Customer Service Rep: Consumers Need To Take More Responsibility For Their Problems

For all the customer complaints we post here at Consumerist, it’s not often that we hear from someone on the customer service side of the retail equation. So it was a pleasant surprise to receive a message from Bill, a CSR for an online retailer, who wrote in to share his perspective on things.

Bill admits he’s not a supervisor — “just a grunt” is how he phrases it — but says he nevertheless spends 40 hours a week fielding customer calls from all across North America.

“What a lot of people don’t seem to understand is the amount of crap we put up with,” he writes. “My hope is that there can be a better understanding of how consumers can inadvertently sabotage their own relationships with companies, and why companies do what they do.”

He continues:

I think it needs to be said that there one phrase in the customer service industry that is taboo to say to a customer, and that is “Your Responsibility.” Just uttering that phase over the phone will result in an escalation 90% of the time. A big problem with consumers in general is that they don’t like taking responsibility for their own actions. I think as a general rule of thumb whenever you use an online service, you will always need to agree to a User Agreement. Customer service is trained to uphold the user agreements. At least in the call centers I’ve worked in, we’ve been also trained to bend the rules in order to make a customer happy.

Bill believes that generous refund policies at companies like Zappos are “a good way to make consumers into monsters.”

But he explains that he’s not talking about some Draconian, no-refunds-whatsoever policy: “I’m saying give compensation or refunds when needed, not when a customer demands one because they feel they deserve it.”

He adds that talking down to CSRs could really just result in the customer harming their own case.

“It’s important to keep in mind that customer service reps aren’t stupid,” writes Bill. “It’s difficult — even counter-productive — to fool or mess with them.

“Anyone who has taken calls has probably heard someone claim they’re a lawyer; CSRs simply don’t care what you do. Saying you’re going to contact the BBB or file a lawsuit has the same yawn factor. Whatever the situation it is a very bad idea to curse out a CSR. That will most likely will result in a customer not being helped any further but may also result in a ban.”

We know that a lot of you have particular insights into jobs and businesses that most consumers don’t know much about — or about which they make huge assumptions. So if you feel like sharing your thoughts on what it’s like to work retail, or food service, or in the shipping, banking, hospitality fields (or something we failed to mention here), feel free to share your views at tips@consumerist.com

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  1. JollySith says:

    I agree with Bill on most things, but not about it being Zappo’s fault that people abuse systems.
    It is not a car’s fault that a drunk got behind the wheel and ran someone over, and it is not Zappo’s fault that some people are entitled abusive jerks who try to game the system and profit from it.

    • jebarringer says:

      I think what Bill means is that Zappo’s has a generous refund policy, so consumers expect and demand that everywhere from everyone, even though the consumer is not entitled to it. That sense of entitlement is what makes a consumer into a monster.

      • quail20 says:

        Zappos has refunds figured into their pricing scheme too. They know that a certain percentage will come back no matter what and they price everything accordingly to handle that. You shop Zappos for the service and the selection, not the price. (mostly)

  2. TuxthePenguin says:

    Being nice works wonders. I dropped my iPad the other day and cracked the screen. When I called to work with the Applecare, I found out that there was now an Applecare Plus that was better than what I had ($20 more) that covered accidental damage (like the iPhone plans do) and offers a replacement for $49. My plan (which wasn’t available) meant a $249 replacement.

    I told them if this made sense – why was I not informed of the new offering and given the chance to join? I walked the CSR through that I had two iPhones with similar coverage. He escalated me to his supervisor… who then gave me the replacement for free. Now, I’m sure its probably refurbished, but still… saves me $49 or $249, either way.

    Because I was nice. Never once yelled. Never once got mean. I did get a bit frustrated when I learned there was two teirs, but then I reasoned through why it was unfair to someone who bought an iPad early (the early adopters they want) and they completely agreed.

    • quail20 says:

      True. Keep a cheery disposition when dealing with anyone. Had my booked room in Puerto Rico given to someone else once during a big holiday weekend. Because I was the only one to not get upset and treated the staff with humor and a smile they gave me the best room in the place at the average room rate plus a discount. The disgruntled Spaniard was given a closet of a room.

      Best business trip ever.

  3. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    His comments were pretty non-specific, so I’m not really sure to say about them.

    Bad customers exist, we all know this to be true. But even good people are forced into being less-than-cordial against a customer (dis)service system that is designed to make the customer give up and live with their grievances.

    You don’t WANT to help us, so we have to be aggressive to get a resolution.

    • RvLeshrac says:

      That’s what’s made consumers into monsters, really.

      Zappos has a clear policy, which they adhere to. Other companies don’t – or they stop adhering to it when a customer starts being a dick, granting whatever the loudest person demands.

      There’s nothing wrong with a clear return policy enforced evenly, without exception. I don’t expect to be able to return items which fall outside the stated return policy, but the CSR is goddamned well going to give me what I want when it is covered.

    • Sneeje says:

      Yeah, I’m going to agree. I think it is a lot more likely that “consumers have become monsters” because service from most companies has dropped drastically in competency and concern for consumers, than overly generous refund policies.

      I mean, isn’t this basically saying: really polite people make life hard for the rest of us?

    • lyontaymer30 says:

      It’s one thing to be aggressive, it’s another to be disrespectful. The problem is most people don’t see the difference between the two and end up being disrespectful. As a CSR, once a consumer got disrespectful, I shut it down and did the absolutely minimum that was called for. I’ve been threatened to be sued, threatened to be reported to the BBB and threatened physical violence. I didn’t care about any of that. If you sue me, I’m gonna sue you back for wasting my fucking time, if you report to the BBB, so what I’m following guidelines and I’m not fighting anybody. I would get tired of people not reading the TOS or just flat out being irresponsible (forgetting to pay a bill, mailing in payments, but expecting us to keep tabs on mailing services, if we haven’t received it yet, then wtf do you want us to do? We don’t run the mail.) That’s what I got tired of, people making their mistakes and being too entitled to admit a mistake.

      Yeah, I could waive late fees, temporarily move due dates, or even do things to make accounts look current when they’re not, but I didn’t do it for assholes. You can be aggressive and respectful at the same time and get the result you want. I would even do things I wasn’t supposed to do if I liked the person or just saw that they were nice and just trying to fix a bad situation. And if I couldn’t fix it right then, I’d give them advice on the best way to do it to get the result they want in a timely manner. I always hated whiny grown men and women on the phone. Especially the people who would come on and tell me what I should be doing or have to do. Only thing I have to do is die, everything else is optional.

