That Customer Service Rep You Screamed at May Have Just Lost His Mother

Over the years, I've worked a lot on my "anger issues." Don't get me wrong, I'm no Alec Baldwin. I've never punched anyone; never threatened to bodily harm anyone; never even tweeted out anything nasty. But I did have a habit of yelling when I got angry or frustrated. In that, I'm hardly alone. Perhaps what does make me slightly unique (or maybe not) is that I would feel horrible guilt afterwards. Granted, sometimes -- okay, a lot of the time -- people can be incredibly clueless, rude, and disrespectful. Sometimes they deserve a good verbal lashing. But because of the guilt I would suffer over it, not to mention the relationships I was risking and occasionally even ruining, I went into deep "fix it" mode. This is not easy. Habits are deeply ingrained. But I learned some techniques to manage (if not banish entirely) my knee-jerk reaction to raise my voice when I was upset. But for one exception. Customer service representatives!


Take this morning. I rearranged my whole schedule so I could be home for a cable technician to come over because my cable box crapped out again. Second time in two weeks. Good thing I'm not a Superbowl fan or the shit really would have hit the fan.

Yesterday, as I talked for at least an hour with a cable representative (who was in the Philippines), the problem couldn't be solved, so she finally made an appointment for a technician to come exchange my box. This meant I had to rearrange my day. Again!

When the appointed hour came and went with no technician in sight, I called in, only to be told by the lovely auto-voice that my appointment was Friday. Five days away! Five whole days with no ID channel, c'mon, people.

But even more infuriating was the fact that I had stayed home and couldn't do anything else to meet a technician who apparently wasn't on the way. By the time a rep got on the phone, two things began irritating me even more almost immediately. 1) The person's accent was very thick -- which was no fault of the person, but meant I could hardly understand what he was telling me. 2) He kept telling me that he had no idea when anyone could come -- and confirmed that my appointment was for Friday, which it was not.

So ... I lost it. "I NEED A SUPERVISOR RIGHT NOW!!!" I yelled. I already knew I was going to feel bad about it later, yet I couldn't help myself.

What makes me go off on reps? For one, it's not like going off on your boss, your mother, or your significant other. There are little real world repercussions. The rep has to stay polite no matter how irate you get (though I have had a few "accidentally" hang up on me).

For two, this poor person on the other end of the line is your only conduit to the real enemy -- the huge faceless corporation who is charging you money for a service you are not getting. The huge faceless corporation that made you stay home from work only to reneg on their end of the deal.

In the middle of my tirade, I would periodically add, "I'm not mad at you. I'm just mad at THEM." "Them" meaning the aforementioned shall-not-be named cable company in this case. But this probably didn't make him feel any better.

I think of my good friend who couldn't find work for the longest time. A lovely, educated woman with a long resume who finally took a job in phone customer service for a large catalog company. She took verbal abuse all day long and quit her job after only a couple of months when she began getting stomach pains from the stress.

I was that person who made her quit her job. It was people like me. The guilt and shame!

When I'm on phone with customer service now, I try my damndest to think of that person on the phone. Not the company; not the multimillionaire CEO who collects the money while everyone else gets the hard work.

The person on the phone who might have come into work tired from being up with a baby all night. The person on the phone who may have a dying mother. The person on the phone who may have discovered her/his spouse was cheating the night before but couldn't afford to take the day off. The real person with real problems.

Sometimes this works. No matter that they are not solving my problem and often even seem oblivious to my problem, I try to picture that person who most likely never wanted this job but had no choice but to take it.

Unfortunately, it doesn't always work and I lose it. I'm sorry, customer service reps. (Who, several hours later, still haven't been able to tell me when or if my problem will be solved. Sigh.)

Now go ahead and ream me new asshole in the comments section.

Do you ever get angry with customer service?


Image via Ocean/Corbis

Read More >