Dealing With Call Center Employees in Life or Death Circumstances
I recently unloaded my experiences about working in a call center elsewhere on the fediverse. I'm not going to repost that here today (though perhaps I will in the future), but I wanted to post a guide to dealing with call centers when walking away is not an option.
This can be a situation involving a medical condition, significant bill/financial transaction, or a serious, life-altering product like a car or a wheelchair.
In many of these cases, you'll have to interact with a call center employee.
Here is how to do so without becoming abusive to the worker and also getting what you need.
- Remind yourself that the worker is not the enemy.
Even if your problem was caused by a worker's mistake, it's likely they did so because they are overworked and undertrained, or because there is no auditing built into the system to catch these issues. Remember that these people are often paid less than a living wage, and are NEVER paid enough to deal with the verbal abuse they suffer daily.
- Remain calm.
This is not because your feelings are invalid or that your anger is bad. Most CC employees are used to being verbally abused when people get upset. No matter how good they are, expressing strong emotions too early in the call can make it less likely you'll get what you need because they have been triggered (studies show that CC employees experience 3x as much stress, 13.5x as much depression, and 24x as much anxiety as others ).
- If this is not your first call for this issue, lead with that.
“I'm having a problem with x, and this is my second call to get this resolved.” This often gives them more options that are not available on the first resolution attempt. CCs are bound by a very strict set of scripts given to them by their boss, which dictates what actions they can take and when. If they deviate from the script, they can be disciplined or even fired.
- Most of the time, as long as you don’t act threatening towards the other person, they’ll do what they can to help you.
This is not true 100% of the time, unfortunately, but assume they want to help for now. Impress upon them the consequences of this situation not being resolved. CCs are trained to think in terms of processes, not outcomes. Give them a compelling reason to get creative.
“I’m about to lose my house.” “I need this medication immediately or I could die.” “I’m stranded in an unfamiliar area and am unsafe.” Most people will try and help you get a solution the best they can in serious circumstances. They may even be willing to bend or break the rules to help you.
- If you’ve done all this and are still not getting what you need (whether this is your 3rd time calling them about a serious issue or the person on the other end is being a grade-A jackass), now is the time to start using your anger.
DO NOT abuse the other person (self defense is acceptable if they become combative). Let some anger into your voice and let them know you are upset and that this is unacceptable. Ask to speak to a supervisor if they are unable to do what you need.
Keep in mind that more call centers are removing supervisors from “call de-escalation” duty. The place I worked had “escalation specialists” who were more familiar with processes than normal employees and were given a bit more latitude to resolve issues than us. But they are not bosses and they don’t set policy. Their job is literally to take the very worst callers ALL DAY.
Be firm and restate the potential outcome. You’re speaking to someone with power now. Give them a chance to help you.
- Most people will never get to this step, but if the escalation specialist/manager/call center refuses to help you, and your situation is serious, you have now exhausted your normal options.
Depending on how the call has gone, you might try, one more time, to appeal to their humanity (“You don’t care that I’m losing my house?”). Or, it might be more fruitful to become forceful (“It looks like I’ll have to consult my attorney,” “I guess I’ll be talking to [government oversight agency] about this,”).
Neither of these solutions are usually helpful, unfortunately. If they’re comfortable stringing you along for this long then they likely have firm marching orders not to give you what you need. Most of the time they’ve weighed the potential consequences of either being sued or being reported and are willing to write it off as the cost of doing business.
Do NOT call this place 20 times a week and continue to harass the employees. It’s not their fault and they can’t help you.
- Consult an attorney (many do free consultations) to see if you have a case. Research the law and see if they’ve broken it.
I had a situation during my disability application where my company’s HR dept refused to send me a copy of the Long-term disability policy I had paid for. “Unfortunately Corporate Legal doesn’t allow us to disseminate those policies except for on workstation terminals.” I was very sick and this wasn't possible.
I spoke to my disability attorney and he told me to tell them that this was an ERISA violation, and they could be charged $100 a day for failing to give the policy to me for any reason.
After I calmly explained this to the poor girl that answered at my HR’s call center (yes, companies are switching to this model for internal processes as well), all of a sudden they were able to mail me the policy in its entirety.
Sometimes people won’t help you because they are ignorant of their legal responsibilities. It’s never fun to have to speak to an attorney, but it can be necessary to do so in serious circumstances.
Beyond all of this there be dragons. Your solution at this stage becomes extremely dependent on the specifics of your situation, but you likely won't be dealing with very many call centers anymore.
It's been my experience that once you extricate yourself from the policy meat grinder of corporate call centers, you're able to get common sense solutions, provided you can get the attention of the right people.
Most importantly, I want to stress again that most call center employees are victims of their corporation's greed and mismanagement. Do what you have to to survive, but don't get combative unless you've exhausted your other options.