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.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Shock and Awe

Today’s worst call was the most memorable one I’ve had for quite a while. As my loyal readers know, given the number of crazy-ass calls I receive each day, this is no mean feat. However, this particular caller managed to pull ahead of the pack with his first unforgettable sentence, which went something like this:

“Um, hi, I just wanted to inform your agency that I’ve been electrocuted several times by my telephone.”

It was, I confess, a phrase that I never imagined I would hear, and I was wholly unprepared for it. I had to stifle my first reaction (maniacal, snorting laughter) so that I could get more of the story, which I sensed would be exceptionally blogworthy. I also refrained from pointing out that, by definition, no one can be electrocuted more than once (and that they tend not to call customer service after the fact).

The caller went on to say that this only happened when he received calls from telemarketers, and he wondered (with no trace of humor or irony) if they were intentionally doing this to him. After coughing loudly to cover up my escaping laughter, I informed the caller that: 1) unless lightning strikes the wire, the very small amount of current in his phone line is not sufficient to deliver anything more than a mild shock; and 2) as unsavory as telemarketers may be, they do not as yet have the technology to conduct Pavlovian experiments on unsuspecting victims.

Finally, I suggested to my caller that he purchase a new phone to remedy the problem. And if I didn’t need this job so much, I would have added, “and while you’re at it, buy yourself some goddamn sense, ya dumbass.” But instead, I bid the caller goodbye, took off my headset with a sigh, and reached for the barbiturates in my desk drawer.


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Thursday, March 24, 2005

The Top Ten Signs That I Can't Work in Customer Service Much Longer

All my calls today were so amazingly bad, I couldn't pick the worst one if I had to. So instead of revisiting painful memories of my day, Gentle Reader, I'll give you something better: a chilling portrait of a once-dedicated customer service representative who is slowly cracking under the pressure.

Number Ten: I can tell you exactly how many minutes there are until I retire.

Number Nine: There's more alcohol in my urine than in a pina colada.

Number Eight: The voices in my head don't stop after I take off my headset.

Number Seven: Obscene phone calls and death threats have become a refeshing change from the usual crap I hear each day.

Number Six: I find myself reminiscing fondly about the days when I cleaned bowling alleys for a living, at minimum wage.

Number Five: My sympathy and general goodwill have been replaced by a deep and abiding hatred of all human life.

Number Four: I've begun to envy the unemployed, the disabled, and the dead.

Number Three: I'm starting to become fascinated by serial killers, and suddenly The Catcher in the Rye makes sense to me.

Number Two: I pray for a cataclysmic natural disaster that will sweep the civilized world back to the Dark Ages, thus eliminating the need for customer service representatives.

And the number one sign that I can't work in customer service much longer is:

I'm writing a whiny-ass blog about my cushy, decently paid government job, when there are people starving in the streets. What an ASSHOLE I must be!


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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Crazy, Psychic, or Both?

Today's worst call came from a man whom, at first, I had believed to be a paranoid schizophrenic. The caller stated that he had just spoken with a colleague of mine, and wanted to know what what he had written in the case notes. I asked the caller if the purpose of this was to confirm that my co-worker had taken down his information properly. "No," he replied, "I just KNOW he was writing nasty things about me in the notes, and I want to know what he said."

So after mentally placing this caller in the 'crazy as a shit-house rat' folder, I pulled up the notes for the call. To my amazement, my colleague had indeed written some very off-color comments about the caller. To give you some idea, these were so bad (but probably accurate) that I wouldn't have written them in this anonymous blog, let alone in a document that had my name all over it.

But even so, I wasn't about to narc on a fellow rep. Using the skills I've acquired as a CSR, I told the caller a complete and utter lie. I informed him that there was nothing at all objectionable in my colleague's notes, just the facts of his case. To which the caller, using the skills he's acquired as either a psychic or a crazy person, replied that he didn't believe me. And as a bonus, he also asked to be transferred to my manager.

"Well, crap," I thought, "now my co-worker and I are both screwed." So I put Mr. Crazy-Psychic-Whatever-He-Is on hold, and called my new partner in crime, advising him to clean up his case notes in the next thirty seconds. After getting the all-clear signal, I happily bumped the caller up the chain of command, and off of my phone.

Afterward, just for fun, I went back and read the notes on some of my colleague's other cases. I ended up regretting this, though--it became increasingly clear that my co-worker is a much funnier writer than I am, and I'm positively consumed by jealousy. I'd suggest that he channel his caustic talents into a blog, but hey, this is my little strip of sidewalk, and I ain't movin'.


