Call center sinners should burn in hellfire

I’m on hold right now waiting for a customer service rep — to investigate a serious problem that I neither caused nor asked for. I’d give up, except that resolving this is crucial to my future. And it’s hell.

If the experience of calling your call center is a hellscape, your customer experience is terrible. It doesn’t matter if your product is awesome, if your features are incredible, or your price is the lowest. It doesn’t matter how friendly your salespeople are or how innovative your product development is. Customer service is your chance to shine . . . or show us how much contempt you actually have for customers. Contempt is a poor marketing strategy.

When somebody calls for help, in that moment, you succeed or fail.

A few things that should be obvious but aren’t.

  • If your call center is always “experiencing higher than normal call volume,” then you have not staffed it properly. And that means you are lying to customers, which is always a sin.
  • If your hold music is filled with static, that’s part of your customer experience. Fix it. (Why does this always happen?)
  • If your hold music is jazzy and fun, you should burn in hellfire forever. A 15-minute wait with music that’s upbeat and impossible to ignore counts as a 45-minute wait. While we wait, we’re doing other things — so don’t use music that makes that impossible and causes us to contemplate suicide or homicide. Something quiet and soothing is a much better choice.
  • If you offer a “call you back without losing your place in line” option, and then never call back, then you are a liar. And as I said and you ought to remember by now, lying to customers is bad.
  • If your reps do not speak English well enough to be understood, you’ve cut costs too low. The number of people who will then hate you is a cost you have failed to account for. And if they go on social media and complain, then that cost multiplies.
  • If your reps are working at home during the pandemic, fine. But you need to do quality control on their phone and internet connections. If their cordless phone or headset doesn’t work right, that’s on you.
  • If your phone menus take people in a loop — if they hear the same message or menus more than once — you did it wrong. Fix it.
  • If your customer service systems — you know, the ones your own reps use — are slow and clunky, then the reps cannot do the job right. You are abusing them, and they are in turn abusing us, if we’re sitting on the line while they say, “I’m waiting for the system to respond with that information, it’s very slow right now.”
  • If you try to sell me stuff while abusing my time on hold, your marketers should burn in hellfire alongside your customer service executives.

Either I’m the unluckiest customer in the universe, or this is happening to everyone. I think it’s the latter.

Customer service is marketing. A high marketing investment while call center costs are cut to the bone is a stupid decision. If you made this decision, your boss should fire you.

Go finish your day. I’ll be back after I feed some broken glass to the people who are tormenting me. (And yes, I’ve been on hold the whole time it took me to write this.)

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  1. Thanks for making me laugh this morning, Josh. Just yesterday I was asked by a Maytag call center representative to scan and send my condo closing documents to demonstrate when I took ownership of its @#$%^&* washing machine.

    1. I don’t find Maytag’s request unreasonable, Alan. People do cheat, and cheaters should be caught. When I applied to begin receiving my pension, I had to send a scan of my marriage certificate to prove when I had married my wife, who is my beneficiary. The company wanted to make sure that I hadn’t married her recently to let her receive my monthly pension after I die.

  2. Josh – I have to say that bad call center experiences have given me some great article-writing material, so it’s not all bad! 😉 In fact, I’ve stuck with 2+ hour calls just to see how many horrific experiences they can pack in, even though I’d already found a solution on my own.

  3. If you think the jazzy hold music is bad, you should go on hold with Disney World. 😂 Hearing princess songs while you’re on hold can be a wonderful experience or a nightmare, depending on your preference. I will say that their customer service rep was fantastic, though.

  4. Personally, I don’t know which is worse: being on the phone, on hold, forever, and not getting the help you need OR being stuck in some godless online system where there is no way to contact a human being and no way to resolve the problem. Both are complete failures of customer service.

    I am reminded of an article by Jean-Louis Gassée in Monday Note (see https://mondaynote.com/united-broken-culture-6b35267c8a10) about customer service. It is titled “United: Broken Culture” and it’s about customer service. The concept of two tokens had a big impact on me and how I view and deal with problems presented to me by our customers. Worth the read.

