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Call Center Horror Stories

In the spirit of the Halloween season, ICMI’s team shares some of their most frightening moments in customer service.

Our first horror story comes from Strategic Training Director, Linda Riggs:

I received a special offer via email from my cable company (through which I have cable, phone and internet), and I decided to check it out. After clicking on the link, I was routed to a login page, where I attempted to enter my user name and password. After two attempts to no avail (and verifying that my password was, indeed, correct) I decided to try using the web-chat feature on the company’s site.

I opened the web-chat and waited for a few moments to receive a welcome; and it came through - an obvious template that made it look as if I was speaking to a machine. I said hello, and explained that I was interested in the offer, but I couldn’t get through on my user name and password. Using another template, the agent informed me that I have two user names and passwords, because my Internet account was linked to the company’s dot-net site, versus all my other services being linked to the company’s dot-com site.

I explained that I understood the issue, but that I did not know my user name and password for the dot-net site and asked how I could obtain that information. By this time, 10 minutes had passed and I was getting a bit frustrated because 1. I knew that I was a high-value customer and that I’d have been routed directly to an agent had I called 2. I was receiving nothing but a string of templates from this agent and 3. This experience was taking a really long time. Sometimes, I was waiting as long as 3 minutes before the next template would be shot my way.

While waiting in web-chat to find out what new template would be sent to me, I decided to test my theory about frustration #1, so I called in. The IVR immediately recognized me, "AH! I see you are one of our most valued customers!" and I was swiftly transferred to a very friendly agent over the phone. I explained my issue to him and he assisted me with pleasure, courtesy and promptness... and no templates or scripts. My only advice to him would have been to explain the offer to me so I didn’t have to go back to the website, but I gave him a pass because at this point, I was STILL waiting for template person to send me the next response.

And, then it came through - my web-chat box was flooded with more information than I believe it was designed to hold. And as I was recovering from scroll-shock, I received a shock of a different kind: another customer’s name, social security number, birthdate and address had just been delivered to me via the template-girl. I honestly couldn’t believe what I was seeing! I immediately typed in all caps: "YOU JUST GAVE ME ANOTHER CUSTOMER’S PRIVATE INFORMATION." At this point, I finally got a human response. But it certainly wasn’t what I expected to see, either. She typed, "Oh, sorry… hehe… I am typing in 2 other windows, and got confused." I said, "You realize that if I was an unscrupulous person, I now have all the information I need to commit identity theft. Did you also share MY personal information with someone?" At this point, I received absolutely no answer whatsoever for several minutes. I took screenshots of the entire chat window, called back to the provider and spoke to a supervisor. I was directed to send the screen shots to a secure email address, in the hopes that someone would deal with this immediately.

I don’t know what happened from there, but I was mortified for both myself and the poor soul whose information was so callously shared.

Moral of the story?

For me as a customer: Call in, don’t use web-chat.

For the company: First, train your people in how to use web-chat properly. Templates should not replace the "humanity" of the experience. Teach your people how to recover well from a mistake, especially a big one. Soft skills are just as (if not more) important in a text-based environment. Experts have proven that human beings do not multi-task. Having 3 chat windows open at the same time can create a horrifying experience for both the customer and the company. Web-chat can be a great experience, but this channel must be maintained and utilized properly.

[Editor's Note: For more information on why agents shouldn’t multi-task, read Multitasking Can Lead to Multiple Failures.]

Next, Senior Consultant, Rose Polchin shares the "Tricks and Treats" of a recent customer service encounter:

Trick or Treat?

Treat: I took a proactive outreach to upgrade my existing copper-based landline to the new fiber optics network for no extra fees or costs.

Trick: Unfortunately, attempting to reach anyone to schedule the appointment on numerous days, different times of day, etc. turned out to be trickier than I expected. My hold times (and I did track them - as a contact center professional it is something I tend to do out of habit!) ranged from 10-25 minutes and still no live person. So, I am sorry to say I added to their abandon rate at least 8 different times!

Trick: I decided to try making the appointment online. Success! Or so I thought…instead of a confirmation, I got an email stating that I needed to call the contact center for this type of service.

Treat: So I tried again. Just because I had a few minutes, I called first thing on a Monday morning at around 8:00 am. Frankly, given that Mondays are traditionally the busiest day of the week in most centers and considering my previous experiences to date, my expectations were well… quite low. And wouldn’t you know it, I received an answer in less than 1 minute! The agent was helpful, knowledgeable and efficient and promised to cancel the request for service I had made online.