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Monday, March 21, 2005

Lost in Translation

Today's worst caller was a man with a strange medical condition. Apparently he was unable to comprehend anything that I was saying, and felt obliged to translate my clear, simple words into a language that I have dubbed "Idiotese." Since no paraphrase of the conversation could do it justice, here is a rough transcript:

Caller: I have a problem with my city water department.
Me: I'm sorry, this agency only regulates investor-owned utility companies. We do not have any jurisdiction over utilities run by cities or villages.
Caller: So what does that mean?
Me: It means we have no authority to investigate complaints about your city water department.
Caller: So that means the water department can just do what they want?
Me: Not at all. Your city mayor's office or city council would have authority over the city's water department.
Caller: Well, I have a pending lawsuit with the city council right now [at this point, the "crazy old person with nothing better to do but litigate" alarm has just gone off in my head]. Can anybody else help me?
Me: You could contact your county commissioners and see if they can assist you.
Caller: So why can't YOU help me?
Me: Again, this agency does not have any authority over utilities run by cities or villages.
Caller: Well, why not?
Me: Because we were not granted those powers by the state legislature.
Caller: Well, what DO you do?
Me: Again, we regulate investor-owned utility companies.
Caller: Well, uh, if this were something you regulated, could you help me?
Me: [not playing the "if" game, having been burned before] I can't address hypothetical questions. As I've said, your situation falls outside of our jurisdiction.
Caller: So this means they can just RAPE the customers and not have to answer to ANYONE?
Me: [having déjà vu] I've already answered this question.
Caller: You people up there are no help at all! I'm going to call my congressman!

And at this point, blessedly, he hung up on me. Frankly, though, I think calling his congressman is a good idea. Having met a few of them myself, I'm sure there will be no language barrier between them at all.


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Thursday, March 17, 2005

Another Phrase I’d Give My Left Kidney to Never Hear Again

“I’m a Christian, and I was NOT treated right.”

I hear this phrase at least once a week, usually uttered by an outraged caller who’s just spoken with someone at his gas or electric company. And every time I hear this, the slender thread of my patience becomes a little more frayed. Apparently these callers are laboring under the delusion that their religion has anything to do with the level of customer service they receive. In fact, the opposite is true--among our constitutional guarantees is the right for everyone to be treated like shit by customer service.

I should note that I have never once heard an indignant Jew, Buddhist, or Muslim invoke his faith regarding a dispute with a customer service rep. I’m also letting Catholics and the “vanilla” Protestant denominations off the hook here--an Episcopalian would rather go without electricity than bring the Lord into an argument of this nature (after all, someone might mistake him for a Baptist).

But you know, this got me thinking that it really would be cool if companies had a means of classifying customers by their belief systems. So here is my modest proposal for just such a thing, using an automated voice response system:

“Thank you for calling Company X. In order to better assist you, please enter your religion using the following prompts:

#1. Evangelical Christianity. (Appalachian-sounding male voice accompanied by fiddle and banjo.) Your call will be answered right quick by good white folk who were born right here in the good old U.S. of A. There’s no dot-heads or other heathens here, nosiree-bob! If there’s more than an hour’s wait to speak to one of us, it must mean the Rapture has done come along, and we’re all wrapped in the embrace of our Heavenly Father.”

#2. Buddhism. (Richard Gere’s soothing voice accompanied by muted bells and chimes.) Contemplate the infinite while waiting for one of our highly-evolved customer service bodhisattvas to help you along the path to enlightenment. We sincerely hope that this delay will not cause you any inconvenience, but remember that suffering makes one wise.

#3. Judaism. (Brooklynese-accented female voice accompanied by the score of “Fiddler on the Roof.”) Oh my Gawd, it is such a horrible shame that we're keeping you on hold like this. My hand to Gawd, we will get to you as soon as we can, bubie. But you know, when you think about what our people have had to endure over thousands of years, spending a little time on the phone isn’t so bad, now is it? And shame on you for thinking you're too good to wait in line like everyone else, Mister Big-Shot!

#4. Islam. (Stern male voice accompanied by "The Star-Spangled Banner.") Stay where you are! A team of INS and FBI agents, along with local law enforcement, will arrive at your location shortly. Do not resist, repeat, do NOT resist!"