  5. Add one. If your phone menus are five levels deep and require knowledge of the strange names of all your programmes and services, go sit on a barbecue.

  6. This is a universal (bad) experience, from healthcare to software. (Yeah, Adobe, I’m talkin’ to YOU.) Unfortunately, pointing out the problems does not seem to make a damn bit of difference.

  7. Josh – you nailed the hell in many of today’s customer service calls. My pet peeve is when I finally connect with a live person and explain why I’m calling, the rep listens and then says they must transfer me, and then they drop the call. Back to square one, starting with a ridiculous phone menu. Arrrgh!

  8. This week, I needed help form American Airlines (I know, I know…). A frustrating online chat with two reps, neither of whom could assist, a phone call that involved two long waits to speak to two reps (both pleasant, but also unable to resolve the problem), and an email exchange with another customer service rep, and the problem was still not resolved.

    I should add for the benefit of others that I am an airline industry analyst.

    You better believe I will use this as an example in my research and presentations.

  9. More than five weeks ago, I ordered new business cheques via a customer service rep, because their website was not user-friendly at all in that section. After three weeks, I went into the branch and asked them to check on them; they responded that all was well but to come back if I didn’t get them within a week.

    A week later, I contacted the original customer service rep I’d ordered them through, who checked and said, ‘Oh no! The order never went through!’ and re-ordered them, with a Rush, which I made clear I was not paying for.

    A week later – still no cheques. I emailed the rep twice, each time getting an OOO response citing a later return date. So I called the general line again, got a rep who checked the system and told me there’s no record of the order at all, re-ordered them, checked the system in 10 minutes to make sure the order went through, and called me back to confirm to me that it went through. So it took five contacts to order cheques. I’m still afraid I’ll need to get counter cheques for the mid-month payroll, because I have zero cheques left after all this time. Thank goodness more people are accepting payment by e-transfer, or I’d have been right out of cheques even earlier.

    I just wish I’d written down the name of that last rep so I could let his supervisor know his was my only successful interaction! By that time I was so annoyed and pessimistic that I didn’t expect I’d need to get a name to send in a kudo.

  10. I don’t think I’d even know what to DO if service provider wasn’t “experiencing higher than normal call volumes.”
    I love hearing, while I’m on hold for 90 minutes, how “important” my call is to them…

    Worst telephone customer service in the known universe: TELUS – and they are the PHONE COMPANY!

    1. The organization that caused me to write this post is the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance, a government agency. They had the higher than normal call volumes, the jazzy music, the failed callback, the IVR loop, and the person working at home whose phone wasn’t functioning properly. The other things I complained about are things I have experienced on other calls, not the Mass. DUA.

      Since I’m sure people reading this are wondering why I would call the unemployment department — I did not file for unemployment, but I had evidence that someone else did so fraudulently in my name. I wanted to find out what they had on file, cancel any claim, and report the fraud.

  11. Josh, Double Amen. in the past week I had a similar tech support experience(60 minutes) with the support at a well known B2B brand. During the call I figured out the problem on shared screen call and the agent told me I was wrong. After “they” put me on hold (to go speak to a manager) for the third time, I hung up and fixed the problem myself

  12. John Hancock just offered me the choice of jazz, pop, or silence while on hold, connected me fairly quickly…..but to a representative who struggled with English. Not impossible to understand, but I had to ask the same question several times to make certain I heard the answer correctly. All in all, better than the average experience lately.

  13. One more annoyance… Often the system will ask you to enter some information (account number, last 4 of SSN, zip code, address, or to qualify you as legit they ask your secret question), then they ask you the same for one or more of the items they already asked.

    And then, when you do talk to someone and answer those redundant items, they realize they cannot answer your question and pass you to someone else who again asks redundant questions.

    A separate item… The absolute lack of empathy from the escalation manager on my 13th or 14th call to the cable company (calls were total of interactions to deal with a move and the follow on problems) to deal with an overcharge. All involved some aspect of redundant requests for info AND most of Josh’s list. After that last exasperating and unsatisfactory call, I just wished that person to frequently live the customer “service” experience they gave.