  4. Abradax says:

    I agree.

    There is a difference between being a good, informed consumer and a whiny “gimmie” bitch.

  5. AzCatz07 says:

    I am amazed at how many people don’t understand this simple concept. I rarely have a bad experience dealing with a CSR because I’m always friendly and reasonable on the phone, even if I’m upset about a situation.

    I know people who are perfectly reasonable in real life but turn into monsters whenever they deal with anyone in the service industry. Then they wonder why it’s such a struggle for them to get what they want. Why would someone help you if you’re calling them every name in the book?

    • Jane_Gage says:

      Yes. Also try to make the person laugh, you know they deal with the biggest c*ntbags on the planet day in and day out.

    • quail20 says:

      Besides being kind to whomever you are speaking with the best question to always ask is, “if you were in my situation can you suggest my best course of action?” Used that with my HP laptop problems. It wound up getting me a better laptop than what I had.

    • pamelad says:

      Yes! Why would they help you? I really don’t have a problem with CSRs. Just being polite goes a long way. But I do pre-screen them before buying anything by calling the CSR service.

  6. deathbecomesme says:

    I agree. I work in tech support for IPTV. We get people demanding techs out to put their TV on the correct input because their grand kids visited and watched a dvd and the customer doesn’t know what they are doing but yet don’t want to pay the $80 fee it takes to send someone out. It already costs us ~$300 to roll a tech to your house. It’s in no way shape or form our fault that your TV is not on the right input but you want us to send someone out for free! Come on! Get real.

    • Not Given says:

      I got a call around 11pm one night. I had to tell MIL “Is the TV on? OK, put it on channel 4, now turn on the satellite box.” She would go for a month without tv because someone came over and messed with it until we were over there once and figured out why it wouldn’t work, then she forgot what we told her.

    • rookie says:

      i have found that youtube is my best friend…
      many of the few procedures that i know little, i have learned from watching a six minute video…
      i wonder, would producing such a video for customer service reps to refer their callers too help???

      • deathbecomesme says:

        We have “user guides” that each customer gets with our service/remotes specifically geared to our service. Customer’s just toss them in the trash and never bother to read them. Then they get mad/frustrated with us when they can’t figure it out.

        • euph_22 says:

          are usually horribly written (our very well Written in Japanese or Korean, and then horrendously translated). Don’t know if that it’s true for yours or not.

    • who? says:

      When I visited my Dad a couple of weeks ago, he had to spend an hour on the phone with the cable company because the settings on his cable box got messed up, and he couldn’t get it working by himself. This isn’t a CSR issue, this is a failure the technology that the cable companies use. My dad isn’t stupid, but he’s not technical, and doesn’t want to become technical. He has the simplest possible cable box. No dvr or anything, just a cable box. The box is so complicated to use that if it isn’t set up exacltly right, he isn’t going to be able to use it without a lot of help. It’s a failure by the designers of the cable box, and a failure by Comcast for purchasing these particular boxes. They were eventually able to solve the problem without rolling a truck, but I know that they’ve rolled a truck before when mom couldn’t operate the box. The tech ended up giving mom, who was fairly technical, lessons on how to use her cable box. From the cable company’s perspective, that’s an expensive way to save a couple of bucks on a cable box. If they’d just given her a Tivo, she wouldn’t have needed to call.

      I’m sure consumerists would blame this all on my 83 year old dad, however.

  7. Ilovegnomes says:

    Sometimes the phrase “Your responsibility” refers to the company as a whole and not the customer service representative on a personal level. Like the time I ordered a pair of new shoes and got someone’s complete trashed return instead (the sole was even detached from the shoe and stains all over it). It was the company’s responsibility to screen the return for damage before reselling it to another customer as a new product. The customer has the right to be at least a little upset that now they have to go through the process of contacting the corporation for a return label, making an unnecessary trip to the post office and then having to find another set of shoes if another pair and style is not available… all because the seller didn’t follow through with a little quality control. Not that they should take it out on the customer service rep but if the customer is calm, the customer service rep should at least listen to the context of that phrase before taking it personally.

    • NickRayko says:

      Bill the CSR was talking about the phrase being verboten for CSRs to use when speaking to a customer.

      As in, “Ilvoegnomes, it is your responsibility to RTFA more carefully before commenting”.

      (Disclaimer: I am not a Consumerist CSR.)

  8. sagodjur1 says:

    While I have been in Bill’s shoes and agree with him for the most part, I believe that most consumers either are taking responsibility or are just not calling customer service. My experience as a CSR for a company with a large customer base (several million if not more) is that most customer don’t contact customer service. You usually just hear from less than 1% (unless your company is actually terrible). Of those 1%, many are having legitimate issues and many are the chronic complainers or system gamers or lonely people.

    I think many customers don’t like the inconsistency of customer service from company to company and so they basically assume the worst and feel they have to fight for everything. It’s not necessarily justifiable, but its at least understandable how you could get to that point. Many companies do have terrible or non-existent customer service, so I was not surprised when my company, which in my experience had relatively great customer service, had customers call expecting a fight. It was enjoyable when you could convince them otherwise.

    • Not Given says:

      I try to figure out stuff myself, if I can, or handle things through email. I dread trying to call someone about something and have to go through all the press this number for something and that number for sometime else, punch in your 25 digit account number, your phone number and your shoe size, spend 40 minutes on hold, tell my story 4 times, get transferred from one dept to another and back again and speak to people I can’t understand and can’t quite hear.

      • eldritch2k4 says:

        In my experience, in a Tech Support call center, the most common cause of being transferred to multiple departments is not selecting the correct option for your issue. Instead of listening to the prompts and knowing what product you have, most people just hit a random button or press the last option they hear. I can’t begin to tell you how many people start their calls with, “I didn’t know which option to press, so I just hit this one, I hope you can help me.”

        If you know what you are trying to do and what product you have, it’s not hard.

    • CaptainBill22 says:

      Some companies keep customer service in house, while they may have a great product they may not know how to run a call center. On the other hand some companies also outsource to companies that specialize in customer service and can provide a better quality experience for consumers.