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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Why I Have a Tragic Drinking Problem

Today, gentle readers, I reached a dubious milestone in my career as a customer service rep: I actually hung up on a caller for a reason other than the use of profanity. This particular call came from a man whose medicine cabinet is surely packed full of prescribed anti-psychotic drugs. The problem is, he's not taking them anymore.

The caller requested that I contact another government agency to resolve an issue he's been having with them. Unfortunately, my office has absolutely nothing to do with this other agency--it would be like asking the Lottery Commission for help in obtaining a fishing license. As such, I informed the caller that his issue was completely outside of my jurisdiction.

"But it is your jurisdiction," he bleated, "you're the guv'ment, and so's this other place I'm having trouble with." Apparently to this poor benighted soul, the government is just one big Lego structure whose parts and functions are wholly interchangeable. This caller would make no distinction at all between, say, the I.R.S. and the city sewage department. Hmm . . . okay, I'm having trouble seeing the difference here, too, but you get my drift.

Anyway, I repeated that this was not, in fact, something that I could help the caller with. "So you're not going to fix my problem for me?" he asked incredulously. I replied that I would not, at which point he began debating me about the scope and authority of my own agency, about which he knew less than nothing. After we argued about this for roughly ten minutes, I informed this nut-job that I had other calls to take, and our little chat would have to come to an end. He began to squawk again, and I promptly hung up the phone, cutting him off in mid-babble.

It's calls like this that remind me why I keep a bottle of Jack Daniel's in my filing cabinet. And why I buy it in bulk.


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Friday, March 11, 2005

Dude, Where's My Truck?

Today’s calls were fairly uneventful, so instead I’m offering up a chestnut from my days as a customer service rep at a trucking company. During my employment there, my fellow reps and I maintained a list of the most outrageous excuses for missed pickups or deliveries. Here are the top five, as I remember them. Enjoy.

1) Missed delivery due to bad gas. We were never really sure if this applied to the truck or the driver.

2) Missed delivery due to lack of personnel; all the drivers were drunk at Mardi Gras.

3) Missed delivery because, while en route, the driver won the Arizona state lottery and ditched the truck by the side of the road, never to be heard from again.

4) Missed pickup because the circus was in town. We were never actually given a reason as to why this caused the missed pickup, but the possibilities are intriguing.

5) Missed delivery due to a sucked tube. We assumed this was something technical related to the truck, but it’s also equally possible that the driver detoured at a rest stop along the way . . . lucky bastard.

More of these to come, assuming I can remember any more. I lost a good chunk of my long-term memory after a drunken escapade at Mardi Gras one year. And if anyone here knows a truck driver named Ramon, tell him I still have his keys.


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Thursday, March 10, 2005

And Who the Hell Might YOU Be?

Today's worst call actually started out pretty well. I was speaking to a very pleasant and articulate young woman who had a billing dispute with her phone company. However, without warning, another voice came on the line and interrupted the woman. This new person was neither pleasant nor articulate, and in a very shrewish tone she proceeded to state her demands regarding the dispute.

"Excuse me," I replied, when she finally stopped yapping long enough to take a breath. "I was speaking to the other woman. If you would like my assistance, you need to identify yourself."

Taken aback for a moment, she quickly recovered herself and then snapped that she was the caller's mother-in-law. "She and my son live with me," she said curtly, "and I oversee all their financial dealings." Great, I thought; what a barrel of laughs that must be. And the whole time this overbearing sow was squealing at me, all I could think was how embarrassed her daughter-in-law must have been. It also crossed my mind that I'd rather take up residence in a cozy refrigerator box under a bridge somewhere, than live with this gorgon.

Anyway, to resolve the caller's dispute, I needed to open an investigation. And as the young woman was the sole account holder for the phone line, I could not discuss the case with anyone but her. So I gleefully instructed the ogre-in-law to clear the line (preferably before a house from Kansas fell from the sky and landed on her). I knew, of course, that as soon as this poor girl was off the phone, the harpy would make her life miserable again, but it sure as hell wasn't gonna happen on my watch.

And for you hopeful brides out there, this would be the moral of the story:

Never marry a man whose mother hasn't got the good sense to be dead already.


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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Beware These Callers, Part Deux

Continued from an earlier post. These are the callers that drive mild-mannered customer service reps to commit suicide, homicide, or both. I myself prefer the last option, but then I'm an overachiever.

