Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company Fires Call Center Reps For Routinely Hanging Up On Customers

Nationwide Mutual Insurance fired five Iowa call center workers for regularly hanging up on customers in an attempt to boost their stats, but one of them contends that the practice is widespread and they were only fired so Nationwide could deny their upcoming paid and unpaid leave, reports the Des Moines Register.

“I didn’t think about the fact that it could be someone that was needing help right then and there, that their daughter may have just got in an accident and was in the hospital and they were needing help,” testified Lindsay Gillum. “I wasn’t really thinking about the customer. I was thinking about myself and my stats.”

“There were other people who were doing the same things who are still working there and still hanging up on people,” Jordan Doyle testified. “There were five of us, all together, that were fired. Three of us were pregnant, about a month away from our due date. One of the girls that was fired, (it was known that) she was trying to get pregnant. And the fifth girl was taking short-term disability.”

Doyle contends that the practice of hanging up on customers is still systemic. “Like, 90 percent of the people who work in that call center do that,” she said.

Jordan Doyle was accused of hanging up on 34% of her callers in a two-week period; Lindsay Gillum, 8%; Amy Halupka, 50%. The customers calling in were trying to file claims after fires, traffic accidents, and other insurance covered incidents.

Nationwide sell its insurance through affiliates like ALLIED Group, Farmland Insurance, GatesMcDonald, and Scottsdale Insurance. If you get hung up on when calling any of those companies, don’t feel bad, you’re just doing your part to help an agent make quota.

Workers fired after hang-up calls [Des Moines Register] (Thanks to Stefanie!)
(Photo: Getty)

Comments

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  1. Adept says:

    Metric based customer service (unless the metric is customer satisfaction) is scant better than none at all.

    Justifying being crappy at your job with the “everyone else does it” is definitely a hoot. Why can’t folks find something amusing to follow the crowd with. An entire office of people that wear donkey tails pinned to their trousers just because everyone else does would lighten my day.

  2. rkon02 says:

    And you wonder why companies outsource to overseas. Idiots complete idiots who are jeopardizing other peoples careers

  3. dwarf74 says:

    How funny. I work in a call center, myself, and it’s my job to find exactly this kind of behavior.

    Personally, I don’t think there’s an excuse for it. Expected stats are generally at least fairly realistic – you won’t get fired for being an average representative at any reputable call center. You might not get as many raises or bonuses – but if that’s the case, you’re cheating the system and cheating those representatives who are actually doing their jobs.

    “The stats made me do it!” is the worst excuse I’ve ever heard. When your job is to take calls, you take calls. Hanging up on customers cheats the customers, the business, and all the fellow reps who have to take the extra calls.

  4. warf0x0r says:

    It’s called “Throwing the book at someone.”
    @rkon02: I will say this though, the standard set by most call centers/data entry centers etc… are usually just a bit too high so people resort to cheating and breaking the rules. Personally I think that’s what their employers want so that they always have something to hold against them should times turn rough or should your pay turn too high, they can start using your “short-cuts” against you.

  5. skrom says:

    Pregnant women shouldnt get paid time off anyway for having a baby. Its not fair to those of us that do not want to have kids. They can have their time off but it should be UNPAID!!!! If they are responsible enough to have a kid they should have been responsible enough to save up money for time off.

  6. partyone says:

    Ive worked in call centers for over 10 years and not one that I have ever worked in has done this. To me this is deplorable customer service. If I was asked to do this for a company I would be looking for a new job quickly. I take pride in what I do, and do it well. It shows to me how little these individuals pride themselves on customer service. Also this is a reflection on that person as well.

  7. killavanilla says:

    Ugly.
    I just don’t care though.
    Here is a classic case of people needing serious help and screwing the customer because they saw others doing it.
    I just don’t feel bad for these people. Not one bit.
    I hope they learn their lesson.
    I don’t care if it is systemic or not, these people deserved to be fired.

  8. roche says:

    Doyle contends that the practice of hanging up on customers is still systemic. “Like, 90 percent of the people who work in that call center do that,” she said.

    In the past I have worked for several call centers and that was not a widespread problem in any of them. In fact, every single one of them had a zero tolerance problem when it came to hanging up on people.

    Jordan Doyle was accused of hanging up on 34% of her callers in a two-week period; Lindsay Gillum, 8%; Amy Halupka, 50%.