  9. TheMansfieldMauler says:

    On the flip side, customers get frustrated because they have to go through the first line CSR script readers who have no real power and no real knowledge other than reading what’s on their screen, which is geared to resolving only the most basic problems on about a 2nd grade knowledge level.

    I don’t need to be told to unplug and replug my cable modem. I’ve done that 5 times already before I bothered to call. And I don’t want to have to repeat my name/address/account info over and over again just because I’m talking to a different person. If your system can’t transfer a call with all information to another CSR, you’re going to get frustrated customers.

    • nauip says:

      You want this: http://xkcd.com/806/

    • dragon:ONE says:

      And that’s great people powercycle before they call — it clears up a lot of people’s problems.

      However, I will mention that some companies will write up and discipline techs that don’t powercycle on the phone. And our company sent a global alert reminding people to powercycle every time irregardless.

      • dragon:ONE says:

        Although, if I’m transferring between technicians, before we xfer in the office we send all pertinent case information to the other tech over IM (at least the case in the ticketing system). If I’m transferring you to another department, I provide the CSR the account info and wait for them to pull you up and get a ‘cleared to transfer’ from the other reps.

        • dragon:ONE says:

          Also of note (yeah, yeah, third post), sometimes we have magic tools. Yes, you’ve powercycled 20 times already before you called, but I’m the one that can reset the lingering PPPoE session on my end so while you’re powercycling I’ve booted a stagnant session that now lets you connect.

          And then people look at me going “… I don’t know what you did, but this time powercycling worked!!!!” – well no crap, I have to bump you when I powercycle, silly!

    • Martha Gail says:

      Maybe you don’t need to be told to unplug your router and plug it back in, but you’d be surprised just how many do. I think they need to go through the basic stuff first with everyone, but I agree that repeating yourself over and over again is absurd. It’s even more absurd when your different CSRs start giving you conflicting information.

    • kathygnome says:

      Working in tech support, not only do people have to be told to try unplugging something and plugging it back in, but you very quickly learn that you can’t trust their answers. I’ve had people tell me they restarted only to find out later that they meant they restarted four hours earlier when they came into work. I’ve had people tell me they turned their computer off, only to find out they turned their monitor off not their “hard drive” (ie, the computer). I’ve also had people just outright lie or go off and do something completely different.

      • CaptainBill22 says:

        I’ve certainly got these calls where customers have problems syncing their device and they are no where near a computer, talking on the the device, and driving down the road.

    • Lucky225 says:

      Just so you know, most, if not ALL, customer service centers have no way of transferring a call even to the rep sitting next to them with your information. AT&T wireless IVR can send your info to the CSR, but if the CSR transfers, it’s a transfer from their extension, not the IVR, thus it’s only going to show the AT&T wireless customer service extension of the CSR. I understand a customer’s frustration with having to re-verify an account, however, most of the time when a new CSR doesn’t verify you, it’s because the previous CSR put you on hold, called the department, gave the new CSR your account info, and then transferred you. This kind of lax policy, while convenient to you the customer, can lead to breaches of YOU THE CUSTOMER’s information. i.e. if someone calls one department and CLAIMS to be a customer service rep for a different department and then says ‘Hey I got customer x on the line, telephone number 555-1212, he’s ALREADY VERIFIED HIS account, and I’m about to transfer him’, then they just pass the phone to their friend who is about to impersonate you and the account was NEVER verified, the rep in the other department may start spitting all kinds of info about your account to someone who is not authorized all because they believed the customer had already verified. So if you have to repeat your account info on every transfer, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

  10. TerpBE says:

    I think when a customer calls for customer service, they should be given an automated multiple choice quiz on the product they are calling about. Once they complete it, they can only be connected to a CSR who scored at least as high on the quiz as the customer.

  11. dicobalt says:

    Bill is correct, many consumers do stupid things then somehow think it’s not their responsibility. Then again, so do corporations I’ve had to work as a CSR for. Stupid + stupid makes us grunts get headaches and ulcers. Stop the stupid.

  12. BigDragon says:

    “It’s important to keep in mind that customer service reps aren’t stupid,” writes Bill.

    Bill, go call Verizon with a service problem or Dell with a defective component problem. Then get back to me and let me know that you’ve changed your mind. Many customer service people just don’t care anymore. It’s hard enough to checkout at a local Weis Grocery Store around here. It’s getting harder and harder to find places that don’t treat every customer like they’re about to stir up all sorts of trouble.

    • Peggee has pearls and will clutch them when cashiers ask "YOU GOT A WIC CHECK MA'AM?" says:

      Just because they don’t care doesn’t mean they’re stupid. In fact, being of above average intelligence probably means you’ll become jaded much faster.

    • euph_22 says:

      Yeah, i can cite several examples of stupid CSRs. But they really are the exception rather tab the rule.

    • CaptainBill22 says:

      I have.

  13. baquwards says:

    In the race to gain customers, retailers have created a lot of “monsters”. Customers seem to forget that the transaction goes like this, “you give us money, we’ll give you stuff”, no, many want MORE than they paid for because they are a “loyal” customer. Truth is they are only loyal to whoever kisses their ass the most.

    I had a customer storm out of the store because I wouldn’t open up a $7 package of cookies to give one to her daughter, her daughter didn’t want the free one that we offered. When the mother started to open the package, I had to remind her that if she wasn’t planning on buying that pack of cookies, then what she was doing was considered theft. This type of thing isn’t a rare occurrence it can happen multiple times a week.

    • MuleHeadJoe says:

      Grazers. Jeebus I hate them.

      • radio1 says:

        I’m married to one. She does get the kids to graze. We walk past a supermarket bakery and she pulls up with the kids, looks at the cake book (if I am lucky) and then ask for cookies for the kids.

        I always leave the area when that happens because I am too embarrassed for them. If I take my kids food shopping alone, I bypass the bakery. The kids day they’ll want cookies and I tell them we’ll buy some.

        God forbid, one of the kids get really thirsty or hungry– then it’s a Capri Sun and Doritos party in aisle 3.

        It’s not such such a big deal if you pay for them obviously… But I would just never, and still don’t.

  14. dragonfire81 says:

    Unfortunately the customer/CSR relationship is generally seen as more antagonistic than symbiotic, but oftentimes it’s the corporations that have themselves to thank for this.