6) The Ranter. This caller has lost all sense of perspective (assuming he had any to begin with), and has succumbed to the illusion that his problem is the Only Thing That Matters Anymore. Even worse, he will demand that you share his little delusion. Trying to assist him will be difficult, however--his rant will swell from the problem at hand to encompass all of Creation. If your ranter happens to be elderly (and most of them are), his tirade will not stop until he shrieks the magic words, “Jesus-Mary-and-Joseph, this world’s just going to Hell in a handbasket!” This may be accompanied by a wet, popping sound that is most likely a blood vessel bursting in righteous indignation.

The upside of this is, after the climax of his sad little diatribe, this caller will now be weak as a kitten, barely able to speak. And some people say there’s no justice in the world.

7) Mr. Indirect. This caller is exceptionally long-winded, and will trace his problems with the electric company all the way back to the Peloponnesian War. But despite his verbal diarrhea, the caller seems pathologically unable to phrase a direct question, leaving you to guess what it is that he actually wants. After a few minutes of the caller's pointless spew, I attempt to plow through the muck with the following questions: 1) “What is the purpose of your call?" and 2) "What exactly is it that you would like me to do for you?”

And the rest of the conversation goes something like this:

Caller: “Geez, haven’t you been LISTENING to me?”
Me: Silent, suppressed rage, followed by a wet, popping sound.
Caller: “Hey, what’s that wet, popping sound? Hello? Hello?"

8) The Interrupter. This caller may be the most frustrating of the bunch. He absolutely will-- not-- let-- you-- finish-- a-- sentence. I used to try (in vain) to squeeze my words in as quickly as I could, but I’ve since found a better approach. After the first few interruptions, I cease talking altogether. Mind you, it sometimes takes several minutes before the caller notices. However, once he realizes there’s nothing but an echo on the other end of the line, he panics: “Hello? Hello? Are you still there?”

After letting him hang for another second or two, I smoothly reply, “I’m sorry, were you waiting for a response? I figured that since you’d interrupted me every time I tried to speak, that your questions were rhetorical in nature. If you do actually need my assistance, you may want to let me finish what I’m saying.” What I love about this response is that it really pisses the caller off, but it’s not actually rude if delivered in the proper tone.

And as such, your supervisor can’t give you any shit about it (as if you care about such things).

I regret to inform you that there will be more of these undesirable callers to follow. And please feel free to submit your own horrible callers by posting a comment.


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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Two Idiotic Phrases I Would Give a Kidney To Never Hear Again

The following are merely two examples of the mindless things I hear every day as a customer service rep:

1. “Are you a real person?” This query comes after I have already introduced myself by name. And I just barely restrain myself from replying, “Think about what you just asked, you lobotomized freak—if I were a recording, you wouldn’t get an answer to this question, and if I am a real person, you’re only going to piss me off with your stupidity.” On days when my patience hasn’t been completely exhausted, I reply to this question with a forced chuckle, saying, “That’s what they tell me around here.” And on bad days, I simply reply with a long, slow, “Yesssssssssssss,” hoping the caller will gauge from my tone exactly how inane his question is.

2. “I’m on a fixed income.” This classic phrase usually comes from some old goat complaining about his electric bill. And it takes everything I have not to scream back, “We’re ALL on a fixed income, you old coot!” In fact, where I come from, no rank-and-file state employees have had raises for over three years! At least with social security, you get cost-of-living increases, so can we please put this tired old phrase to rest? ‘Cause if I hear it one more time, I’m going to crawl through the phone line and snatch out some unlucky caller’s dentures. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.


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Monday, March 07, 2005

Scrooge McBitch

Today’s worst caller contacted my agency after she found something shocking—yes, SHOCKING—on her gas bill. She had discovered that a portion of her bill went to fund heating assistance programs for people living at or near the poverty level. And let me tell you, she was none too happy about it. She called the gas company first, wanting to know exactly how much of her bill this amounted to. They, being a utility company, were completely useless, of course, so they kindly referred her to my office.

By the time I spoke with this caller, I could already hear the foam dripping from her mouth. She was under the impression that around fifty dollars of her gas bill went toward these programs. After I explained that it was less than two dollars of her $200.00 gas bill, I assumed she would be relieved. She wasn’t. She launched into a rant about how things are tough for everyone, and that she didn’t know why she needed to pay other people’s bills. I hastened to point out that, while I understood her feelings, the program was there for her, too, in case she and her family might ever need it.