    Hanging up on 50% and 34% of your customers is deplorable. It amazes me that they actually have the nerve to use the old everyone else was doing it too excuse. Try that one the next time you get pulled over for speeding.

    If you are hanging up on just one customer then you deserve to get fired. End of story.

  9. formergr says:

    @skrom: Seriously?

    Weird that the rest of the industrialized world lets women take paid time off for maternity leave (and even men for paternity leave!!) and they haven’t collapsed as a result.

    Misogynist much?

  10. skrom says:

    @formergr:

    Mysogynist? no. Im just tired of being discriminated against because I choose to be single and have no desire to ever have a screaming little monster running around the house. If I dont get 4 months off paid then they shouldnt either. I also shouldnt be expected to stay late, work holidays, cover peoples “kid got hurt and I have to leave early” shifts, work weekends because someone’s kid has a soccer game etc… Im just so sick and tired of associates thinking because I dont have kids my time isnt important. It is!!!!

  11. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    @formergr: So your answer to that issue is a resounding “everyone else is doing it?” How strangely relevant to the story.

  12. ju-ju-eyeball says:

    Gee, I hope The Consumerist does not judge me by the quality of my posts, only on the volume of my posts.

    If corporations were really worried about customer service, they would do things right the first time, and the volume of calls to call centers would decline…

  13. howie_in_az says:

    @dwarf74: Perhaps the performance metric should be how many customers were satisfied with the level of service they received, not how many customers a CSR convinces to stay with the company (or however the stats are calculated).

    I use Nationwide for my auto and homeowners insurance and have only once in ~7 years dealt with a bad CSR, whom I immediately reported afterwards.

  14. batasrki says:

    @skrom,

    Are you serious? So, you’re so self-centered that you despise people’s desire to pro-create, just because YOUR time is also important. How about talking to your supervisor/manager/whatever and have him/her get more people in, at least temporarily to relieve YOUR “pain”.

  15. NightSteel says:

    When organizations start contracting call centers to actually serve customers, rather than take the highest number of calls possible, this problem will disappear. That’s really all there is to it.

    It all comes down to corporate management and shareholders. Do they want their customer service lines run with the McDonalds ‘Billions and billions served’ mentality, or with the intent to actually serve customers?

  16. skrom says:

    @batasrki:

    They can procreate all they want, just dont expect me to take up their slack. When having a kid you should be financially stable enough to not have to have both parents work. If you arent that financially stable then you probably cant afford the kid and should wait until you are. You just proved my point as you think I should just roll over and pick up their slack because I choose not have kids. and FYI bosses cant just hire more people because there are always labor budgets to consider which you would understand if youve ever asked to have more people but I guess youre one of the ones with kids that run off every time they get a scrath on their knee

  17. Buran says:

    OK, so she’s admitting she didn’t do her job and is whining that she won’t get unemployment? That really is a crock and I hope the state denies her claim.

  18. Buran says:

    @partyone: I don’t think they were asked to do it. They did it anyway to make themselves look better.

  19. Cowboys_fan says:

    I did a 2 year “sentence” and I think a) call time should not be a measured stat for this exact purpose. We would be fired for this but its sooo easy to not get caught it didn’t matter. I rarely did this but know many co-workers who did commonly. Its not usually hanging up on you so much as disconnecting the second the call comes in. b) customer satisfaction is a bad measure also b/c I can easily manipulate you by giving you free stuff.
    I know people exactly like this. The problem, as we would all complain, they don’t pay CSR’s enough to deal with all the sh*t they go through, not just with customers but equally sh*tty work environment, management, etc. Unless you’re getting $20/hr, with all the BS they put up w/, its just not worth it. These are not great excuses, but it is the reality.

  20. eightfifteen says:

    My mom used to work at the Allied claim center. I don’t think she ever hung up on anyone, but she has told me that the pressures to keep your stats up were real. If the stats were not kept at a certain level, you could get a reprimand letter in your file. Too many of these, and you get fired.

    These standards were put into place so they could justify laying off staff, and running the call center with fewer and fewer people. These people were simply trying to do what they could to keep their job under the rules they were forced to operate.