    When you take your customer service people, bottle them into a call center for $9/hour, micromanage them to death and constantly put them under the gun to make sales and/or profit goals, you create an atmosphere which not only limits the quality of employee you can hire but puts strains on those workers you can find, making the whole process more difficult for everybody.

    And when you get into an outsourced call center with a language issue…yeah. I’m not going to lie, the last time I called my credit card company and I heard a thick middle eastern accent I hung up. Yes I know, the guy could have just as easily been in Wisconsin as he could have been in New Delhi, but to me the location does not matter as much as the ability to effectively communicate with me and my ability to hear you clearly. I’ve spoken with many competent CSRs who have accents before.

    I’ve worked at a call center. It SUCKS. I described partially above why that is, but to elaborate: You’re stuck at a work station for virtually the entire day taking call after call after call. When you finish one call, you’re lucky if you get five seconds before the next one comes in. Your lunch and bathroom breaks are monitored TO THE SECOND. We always got 30 minutes of paid break time per day but that included washroom breaks. Need to hit the bathroom suddenly? Fine, but you have to burn 3-5 minutes of your 30 to do it. Used up your thirty? Sorry, you have to go off the clock to use the facilities. (Note: I understand some states/regions have laws prohibiting this sort of thing but mine didn’t).

    I worked in wireless customer service, I’d have to assume other areas (Credit card companies, cable companies, insurance companies, etc.) require similar training. It took me about 6 months to become competent at my job.

    I started in a training class with 25 people. Six weeks in, half were gone. By three months, there were only two of us. A month later, I was the only one left and I hung on for another nine months after that. Turnover is high at a lot of these places and not just because of nasty customers. Call center management is notoriously crappy too. I will never forget the time my supervisor criticized me for having the gall to call in during the BIGGEST snowstorm of the year?

    Guess what? If had gone in, I would not have been able to go home that night because the snow was too deep. But somehow I’m still a pansy for calling off?

    Also, there was a time I got a FAIL on a QA evaluation for an improper transfer, despite the fact is says right in the knowledge base that if a customer has the EXACT ISSUE I was dealing with, they need to be TRANSFERRED. I told my supervisor this and he immediately blew me off. Didn’t offer to appeal it or defend me, he just shrugged and basically told me: “tough shit”.

    Customers need to remember that CSRs are primarily working for the COMPANY they represent and not the customer. They are pressured to make the company as much money as possible and a lot of times are willing to be unethical to do it. I saw a ton of examples of this first hand, such as:

    – Renewing contracts without customer knowledge
    – Cramming (adding services to accounts without customer consent)
    – Perfectly valid rebates denied for bullshit reasons
    – EXTREMELY strict interpretation of policies (guy wanted to cancel because he had no coverage, our map showed he was in a coverage area but about as close to being out of it as you could possibly be which would explain the crappy coverage, but my bosses still wouldn’t let him out without an ETF).
    – Outright lying about the no ETF cancellation window on new service (saying it was longer than 30 days to try and force the customer to get locked into a contract. We didn’t earn a commission if they dropped out before 30 days)

    It was always beat into our heads that we were to SELL first, solve problems second. My supervisors regularly asked about my numbers. They inquired about call time and resolution metrics maybe once a day. Sales metrics? TWICE AN HOUR. No joke.

    Also in my particular center all CSRs had a credit cap which after reaching they could no longer enter any credit adjustments into the system even if they had a perfectly valid reason to do so. The cap was $200, which meant if I credited back just ONE cancellation fee for good reason, I would be locked out from giving credits for the rest of the day. I needed to fill out a form, submit it to my supervisor and hope he or she felt like putting the credit in.

    The wireless company also monitored the amount credits were giving as a whole monthly and guess what happened when it got a bit high? They company didn’t think “Hey, we’re giving out a lot of credits here, maybe there’s some customer service issues we need to address” they thought “Hey, those guys are giving out a lot of credits, they must not be doing THEIR jobs properly!”

    So yes, all the blame for the high credits went on us, even though I guarantee that about 90% of those credits were probably valid.

    I find generally speaking these days that customer service, especially when dealing with a large company can be frustrating. You get passed around from CSR to CSR, each one apparently never leaving any records behind so you have to recount your story every single time, only to be given a “reference number” and the promise of a callback which may or many not come.

    Alternately you might get caught between departments (or companies) who keep blaming each other, bouncing your problem back and forth like a tennis ball until the ONLY way you can reach someone with the power and common sense to get your problem fixed is by way of an EECB or other extreme method (Twitter, going to the media, etc.) It shouldn’t have to be that way.

    It really shouldn’t.

    • bityard says:

      Wow, thanks for taking the time to write all of that. It sounds like it was a horrendous job. Thank goodness I’ve never had the displeasure to deal with one that bad.

    • dicobalt says:

      Yep I hear you. I slugged it out 5 years in a call center job. It’s and ugly business and there are good reason those jobs go overseas. The stress was so bad where I worked that I would see the paramedics at *least* once a week there to get someone who had passed out or had some other medical event. These were almost completely young people in their 20’s too. The problem wasn’t so much the call center management as it was the corporate customers that hired us. These companies basically dump their problems on you and give you none of their internal contacts or resources to solve problems. It’s literally an impossible job. I refuse to ever work in another call center, I simply wouldn’t put up with it, I’d rather be homeless. That’s how bad it is.

    • Eccitaze says:

      I’m relatively lucky. At my call center we have pretty much no requirements with regards to selling–we used to, but I got away with asking a question at the end of each call and leaving it at that. I’m also fortunate enough to have a supervisor who gives a damn and has his favorite catch phrase being “I want to do everything I can because if this company has no customers, I have no job.”

    • dullard says:

      Dragonfire81’s post says a lot. It’s the same old story. Management treats its employees like dirt and it trickles down to the customer. It’s a sad state of affairs when even half way decent customer service is the rare exception rather than the rule.

      It wasn’t always this way. In the old days customer service was good more times than not. Today, as a result of repeatedly being treated as an annoyance, we expect the worst when calling customer service, and most of the time we get what we expect.