Treat: The technician called me to confirm when he would arrive and he arrived at exactly the time he promised! I was impressed. He was very nice, friendly and focused on getting the job done. He told me what to expect and how long it would take.

Trick: Another technician pulled up right after the first one in response to the request I had made online. Yikes!

Treat: The migration was completed successfully, so I was happy about that.

Trick: The day AFTER the technician visited and successfully migrated our phone lines to the new network, I got 3 voicemails reminding me that technicians would be in my area this week and asking me to call to schedule an appointment to have someone migrate my lines to the new network!

What was not good from anyone’s point of view is the fact that there was a needless waste of resources and time: two technicians - expensive resources - sent when only one was needed. And the fact that eventually this type of error will wind up coming from someone’s pocket, typically the end consumer.

The bottom line is that we still have a way to go in terms of ensuring a holistic view of the customer and their journey inside organizations. This experience highlights that opportunities still exist, both in terms of process, people, technology and strategies within organizations to ensure that they provide cohesive, consistent, seamless customer experiences regardless of the channel or channels chosen.

Fredia Barry, Senior Advisor and ICMI-Certified Management Consultant (CCMC), has a call center horror story that’s quite… colorful.

I called my local phone company to resolve an issue with my business line. The representative who took my call greeted me with, "Hi this is [rep’s name], what's your problem today?" As I was explaining my issue, she then interrupted me to say, "I don't handle business accounts - hang on and I'll transfer you." (Never mind that I had selected the IVR-menu option for business accounts!)

After 15-20 seconds of waiting - I assumed this was so the transfer could go through - the same rep comes back on the line and starts growling in a low voice, "You son-of-a-b____, I told you not to call me again. As soon as I get outta here I'm gonna find Vic, and get him to beat your a___ to death!" This time, I interrupted her to say, "Excuse me?!" She replied, "Who are you?" -- to which I responded, "The question is, who are you?" She then replied, "How did you get my cell number?" and I answer, "This is not your cell phone!" She immediately disconnected my call.

Finally, here is my customer service horror story:

I made a clothing purchase through a retailer’s website in mid-August of this year. I received an email confirmation and a day later received a notification of shipment. After a few weeks had gone by, I realized the purchase had not yet arrived, so I sent an email to their customer service department. (I will point out that they only offer email service and there is no number to call.)

Within an hour or so, I received a response from a live customer service rep – not an auto-response - which was very exciting. The rep said that she had pulled up my order and confirmed that it had been shipped to me. She also mentioned that the retailer ships from Canada and occasionally orders are held up in customs. She kindly asked me to wait another week and email back to let her know if I received the order or not. I wrote back that I appreciated her courteous reply and agreed to wait the extra week. I actually gave it another week and a half before emailing her back to say that I still had not seen the order. I then received a reply from a second customer service rep stating that, at this point, they would declare the order lost and I could submit a request for a credit.

This is where things started to go downhill.

The second rep told me to send "the email" to her and to copy a specific customer service email address, using a custom subject line. Not sure what "the email" was, I hit reply back to her and copied the customer service email. I also used the custom subject line she gave me. In the email body, I thanked her for her help and asked if this was all the information she needed to put the credit through.

Within a few minutes, she replies and says that I need to include my address and shirt size as well. So, I replied back with my address and shirt size.

She then replies, "When you are ready to retrieve you credit send your mailing address and your shirt size. Thanks."

Well… wouldn’t now be a good time to retrieve my credit? Not to mention that I just sent her my address and size information.

So, I send her my mailing address and size. Again.

The next reply? "Send this info again when you are ordering your credit shirt. Thanks Christina."

O…kay. I thought I was ordering my credit shirt through the second rep? And if I wasn’t, how was I supposed to know that I wasn’t? She didn’t provide me with a link or give me any point of reference whatsoever.

At this point, I am quite confused and a bit miffed that I have to process this request myself. (Not to mention send in my order info when they clearly have it on file!) So, I simply forwarded the entire conversation back to the original customer service email address, with the custom subject line and all of my original order information.

As of today, I still haven’t heard back… and I still don’t have my order. I’m working on getting this issue resolved, but I have a feeling this is one contact center that could certainly benefit from some email response training!

Have a customer experience horror story you’d like to share? Comment below.

Christina Hammarberg is the former associate editor at ICMI.