  21. Nemesis_Enforcer says:

    @skrom: You know at one time I might have thought similar to you…kinda like why should I as a non-smoker only get 2 breaks when smokers take like 6 a day. But you know after having a child I think your just being a dick. You forget the biggest thing about maternity leave. YOU PAY FOR THEM WITH YOUR TAXES. Its not a totally free ride, I have been paying disability insurance my whole life and the one time I used it was for the birth of my son. I got 6 weeks at about 2/3rds of my regular take home. My wife got 10 weeks because she had a c-section. The company she worked for also paid her for 6 weeks because she had been with them for over 6 years. She took off another 6 weeks unpaid. Even though we planned everything out and I worked a extra job part time we still barely scratched by.

    Don’t get me wrong I hate baby factories with a passion, but not everyone is like that so don’t paint us all with the same brush. We both worked and continue to work for our benifits. So stop crying about it. It’s no different than having elective surgery and collecting short-term disability.

    I too have worked at call centers and I have seen dumb@ss reps do this. They usually get ax’d after the management saw thier stats.

  22. kaikhor says:

    @skrom: Where do you work and live? The federal government does not pay for maternity leave, although some states do. Also, think about it this way: every time they leave they either a. have to use their paid time off, b. have to make up the hours or c. don’t get paid for it (at least at every job I’ve ever had). You should have pto as well, meaning you do it to them (if you are smart enough to take it). If they make up the hours they are making up the work. And if they aren’t getting paid then they are so far out of time to use that I can guess their job would be in jeapordy (sp?).

  23. Jiminy Christmas says:

    Sounds like there is deplorable behavior all around here. Yes, the women weren’t doing their jobs. That said, what are the chances that 100% of the people fired would randomly be women anticipating some sort of family or medical leave? Discrimination in employment on the basis of sex and/or family status is definitely illegal. One would think that an enormous insurance company like Nationwide Mutual would have the savvy to figure out how to fire employees who deserve it without inviting a laundry list of civil rights and labor law violations.

  24. Buran says:

    @jrford8: How can you prove that’s what you were fired for, when you admitted you were breaking the rules? At will employment means you can be fired for any reason. They don’t even have to have cause. Breaking the rules sounds like cause to me.

  25. dbeahn says:

    @jrford8: “Sounds like there is deplorable behavior all around here.”

    Not really. The reps are NOT paid to help customers. They are paid to take “x” number of calls per hour. If they don’t take that many calls (a prime reason for not making your statistical goal being actually taking the time to HELP the customer) then you are fired.

    If the company had made the goal that customers be helped, that would be nice. But that isn’t the goal. The goal is “x” calls per hour, with a talk time of “y” and a wrap time of “z”. No where in the goals of the (average) customer service call center is “helping the customer” a goal, measured or otherwise.

    Americans aren’t willing to pay for service anymore, so Americans don’t get service.

  26. wring says:

    yep some bitch at trilegiant (don’t ask) put me on hold for 15 minutes! I know she’s looking out for her stats but goddamn that bitch is up for some major karma.

  27. CumaeanSibyl says:

    Oh, hooray, the childfree have showed up to the party.

    These are the same people who complain about ill-behaved children in grocery stores and accuse the parents of not spending enough time raising their kids — funny, that.

  28. dantsea says:

    Did anyone catch that bit at the end, where the administrative law judge awarded benefits to one of the ex-employees? Nationwide kept her on the phones for two weeks after she admitted hanging up on people. The HR person quoted at the end said something to the effect of the company needing warm bodies on the phones.

    I can see this. Takes about two weeks to train an entry level employee and get them into the call center. Or in other words, the director of customer service kept these ladies on the phones to maintain his stats and keep his boss off his back.

    God, that’s amusing.

  29. paradigmshifter says:

    @skrom: I feel your pain, and I totally understand. Many of my friends feel the same way. Managers and co-workers often treat the young and single as if they didn’t have a life/family/important obligations and you end up picking up the slack. “Oh, Jane can work on Christmas weekend, since she doesn’t have kids.” How come my Christmas is less important to me because I’m not a mom?

    However, for me the idea is that we’re all in it together and I’m lucky enough to work someplace (now)where that feeling is shared. It’s helping out the people you work with so that no one’s personal life suffers, whether it’s because their kid’s in a talent show, their parent’s in the hospital or they’re going to Burning Man. However you choose to live your life (kids, no kids) the place you work shouldn’t penalize you for.