      One of my pet peeves is that the CSR either doesn’t listen to my question/problem or doesn’t understand it. The CSR then makes an effort to solve my problem based upon his or her’s perception of it which is often wrong. Why is it wrong? Because the CSR didn’t listen to what I said. Repeating the problem isn’t alway helpful. The inability of many CSRs to solve a problem can often be traced to management who fails to give them sufficient training and tools to do the job.

      So what do we have? We have low paid CSRs dealing with customer problems for which they have not been trained and for which they have not been provided sufficient resources. How can any customer expect decent service when dealing with those parameters.

      Does the customer get angry? You bet. But in most cases, despite the fact that the anger is heaped upon the CSR, it is really the company at which the customer is angry. Yet, the customer has no one else to vent his/her frustration upon except for the CSR. So that’s where it naturally will fall.

      Does the company care? I seriously doubt it. The only thing the customer can do is to buy another brand next time and to publish his/her experience on the web.

      There are many great products out there but not many that are backed up with good customer service. In my experience I have found Apple to be the leader in customer service. Have I had a bad experience with Apple? On occasion, but any large company will have a difficult person here and there. I find overall, however, that Apple has consistently given me excellent service. And look at the price of their stock. Hear that you other companies? There are many companies out there with good to great products, but very few that back them up with good to great customer service.

      • MuleHeadJoe says:

        What are these “old days” of which you speak? This whole modern ‘customer service’ environment is a very very very modern invention. Thirty years ago, most businesses did NOT have customer service call centers. If you had a beef with a product or service, you had to march your butt in to the local office and talk to someone F2F, and even then there was no guarantee of any kind of satisfaction. Also, 3 decades ago, most people didn’t feel entitled to returns without reciepts, returns after use, returns after multiple weeks, etc. etc. etc. The consumer-vendor relationship lifecycle was much simpler … if you didn’t like the product or service, instead of “demanding satsifaction”, you simply chalked up a “lesson learned” and took your business elsewhere.

        That being said, the “overbearing consumer entitlement” problem is 100% a frankenstein the making of big businesses trying too hard …

    • quail20 says:

      +1 for your story. Knew it was bad. But not to that extent.

  15. Lombard Montague says:

    I have read the complaints under “returns” on consumeraffairs.com for all the big box stores and 90% of them are the consumer’s own fault, but that never stops them from pushing the blame back to the store. I love reading the ones where they are upset at a store for enforcing a policy that is pretty standard industry wide (ie: not accepting returns on open software, not accepting returns after 4 months, etc) and then boycotting that store.

    “Wal-Mart wouldn’t take my open Xbox 360 game back. I’m done with Wal-Mart. I’ll do all my shopping at Target.” That’s fine, but Target wouldn’t have done it either. People’s minds can bend reality all sorts of ways before they actually accept responsibility themselves. Either that or they have a hard time accepting they are not a special unique snowflake and the rules actually do apply to them too.

    • Peggee has pearls and will clutch them when cashiers ask "YOU GOT A WIC CHECK MA'AM?" says:

      This is a particular favorite of mine. My niece works in a craft store and while she was researching what it was like to work there, she came across some online complaints about them. “They check EVERY SINGLE PIECE of fabric I’m buying at the register like I’m a thief!” “The fabric people always ask what I’m making and it’s NONE OF THEIR BUSINESS! They should do their job and not nose into my life!”

      Only as she found out, it is their job to ask what people are making. You can get in trouble with management or the secret shoppers for not asking every customer. And of course they have to check the fabric and make sure an extra piece or small items didn’t make their way into the stack. That’s just standard. Anywhere you shop they’re going to check “inside” things to make sure nothing’s there.

      It’s this kind of simple-minded complaining and not understanding how things work that makes CSRs not care. Nothing they do will stop stupid people from complaining, so why try so hard? You just get burned out.

  16. kingdom2000 says:

    My experience (you means “generic customer”, typing this as I think of it):
    1) Customers don’t listen.
    Even when they specifically ask my name they don’t even listen long to enough to get it right. So of course when give them instructions they screw it up over and over yet blame the one trying to help them.
    2) Don’t read.
    Doesn’t matter how clear the instructions are, they read only a few words, do whatever they think should do and then complain it doesn’t work. If it doesn’t work, try actually reading the entire set of instructions instead of assuming its product failure.
    3) Don’t answer questions, especially multi-part questions
    Its amazing how many yes or no questions get answered with a restatement of the problem. I didn’t ask to explain the problem again. I asked a yes or no question. If I ask more then one question, hey guess what, I want the answers to all those questions. Not answering just drags the whole thing out.
    4) Get defensive
    Guess what, I don’t care what happened or why it broke or if you are at fault or not. I can either help you or I can’t. I want you off my phone as fast as possible. Fixing the problem will achieve that I am all for it. You getting irate for no reason and hanging up, does the same thing. Have the time on my calls is trying to get the person to tell me what actually happened so I can understand why something broke and trying to do it in such a way they don’t thing they are at fault (even though 99% of the time they are). To put it simply – we don’t care, quit being defensive and making it difficult to help you.
    5) Don’t give us the entire error message
    OMG I get tired of people paraphrasing an error message that they are literally looking at while talking to me. Its one thing when trying to dredge it up from your memory but when you are looking at it, read the whole damn thing.
    6) Don’t re-do our steps anyway (or follow instructions)
    Sure you might have done all the stuff we are about to tell you to do, but to bad you get to do it again. You know why? A) because we have too and B) because you might have missed something. If I had a dime for everytime I simply forced people to carefully go back over their initial steps and discovered a simple error they missed…
    7) Don’t reboot, pull the battery, power off and on, etc.
    Before you call, do that stuff. Its amazing how many things a restart will clear up. It will not kill you and might even save you a lot of time and trouble. If we ask you to do it, don’t argue, just do it, for the same reasons.
    8) Don’t Google
    I assume you have a brain and now how to search for stuff. It is amazing the amount of useful information you might get if type Product_Name Error_Message in a search engine and see what pops.
    9) Do threaten me, do yell at me
    The sure fire way to make sure I do the least I can to help you is make it difficult for me to help you. The more you work with me, the more I am going to try to help you. The worse you make it, the more likely I am going to throw up walls to make helping you harder and take longer.
    10) “The customer is always right”
    Its a great slogan, but guess what, the customer is almost always wrong. About many things. Regardless of title or past experience. Just telling me that or some variation isn’t going to change jack sh#% because all I care about is what my manager says I can and cannot do.
    11) “It worked before”
    If “it worked before” was the iron clad rule people treat it to be, there would be no need for support cause nothing would break. So repeating it over and over does not help. We ask when the last time something worked because the timeline of events may prove helpful. That is all.
    12) Don’t treat us with respect
    We didn’t break your stuff or cause your problem. Yelling at us, being angry at us or venting to us doesn’t help and again I will just throw up walls to help you. You wouldn’t like us eating and slurping while talking to you, so don’t do it us. Same for screaming kids, pets, etc. If you have that many distractions at once, maybe wait until have time to focus on the one problem.

