drug Habit

Oh my sweet lord, did today suck ass! The beginning of the week is terrible for everyone, I realize, but it's worse for customer service reps. Monday always has the highest call volume of the week, and it's not unusual for me to be taking calls back-to-back all day long. In addition to the sheer number of phone calls, it seemed like everyone I spoke to was either a freak, an imbecile, or both.

By midafternoon, in a desperate attempt to numb myself, I began freebasing a cocktail of rocket fuel and copier toner. After seeing an image of the Virgin Mary on a tortilla chip, I had a moment of clarity. "If only you could tell your callers how they should behave when they call you," I thought to myself, "then you might not have this tragic substance abuse problem. And one more thing," my inner voice continued, "your fly has been open all day--thought you should know."

So after I stopped twitching, I started putting together this list of things that will make my job easier. I realize that, to some degree, I'm preaching to the choir here--my readers (being perfect in every way) are already very customer service savvy. But this is the only soapbox I've got, so here I go:

1) Do not start out the conversation by saying, “You people have been pretty much worthless in the past, but I’ll give you another shot at fixing my problem.” This opening gambit will only ensure that I live up to your low expectations.

2) Please have a writing implement handy when you call. Do not waste ten minutes of my time (which could be spent helping other callers) by tearing your house apart and screaming at your children for stealing your pens.

3) Speaking of children, please do not call customer service while your infant is shrieking in the background. My headset tends to amplify this particular frequency into something approaching a million decibels. Bear in mind that I'm not very helpful when there are rivulets of blood streaming from my ears. Now that you're aware of this, surely there's a warm oven--uh, I mean a playpen you can chuck the howling little beast in while you make the call.

4) Please do not call me at 4:55pm on a Friday afternoon and begin the conversation with, "I hope you have a some time to spare, because this might take awhile . . . "
If you do this, I will start crumpling up a piece of paper to mimic the sound of static, and you will hear, "Hello? Hello? Are you still---" *click*

5) And finally, to a certain group of ladies out there:

Despite how well this technique may have worked for you in the past, copious weeping is simply annoying, and makes it hard to understand what you're saying. You may call me cruel or insensitive, but all my years in customer service have left my heart somewhat callused. As such, you would receive more sympathy from a slab of granite than you would from me. Oh, and any man who cries while speaking to me will be openly ridiculed. You can't say you haven't been warned.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2005

A Stupid Question, and Some Very Stupid Answers

Following in the footsteps of last week's post, Double Trouble, I humbly submit another "two-for-one" for your reading enjoyment.

A Stupid Question

Yesterday, I was speaking with a very unpleasant woman who was whining about her phone company. She wanted to file a formal complaint against them, but her grievance was without any legal merit. I informed her of this, and our conversation took a turn toward the snippy. After threatening to sue both me and my agency, she squealed, "How do YOU know what the law is here? Isn't your call center in India or one of those other godforsaken places?”

While I ended up reassuring the xenophobic shrew that I'm in the U.S., this is how I wish I could have replied:

“Well, you found me out, Miss Marple! Even though I was trained by professional linguists to speak English with a redneck American accent, you managed to see right through me. My call center is located deep within The Black Hole of Calcutta, and there are cows roaming up and down the aisles. Vrishnu be praised!" I would then begin chanting at the top of my lungs until the horrified caller hung up, or until my co-workers wrestled me to the ground, whichever came first.

Some Very Stupid Answers

Me: Good morning, you have reached [the name of my agency]. Could I have your phone number, please?
Caller: 555-1234
Me: What area code is that in, sir?
Caller: 75115
Me: (rolling my eyes) I'm sorry, that's a zip code, sir. What is your area code?
Caller: Uhhh . . . Texas?
Me: (cursing under my breath) No, that is a state, sir. What is your area code?
Caller: Uhhh . . . oh, shoot, you asked me too quick . . . err . . .
Me: (blowing air out sharply through my nostrils, drumming my fingernails on my desk)
Caller: What is it you asked me for, again?
Me: (the veins in my forehead become prominent) Your AREA CODE, sir--the three digits that precede your phone number.
Caller: Oh, okay, 555.
Me: (grabbing my foam anti-stress ball, and squeezing the shit out of it) Sir, that is not an area code in this state.
Caller: Hmm . . . are you sure?
Me: (picking up the pieces of my ruptured anti-stress ball) Sir, 555 is not even an area code anywhere in the country. Let's just skip it, though. (taking a deep breath) What can I do for you today?
Caller: I just wanted to know if you wuz goin' to pick up my garbage today.
Me: (in a murderously calm voice) This agency has nothing to do with that, sir. You have called the wrong number.
Caller: Well, how would I get ahold of them?
Me: *click*

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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Why I Despise Old People

As you’re well aware, gentle reader, I deal with all sorts of irascible callers in the course of my day. But if I had to select the single biggest pain in my ass, it would be, without question, old people. While I freely admit that young people can also be annoying as shit, the elderly are exceptionally good at pushing my buttons. The old goats are so troublesome, in fact, that I’ve begun lobbying congress for a national policy of forced euthanasia. If I’m allowed to testify in support of this program, I’m certain that I’ll be asked (probably by an AARP-funded senator), “Why is it that you despise old people so much?” In response, I will give the following reasons:

Old people waste my time with their senseless babbling.