  30. skrom says:

    @CumaeanSibyl:

    Yes, they SHOULD spend more time with their kids. Thats the whole point. They should do it by NOT WORKING at all. Not leaving work every time there is an issue. Its called one spouse works the other stays home with the kids. If you cant afford to work it this way then you are doing a huge disservice the the development of the kid which is why the scream and yell and run all over the grocery stores. If you cant afford to do it this way you shouldnt be having kids until you can

  31. skrom says:

    Also most people CAN afford to have only one parent work but they dont because they have to have their 2 new cars, cable TV service for their 60″ plasma TV, eat out most nights, and a huge house they dont need. When I was a kid my father worked hard. He worked 2 jobs. And we drove a 20 year old car, ate lots of macaroni and cheese, and grilled cheese sandwiches, meatloaf. We used cloth diapers that my mom washed, and we managed to make it through OK. Oh and if I acted like those ill-behaved kids screaming in the store. We immediately went to the car and as we left my father started taking off the belt. Guess what? I never screamed when we went out. Funny how that works, but of course people wont spank their kids anymore and so they act the way they do.

  32. batasrki says:

    @skrom,

    Now you’re just starting to sound bitter. There is a flaw in your argument, besides it being very hurtful. What about those single parents? You know, those extremely hard-working mothers and fathers who raise their children by themselves. What about them? Should they completely disregard their children, so that you’re not inconvenienced? Or should they live in poverty, because you’d like them not to leave work prematurely? Or how about those parents whose marriage is on the rocks and where the other parent is not as devoted to the kids? What should they do in your ideal world?
    I understand that you’re feeling like your life does not matter. However, it is not up to you to decide these things. If you have a problem, raise it with your supervisor or, in case that person does not care, raise it with your supervisor’s boss. But, for crying out loud, please do not foist your opinion with others, at least until you’ve presented all possible facts.

  33. Jiminy Christmas says:

    @Buran: For the sake of argument, let’s take Doyle’s claim that 90% of employees hang up on customers at face value. In a workplace of 100 people, that would mean there are 90 evildoers.

    Out of those 90 people who deserve to get fired, only 5 do. So your chance of getting fired for evildoing is a base 5.5%.

    Next, assuming a demographically representative workforce, what’s the likelihood all 5, 100%, of those fired would be women?

    The likelihood that those same five all expressed an intention to use their employee benefits and exercise their rights under the Family & Medical Leave Act?

    The likelihood that 60% of those fired were actually pregnant at the time?

    Now, I’m no statistician, but the probability that these 5 people with remarkably similar traits were fired solely on the (de)merits is a small fraction of 5.5%. I.e: It’s remotely possible, but not likely.

    The point of all this being: Yes, rules are rules, but if the rules are selectively enforced in a manner that results in illegal discrimination…it’s still illegal.

    Basically, I see this whole thing as the employer trying to get a ‘two-fer': 1) Get rid of sub-par employees. 2) But only get rid of the sub-par employees that cost a lot of $$$$ in benefits.

  34. Jiminy Christmas says:

    @skrom: I think you require further beatings until your morale improves.

  35. Buran says:

    @jrford8: MY point was, how are they going to prove it? All the company has to do is say “you didn’t do your job, that is why you were fired.” I don’t like discrimination any more than you do but I’m being realistic here.

    Lesson: if you need to take advantage of something that costs your employer money, be sure they have nothing to use as an excuse to fire you.

  36. Buran says:

    @dbeahn: Ahem. There are those of us who are.

  37. Namilia says:

    @Buran: Unfortunately in those “Right to Work” states, they don’t even need a reason to fire you…I am unsure if Iowa is one of those states, though.

  38. dwarf74 says:

    @NightSteel: I’ve worked at my current place (which does a great job with in-house customer service) and at a crappy place (which was primarily outsourcing for companies like Verizon). In both places, I’ve worked in quality assurance. Even at the outsourcing place, nobody was getting fired for having long talk times, and good customer service was the most valuable metric on monthly evaluations. Of course talk & wrap times were important – I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t be – but it most certainly wasn’t more important than helping the customer.

  39. othium says:

    On the subject of single people in the workplace getting the hose when they have to cover for their married/with children co-workers-

    I can relate. I used to have the same thing happen to me at my last few jobs. My current workplace believes I have a child at home and does not automatically assign me extra work or shifts. (I did have my daughter staying with me for a while but she has since moved back in with her Mother – Just never informed them of the change.) It’s sad when one has to make up crap just to get a fair deal at work.