    • kingdom2000 says:

      And to second “dragonfire81″, probably the biggest thing interfering with customer service is the corporate. Even suggestions to improve the customer experience that would cost them nothing just falls into the meeting black hole. Most managers rarely are promoted up the ranks nowadays so they have no direct experience to fall back on. As a result they rely in spreadsheets (boiled down to graphs of course) and procedures for everything. If it doesn’t fall under one of those areas they are basically lost. So of course all decisions are based on those areas. You problem is literally just an itty bitty tic mark on some spreadsheet they just glanced at during one of their many many mostly unproductive meetings to discuss reports to make changes to improve one metric or shave off a penny cost to this and that (at the expense of other metrics and costs).

    • bben says:

      You missed won’t shut up long enough for you to tell them what will fix their problem, – just drone on and on and on and on repeating the same basic thing. I heard you the first time. I have heard the same thing a dozen times already today. I already know what your problem is and can tell you exactly how to fix it if you will just shut up long enough for me to say something.

  17. shepd says:

    “Saying you’re going to contact the BBB or file a lawsuit has the same yawn factor.”

    Both true and unfortunate. There are some people, like me, with an excellent track record of follow through on those threats. There’s also plenty of liars, unfortunately.

    • cactus jack says:

      I like this one. We’re not affiliated with the BBB and all we do is respond when they send us a letter (so far it’s just been one absolute psycho we refused to rent to again).

      Usually the lawsuit threats we get are from college kids who get kicked out for being idiot dopers/drinkers who decide they can do whatever they want. Seriously, as soon as you say you’re going to call your lawyer, there is nothing more I’m going to say to you. Nothing I say is going to help my situation and it’s simply time for the lawyers to do what they get paid for.

      Calling me over and over again with the same childish threat just gives me reason to call the police over harassment and hurt your case kiddos! So far out of probably 100 threats of lawsuits, I have never had to talk to a single lawyer. Go figure.

  18. Difdi says:

    The individual CSRs may not be stupid, but if the CSR fails a Turing test, it’s a sure bet that someone in the CSR chain of command is brainless.

  19. Bort says:

    Often the CSR is the monkey in the middle, the company has asinine policies, and their job is to enforce it, making customers extremely unhappy.
    Not to say there aren’t really crummy customers out there, but treating everyone as a scammer or serf isn’t going to win business, and monopolies know they can do whatever they want, leading to all sorts of unhappiness.
    I have no objection to telling customers to be responsible, but it has to be two sided, often its the responsible customer treated like garbage by carved in stone policies doesn’t lead to resolutions. Once a company has your money, most believe you should go away, they almost consider it a favour if you actually got what you paid for, and would willingly take your money and run if they somehow could (many companies are trying to find ways to make this happen, and bonus if they can make customers happy while doing it so they can rinse and repeat)

  20. Eccitaze says:

    Speaking as a customer service rep myself, Bill is pretty much spot on. If you call into me with a grievance, be it completely your fault or a screwup on our end (it does happen), then 95% of what determines whether or not you leave happy is solely your attitude and a realization that if it’s your fault that you probably won’t get everything undone.

    For example, if you call in because of… say, overages, and you’re incredibly polite and understanding, we can help you. We probably won’t remove all of them (unless it’s something relatively minor) but we can remove at least some of them and help you make sure it doesn’t happen again.

    If you call in and get insanely upset and start screaming, then speaking personally, my empathy and sympathy just immediately shuts down, and I try to get you off my line and onto a supervisor’s phone so you don’t fuck up my stats–and if you’re a big enough douche I’ll intentionally seek out the strictest and most assholish sup so they can tell you “Close your eyes. What do you see? Nothing? Excellent, that’s what you’re getting” (And that HAS happened before–word for word). Same thing if you threaten lawsuits or threaten physical harm on me. Now if it’s our fault, you’ll still get it resolved pretty much all the time, but if you scream and curse it’s gonna be much more unpleasant.

    Basically, what I’m trying to say is that pretty much every company with a customer service department has policies in place to deal with assholes–and they almost never lead to the customer getting what they want. Being polite to the other person on your line is the difference between getting at least PART of what you’re asking for and getting your account cancelled and being stuck with all the applicable fees.

  21. Press1forDialTone says:

    Bill needs to get another job before I get him as a customer service agent.
    I do take responsibility for my problems with a company and now if they just
    would everything would work out fine. I have been abused countless times
    by CSR agents who are incompetent and need to be fired asap. I always
    keep my cool and ask that I speak with a supervisor. The first thing I want
    to know is that there is a recording of the abuse and their -always- is. “Might
    be recorded” is a myth. As soon as the super hears the recording they solve
    my problem pronto and tell me this CSR agent is not representative blah blah
    blah. The low standards that in place for hiring CSR agents is business just
    f’ing themselves because I will stop doing business with any company whose
    CSR agents are stupid, inept, incompetent, or just ignorant not to mention not
    trained well. If a company has a good CSR they should pay them accordingly
    and pay them enough to live on with healthcare and vacations. As soon as the
    value of the job goes up, the performance will go up because the person will not
    want to lose the perks.

    • Peggee has pearls and will clutch them when cashiers ask "YOU GOT A WIC CHECK MA'AM?" says:

      If you’ve been abused by “countless” reps, maybe there’s something more going on. The reps are all different. You are the one constant. You don’t exactly sound like the humble type, so…

  22. SeattleSeven says:

    “Your Responsibility” is fine if it actually my responsibility.

    Buying a lot of stuff online I’ve had a couple of companies/CSRs that feel it is my responsibility to pay to ship them back a product that was defective out of the box.