She responded to this as if I had suggested that she take a sharp stick and shove it up her ass (or perhaps she was just reading my mind). She began shrieking that she wanted all the money back that she ever contributed to this program. I advised her that this was impossible, but she was welcome to contact her state senator (or someone equally useless) to see about changing the state’s utilities laws.

At which point she told me to go fuck myself. And with those magic words, I hung up on her, thus bringing our conversation to an abrupt but deeply satisfying ending.


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Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Beware These Callers

In lieu of my usual blather about my worst call of the day, I thought I'd mix it up a bit. Here, then, are the kinds of callers that customer service reps like myself endeavor to avoid:

1) Chatty Cathy. I don’t often envy the deaf, but this caller makes me long for a world of eternal silence. If you are unlucky enough to have this caller on your line, settle in for a nice long chat. You won’t have to say very much, of course—just the occasional grunt will do. You may even want to use this call as an opportunity to go to the bathroom, clean up your desk, or read (perhaps even write) that novel you’ve been wanting to get to. But if human melodrama is your cup of tea, then by all means listen to Chatty Cathy’s monologue. She’ll babble on about her sister’s female trouble and her children’s struggles with ADD, without ever getting to the point of her call. After a few hours of this, however, she’ll discover that she’s called the wrong number, and will then proceed to waste someone else’s time. What I’ve discovered about this caller is, if you listen closely enough, underneath her ceaseless squawking, you can actually HEAR the hamster wheel spinning in her head.

2) The Conspiracy Theorist. This caller will probably wish to remain anonymous, but will proceed at length to tell you how the gub’ment, big business, and even The Trilateral Commission have conspired in order to manipulate natural gas prices, thus driving up his monthly bill. Be warned: nothing you say will make him think otherwise, and if you argue with him, he may very well begin stalking you.

3) The Know-Nothing. This caller thinks he knows everything about your company, your industry, and, well, everything. Unfortunately, he gets all his information from other know-nothing sources: the guys at the auto-body shop, his idiot brother-in-law, Fox News, etc. And boy, is he surprised to hear that, yes, your heat CAN be disconnected in the winter if you don’t pay your bill. And he ALWAYS wants to speak to your supervisor ‘cause he doesn’t believe you. I’d almost pity this caller for his perpetual ignorance if he weren’t such a complete shit.

4) Lazy Lips, aka Mushmouth. This caller just can’t be bothered to form complete syllables, let alone whole words or sentences. Even though it sounds like a foreign language, it’s actually English as spoken (or, well, mouthed) by a native from your same region. Did the caller just wake up? Is she drunk? Was her tongue cut out by the Spanish Inquisition? These are all plausible explanations, but I think the horrifying truth is that this is just the way some people mumble through life.

5) Mr. Speakerphone. There’s a very special place in my colon for this caller. The speakerphone, as I understand it, was designed so that more than one person on each end could participate in a phone conversation. However, Mr. Speakerphone uses this device for ALL his calls, unwilling to sully has hands with a phone handset. The message this conveys is, “I am simply too important (read: lazy) to actually pick up the phone.” The problem is, most speakerphones suck, and the caller’s voice ends up being mangled. Even when it’s crystal clear, however, I pretend I can’t understand the caller, so he’s forced to use the handset. You may say it’s childish, but I say I just don’t like to reward rude behavior.

Sadly, there will be more of these to follow.


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Tuesday, March 01, 2005

POTUS Invoked, or, Half A Mind Is Better Than None

Today’s winner is a caller who had a dispute with his telephone company over a past due balance. The disputed amount was fairly small, less than $30.00. Still, it sounded as though the caller had a legitimate complaint, so I started putting an investigation together on his behalf.

While I was doing this, the caller was still venting about the dispute. At one point, he informed me that he had “half a mind to contact [his] former employer about this dispute, and have HIM take care of it.” He clearly wanted me to ask who this former employer might be. I, foolishly, thought it might be germane to the investigation, and so, to my later regret, I took the bait.

“I am,” he informed me, “a former Yew-nited States Marine, and I have half a mind to inform President George Walker Bush (whose last name he pronounced as rhyming with ‘douche’) about this situation. Now I KNOW you know who HE is.” I confirmed that I had indeed heard a little something about this person. I suggested, however, that as POTUS has rather a lot on his plate right now, he may want to let my agency investigate the complaint first, before calling in his big gun.

This seemed to set his mind (or at least the half of it he was using) at ease. I'm just glad he wasn't a former minister, although frankly some of the telecom companies I deal with would deserve to have the wrath of God visited upon them. You know who you are.


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