    I know some of you will get all over me for being dishonest with my employer. I live from check to check, just making ends meet and pay my taxes like anyone else. I work very hard at my job and have nothing but great reviews. The field I work in (Personal Care Attendant) is one with a high turnover rate and has it’s own challenges, without having to take on extra duties just because one is “single” and is percieved to “have more time to work” due to not having children at home. My off time is just as important as others. To say it’s not is just wrong. Wrong and rude.

    If my workplace found out I was single, I would be assigned extra shifts and be told I would automatically have to cover on holidays. This would result in my leaving a job I enjoy and find rewarding, further worsening the turnover rate and lowering the quality of care my consumers recieve.

    No employee should be discriminated against based on their family status. It’s just wrong.

  40. rhombopteryx says:

    In Soviet Nationwide, company hangs up on YOU for hanging up on… nope.

    In Soviet Nationwide, company games profitability statistics by hanging up on CSRs who game productivity statistics by hanging up on… Naah

    I can’t do it.

  41. erudition says:

    They are also shooting themselves in the foot by doing hanging up on customers, as most call centers will adjust metrics based on the group’s previous performance to keep goal at least a bit of a challenge.

    I’d still sue if I were pregnant & got fired for this, considering she states that a large percentage of remaining reps do the same thing & aren’t being fired.

    Likely, though, more terminations are on the way & they just made sure to hit the people likely to go out on leave once the wave of firings began. (I’d still sue.)

  42. NightSteel says:

    @dwarf74:

    I hardly think using Verizon as an example is appropriate, especially here, given the recent invention of the expression ‘Verizon Face’. This is one of the companies with the worst customer service records around. Of course their call center employees aren’t getting fired for excessive call times, they’re too busy punting Verizon customers.

    You say that good customer service was the most valuable metric on evaluations. The problem with that idea is that in a call center environment, QA defines ‘customer service’ as following your script to the letter, trying to up-sell every customer, etc. Whether or not the customer is actually satisfied and their problem(s) are actually solved is not important, which leads to telephone reps that actively seek only to punt customers.

    As a QA person, I would imagine that you were insulated from the floor. Call center employees are generally under enough stress as it is; bad customers, neurotic coworkers and management, low pay. Call center management is under its own set of stresses; unless the center takes X number of calls every month, thereby making a certain amount of profit, THEY get crapped on by higher management.

    This kind of environment leads to unethical management practices and does nothing for real customer service. Long-standing employees with higher pay, or employees that the boss doesn’t like, are fired for BS reasons and replaced, and the cycle begins again with under-trained neophytes.

    It’s all in the contracts. As soon as companies stop basing contracts on number of calls taken, these problems will disappear.

  43. killavanilla says:

    Okay, allow me to enter in to the fray here….
    I don’t care if only women got fired. All of them were guilty of a violation of company policy and all of them hurt the business they were being paid to help.
    So it seems awfully presumptuous to assume that because only women were fired that it was in any way discriminatory. Seriously, what if 75% of the workplace is made up of women?
    We just don’t know.
    And remember this: people who get caught lying or doing something they know to be wrong sometime *gasp* lie about things…
    We don’t know if only women were fired. We don’t know that the problem is systemic (I’d bet it isn’t). We don’t know that ANY of the details she provided are accurate.
    For instance, would it shock you if I told you that NONE of the women were pregnant?
    I mean, I really don’t know if that’s true, but if none of them were pregnant, does that change your perceptions?
    Either way, and I mean this will all due compassion, EVERY person that was fired was guilty of hanging up on customers to pad their stats.
    So it is irrelevant if they were pregnant or not. What is truly odd about this story is the simple concept of karma.
    See, all those pregnant ladies are going to have to file an insurance claim shortly. Why would a person like that, who KNOWS they are going to have to be on the other end of the phone soon, even consider hanging up on a claim?
    Stupid is as stupid does.
    I sure hope THEIR insurance company doesn’t hang up on them. That would be a real shame….
    As a side note, I work in sales. One of the metrics I am responsible for hitting is number of calls dialed and called per day. If I hit below a certain number, I get chewed out. It sucks, but on the other hand it is a measure of how hard a person works.
    This is an INBOUND CALL CENTER. Which means hitting your quota is as hard as answering a phone. I WISH my customers called me all day long so I wouldn’t have to call them so often.
    These people got what was coming to them. Their actions are indefensible.
    And the idea of discrimination is insane in this case. If they all colluded to do this, would it still be discrimination?
    You have to prove that the motivating factor in the firing decision was based on gender, in this case, not performance. Clearly, this was performance.