    I feel it was their responsibility to ship me a functioning version of whatever I bought in the first place. Regardless of what some user agreement fine print says.

    These aren’t 365th day Zappos style returns.

    All that said, I never yell at anyone or fight with the CSR. None of this is their fault and they don’t deserve to be treated poorly.

    • SirWired says:

      Maybe you could, I dunno, READ the return policy before buying, if that’s a problem? The customer’s responsibility for return shipment is usually not buried in “fine print.”

      The retailer’s responsibility is to securely put the item you ordered into a box and mail it to you. As long as they mail you the correct item, they’ve done what they were supposed to. If they’ll cover your return shipping, well, that’s just gravy, but not something you should expect from every single retailer.

      • euph_22 says:

        Agreed it’s how it works for most retailers.

        It’s not how it should Work. If the store sends me a defective product, they should be responsible for getting me the correct, working item, and if they want their Defective unit back they should pay the shipping.

      • SeattleSeven says:

        I shouldn’t expect a functioning product from every retailer? All I am allowed to expect is the correct item, working or not?

        I guess I’ll just continue to be a crazy monster of a customer with completely unreasonable expectations of retailers I do business with.

  23. Torchwood says:

    Unfortunately, in too many Business Managers minds, they treat customer support and technical support as a business cost that must be minimized rather than a customers relations and retention tool.

  24. luxosaucer13 says:

    I think that customers and corporations share culpability in this one.

    Firstly, there is an “entitlement” mentality present in certain elements of society. The ones who are guilty of this, and we all know the type, feel that they’re entitled to whatever they want because they’re a customer of a company. Most of these folks have lost the capacity for reasonable or logical thinking; they want what they want, they feel entitled to it, and that’s all there is to it.

    Secondly, there are companies that are out there whose focus is the bottom line and customer satisfaction is of little or no concern to them. The phrase, “We’ve got your money, so what are you going to do about it anyway,” comes to mind.

    Most folks, thankfully, fall somewhere in between. The thing to realise when dealing with CSRs is that, more often than not, the folks that decide the policies have no real idea of how it’s going to impact the customer or the CSR, nor do they really care. The company’s bottom line is their primary concern; everything else takes a back seat. It is THOSE folks who need to be “yelled at” by the consumer, not the CSR. The CSR is just the messenger; they take the most crap and usually get paid the lowest.

    I believe that customer satifaction, across all industries, would be greatly improved if, as a prerequisite to an executive decision-making capacity, executives would have to spend at least 2 months’ time working as a CSR for that company before assuming a decision-making role, in order to learn the REAL impact of their decisions. If this were to happen, I believe that we would end up with more reasonable consumers and less “entitled” ones in the process. Will it ever happen? I highly doubt it…..but sometimes it’s nice to dream………….

  25. radio1 says:

    I think it is important to remember that the CSR is an actual human being.

    I have always gotten really good experiences from CSRs.

    Be nice and polite.
    Explain your issue clearly.
    Take responsibility for what you did do or what you did not know.
    Offer what you think would be an ‘appropriate’ resolution.
    Let CSR decide and listen to their options if your intended result isn’t an option.
    Do not escalate unless it is a real-belongs-on-the-front-of-Consumerist-issue.

    If you try these things and you are not getting a resolution. Thank the CSR for the help and end the call. Everyone does have had a bad day sometimes– so call CS again and get a different CSR.

    Explain the situation and the call to the previous CSR (they’ll know anyways because a ticket is generated) and ask if this was true (i.e. an appropriate resolution).

    I have always gotten at least satisfactory results with this approach. Most people do want to help you, especially if you are reasonable.

  26. jrs45 says:

    He’s absolutely right. The amount of whining I see here and other consumer advocacy sites is unbelievable. Sure, legitimate issues do sometimes exist, but more often than not I see people whining for remedies they do not deserve.

  27. jp7570-1 says:

    Bill’s views are understandably biased but partially correct. Yes, customers should take responsibility for understanding things like warranties and return policies. But blaming Zappos (or Costco for that matter) for “spoiling” us is just irresponsible on his part.

    The fact is there is no uniform standard when it comes to customer service (some would say there is a uniform standard and that it is “bad”). Just from personal experience, I have found that customer service is the first fatality at a store experiencing financial difficulties. Remember Circuit City? They were NEVER great when it came to service, but its downward spiral accelerated as it was in its final 18 months.

    The fact is that even when we read and understand a store’s policies, they still seem customer UNfriendly. For instance, many retailers charge a restocking fee of 15% to 25%, often for tech purchases. But if I am returning something that either doesn’t work, or perhaps wasn’t even opened (think gifts), then why should the retailer get a 15% to 25% bump just to put the thing back in inventory and on the shelf?

    These policies are not intractable either. Most stores used to sell gift cards that expired, usually afgter a year if not used. After great public outcry, today gift cards do not expire (at least they shouldn’t).

    Bill, maybe Zappos and Costco and all the other celebrated retailers are onto something. Yes, customers should take responsibility for understanding the terms of the transaction, but retailers must forego Draconian policies (I’m looking at you Best Buy and Sears) as a means to maintain long-term customer loyalty. Otherwise, we will take our business where we feel it is valued.

  28. dibarnu says:

    I occasionally (as in daily) did CS for a company I ran. The one thing that really turned me off from helping someone is them telling me how much money they spent with my company.

    It was a paid subscription website. 9 times out of 10 telling me how much you spent and acting entitled resulted in me refunding everything I could (the past 6 months) and canceling their account.

    And of those 9 out of 10 that I did that to, 8 of them would make a new account, pay again, and keep quiet.

  29. thor says:

    I also work in customer service.

    This is entirely true, we do sales of media and subscription content. Our policy is ‘No refunds’.
    But as agents we are allowed to provide a little compensation if we feel that we somehow wronged the customer (which can happen with glitches in networks, usually home networks but sometimes that means the content must be re-bought so we try to help them out with that)

    What this ends up happening, is that people who are honest, kind, and understanding get up to 2 months of refunds or about $30 on agent discretion. and people who claim to be lawyers and say that we are somehow violating some false advertisement because they couldn’t be bothered to read the first line of the agreement that we put up on the page during the purchase that says ‘This trial renews’ or ‘This content cannot be downloaded after suchandsuch date’

    Working at a call-center generally has a joke that you check your soul out at the door, you have to give bad news to good people, but you also have to take an absurd amount of abuse. Our days are generally made when we can actually help someone, but nothing NOTHING hurts more than realizing that we can help you to have you throw what we can do back in our faces and demand MORE for their own mistake. (“You want a one months refund let me” [interrupted] “GIVE ME MY MONEY BACK NOW! OR I’LL SUE”)

    “Why have i been billed for 6 months? i want a full refund!”
    Here is two months, we cant really do much more than that, you agreed to the renewal of the trial when you started it and we expect our customers to check their banks billing statements at least once a month. Two months refund is all we can do.