At the beginning of each call, I advise the person on the other end to be as concise as possible, since I have to create coherent notes from the information I’m given. Old people completely ignore these instructions, and seem incapable of sorting the significant from the meaningless. It will typically take them ten minutes to spin their yarn, when a two-sentence synopsis would have sufficed. By this time, of course, I have either fallen asleep or begun huffing oven cleaner.

Old people are rude.

You might think otherwise about this one, but let me reassure you that old people, as a group, are the rudest SOBs out there. While I’m certain that they were brought up to use polite manners, it’s clear to me that they no longer practice them. Each day, old people interrupt me, curse at me, and fail to make such basic courtesies as “please” and “thank you.” My theory is that, with the Grim Reaper in hot pursuit, the terminally aged simply don’t have the time for such pleasantries. But then, these are the same people who will drive around for two hours looking for the the “Early Bird” dinner special. Go figure.

Old people labor under the delusion that they’re still in charge.

Having forgotten that they’ve long been retired and without live-in kids, old people continue to treat others as either their subordinates, or, even worse, as their children. As such, they’re prone to lecturing and barking commands, both of which make me want to sprinkle ground-up glass in their Metamucil. During a call like this, I console myself with the fact that, while I may be forced to listen to the bleating of these dried-up old husks, I still have control of my bowels. Or at least, most of the time.

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Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Haunted Trailer

Just when I think my calls can’t get any crazier, I get one that’s so damn whacked-out it just leaves me speechless. Such is the case with today’s worst call. In fact, this one is so bizarre that I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t believe me. Truth is stranger than fiction, though—you just can’t make this shit up.

The caller began by informing me that the electric company had disconnected service to her trailer several months ago, because she didn’t pay her bill. Okay, there’s nothing surprising here so far, especially given that she lives in a trailer. She added, however, that her service kept being mysteriously restored, forcing the company to come out and shut it off again.

This had happened so often, she told me, that the company was investigating her for theft, and would be pressing charges against her. The caller vigorously protested her innocence, denying that she was the one who reconnected the service. “But I know who done it, ” she said ominously, as if she were sworn to secrecy but couldn’t resist telling. “It was my family. They knew I was in trouble, and just wanted to help me out.”

I advised the caller that this wasn’t really the best way her family could assist her, as she might be prosecuted for their actions. “Have you told them to stop doing this?” I asked.

“I wish I could,” she sighed, “but they’re all dead. I’ve lost fourteen family members in the last two years.” She said this matter-of-factly, almost proudly, like the stalwart heroine of a Tammy Wynette song who’s survived one tragedy after another.

I just kind of sat there for a moment, trying to formulate a response. The best I could come up with was, “Uhhhh . . . I’m sorry? . . . did you say that your deceased relatives were the ones doing this?”

“I know it sounds crazy,” she replied earnestly, “but there’s been some pretty spooky shit happening in my trailer. I have a lot of candles, and they’ll just light themselves out of nowhere. When I try to blow them out, they fly across the room. So now I just let ‘em burn!”

Trying hard not to laugh at the thought of a candle-throwing, trailer-dwelling poltergeist, I informed the caller that my agency could not, unfortunately, assist her. We cannot intercede, I explained, in cases where fraud or theft is suspected. The caller did not take this well. “What the hell am I supposed to do NOW?” she moaned. “Is there anyone ELSE I can call?”

And it took every ounce of willpower I had not to reply, “Hmm, I dunno . . . Ghostbusters?”

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Monday, May 02, 2005

Double Trouble

Today, gentle readers, you’ll be getting two for the price of one. Neither one of these calls is substantial enough to merit an individual write-up, but it seems wasteful to just toss them aside. Submitted for your amusement, then, are my two worst calls of the day.

My first nut-job was an old lady who yelled at me because I had the audacity to call her “ma’am.” “Do you know what that word MEANS?” she howled. “It’s the same as calling me a prostitute!” Baffled by her interpretation of this very polite form of address, I nonetheless apologized and told her I wouldn’t use the word again.

Bear in mind, however, that customer service reps have been trained to use the words “ma’am” and “sir” when speaking to people. Because of this, I accidentally called her “ma’am” at least two more times, which resulted in her hurling a most unladylike curse at me before hanging up. I was crestfallen, as I wanted to reassure the old crone that illicit sex was the furthest thing from my mind while listening to the harsh, crackling squawk that passes for her voice.

My second bizarre call came from a husband and wife who insisted on speaking at the same time, and at a volume usually reserved for hog-calling. After the ringing in my ears stopped, I informed the clamoring couple that I could not understand them when they spoke in tandem, and suggested that one of them remain silent while the other speaks.

I had little idea of the controversy this would generate. Both parties apparently wanted to play “alpha dog,” and the fur began to fly:

“The gas bill is in MY name.”
“Well, if you had called about this THREE WEEKS AGO like I asked, I wouldn’t have to be involved.”
“For Christ’s sake, just let me handle this.”
“You don’t know how to talk to these people.”
“Remind me again, WHICH one of us has a degree in communications?”

And so it went for the next couple of minutes, until they had the good sense to disconnect and continue their spat in private. Or maybe they heard me frantically scribbling notes, and muttering, “my readers will LOVE this!” I guess some people are just sensitive about being blog fodder. Go figure.

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