    To be perfectly honest: If people would read the first two lines of the TOS, not give their children access to credit cards, and look at their bank statements at least once every month our call volume would be cut down to 1/3rd of what it is today and the calls we would take would be significantly happier customers.

    • thor says:

      OH, and the comment
      “This is why [competing company] is beating your ass. I’m only going to do business with them from now on!”

      Has ZERO effect on us, we have no problem letting our competitor deal with you.

  30. terminationshok says:

    I think if you hate your job, you should quit. If your job title has “Customer Service” in the name, you probably should enjoy helping people. You probably should enjoy turning negative situations into positive ones. If you think that people calling companies with problems are losers and whiners, perhaps you would be happier as a nightclub bouncer. If you like to tell people about “Your Responsibility,” try working as an admissions counselor.

  31. july18 says:

    why is HIS ‘i’m not to blame’ any different from the customer he is complaining about tho?

    oh, that’s right – HE gets paid to deal with it while the customer pays to deal with it …

    • nolitt242 says:

      he probably isn’t getting paid enough for it. call-center jobs are awful.

      • TacoDave says:

        I’ve worked in a couple of call centers and it isn’t nearly as bad as many people try to make it sound. As long as you can turn off your “feelings,” that is.

  32. Harry Greek says:

    “A big problem with consumers in general is that they don’t like taking responsibility for their own actions.”

    Holy crap – THIS. There is such a thing as being a professional consumer. Meaning, you do your own f’in research, make sure what you buy is in your budget and stay calm as best as possible.

    Instead, you get brainless idiots (who even go as far as killing one another) that aren’t even aware of their own actions.

  33. CrazyEyed says:

    It’s been a long time since I was a CSR but I can most definitely relate. Many times customers are to fault for “issues.” Usually its a missed payment, didn’t click something, entered something incorrectly, didn’t read/ignored their mail and a whole host of other things.

    This person is partially correct as you must first start taking responsibility before trying to get something for nothing. Nobody should be obligated to give you something just because they are the company being paid and you are the one making the payment.

    On that same note, companies need to do a better job listening to problems and not develop a standardized method to send a customer through a maze of prompts that result in a dead end. Escalations need to be dealt with appropriately and I don’t think this happens often enough to insight consumer confidence anymore.

    • lauren6318 says:

      as i am not a CSR, and i don’t know what other people do, i am only speaking from my experience. In the last few days especially, I have had a number of astoundingly bad “customer service” experiences. Lest the OP forget, the CONSUMER is paying the company for a product or service.

      When I deal with a customer service rep who has an attitude like they are doing ME a favor… THEY ARE 100% in the WRONG. Your job exists because I purchased the product. I’m calling you because i have an issue with your product or service.

      DEAL WITH IT. THAT’S YOUR ONE AND ONLY JOB!

    • Rachacha says:

      “On that same note, companies need to do a better job listening to problems and not develop a standardized method…”

      Exactly. several years ago I had a standard “dumb” cell phone and I also carried a PDA with wireless data from the same carrier (but I did not include any voice minutes on that line). As smart phone technology improved, I eventually upgraded my “dumb” phone to a smart phone, and moved the data package over to my smart phone. I called up the cell provider’s CSR line and explained this and told them that I no longer needed my separate account/line for the PDA as I had combined the services into my main phone. The CSR understood this and asked how I liked my new phone before she launched into her “Save the account” speech from her manual which did not apply to me (after all, i was a happy customer of theirs, I was just simplifying my life by combining 2 phones into one while giving them the same amount of money each month). She finished her spiel, unable to convince me to not “cancel” my PDA account. This left me with a bad taste as while the CSR had understood what was going on, she was forced to read the speech that tried to convince me to stay, when all that was needed was for her to outline all of my legal rights. The call would have been shorter, and I would have been happier knowing that the CSR listened to my issues and was able to address those issues without making me listen to a script that did not apply to my situation.

  34. ldillon says:

    I really only have three ongoing problems with technology:

    1. Products that promise more than they deliver, usually in the way of half-baked features that do not work as advertised.

    2. Dumbed-down products that are difficult to use because they try too hard to be easy to use and wrap the functionality in a GUI designed for morons.

    3. Artificial restrictions in products (especially “smart” phones, but sometimes in commercial software) that keep them for doing something that they should be able to do.

  35. RaijinAndFuujin says:

    While it’s not always the case, there are customers who’re just plain stupid. In my opinion, if you do something so epically stupid, then you deserve to just be told you’re an idiot. I’ve worked as a CSR for years, and you wouldn’t believe how many times we’ve had to repair or replace parts for free despite people doing something so epically stupid. All because they raised a fuss and bitched hard enough when we tried to tell them that wasn’t covered under the warranty.

    Among these items have been:

    -Someone who stuffed bologna into the disc drive and then closed it.
    -Someone who placed the computer tower on something that had to have been maybe half the width of the computer itself without securing it. They then said we were making defective parts when it inevitably fell down enough and wouldnt’ turn on.
    -Someone who poured beer into the computer to “cool it down”.
    -Someone who said the phone should have been tested better yet it was melted when we saw it. I asked what happened to it, and they told us that they put it in the microwave. I know smart phones are fragile and all, but I’m pretty sure “normal use” isn’t going to be freaking MICROWAVING the damn thing.
    -Someone who dropped their laptop OUT THE FREAKING WINDOW and complained at us that it wouldn’t turn on.

    Seriously, if you do something that dumb, you deserve to be told what an idiot you are by the CSR. It’s one thing if you’re like that woman who called and wasn’t aware of something – that was just ignorance. but it’s another if you do something as wantonly stupid as pouring beer in your computer or microwaving your phone.