Customer Service Reps Give Out Fake Names

Heard a very interesting story tonight from the friend of a United Airlines customer service rep. Apparently when you call up United customer service, the name the customer service rep provides may be completely false. That’s right, they sometimes make up the names they give you. These names are registered in a database, so when someone calls up to register a complaint about customer service rep “Peter Parker,” United knows exactly who they’re talking about. Undoubtedly, this practice extends to other companies as well. Nothing particularly earth-shattering, just interesting that while a company knows everything about your credit and purchase history, and most certainly, your name, they still feel compelled to use false identities. Probably a good security move, nonetheless. — BEN POPKEN


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  1. cabinaero says:

    Why is this a problem as long as there’s an easy way for a company to trace a complaint back to the employee?

  2. levenhopper says:

    ya, i don’t see a problem with this. it’s probably a security issue. if someone got mad, all they would need to do would be to find the city the call center is located in (not hard…they will even give it away if you ask while on the phone making small talk), and since they know the person’s name…they could be really nasty.

  3. strathmeyer says:

    Yes, levenhopper, but the same is true of the caller. The people who want your personal information are afraid to give you theirs.

  4. North of 49 says:

    I can understand security issue as the reason why.

  5. I spent a whole year at one call center with the alias “Obsidian Moon”. Aside from all the joking, I had an email address with microsoft under that name, a name badge with my picture and the name, all of my logins, ect… Nothing new here. Even my certs came in with that name. Great way to track when your employer sells your data for marketing purposes.

  6. mantari says:

    I this it is hilarious when I’m talking to someone from India, and you just know that they’re using a stage name. Partially because of the akward pause before their name, and partially because of how bad they end up saying their name. For example, take Roger:

    “Hello, my name is [pause] Row-jer. How may I pro-vide you with excellent customer service today?”

  7. seanT says:

    UAL customer service has been farmed out to India — they still provide elite FF’s, and some international travelers with US based customer service agents, but most are based in India. And they all use americanized names…not because they want to lie to you, but because it’s easy for you to remember Sally, as opposed to Shanti.

  8. Scuba Steve says:

    When I worked support long ago we all used our real names.. But then again we didn’t have to deal with money issues or quality issues.

    I don’t think I would have been fired for using a fake name, but then again our names weren’t tied to customers, our line numbers were.

  9. tremorchrist says:

    Same reason radio personalities use false names; when you piss someone off you don’t want to make it real easy for them to be able to wait for you in the parking lot after work.

  10. cabinaero says:

    @mantari: Be very careful with that. Certain accents from the Philippines would pronounce ‘Roger’ as ‘Row-jer’ and, in the Philippines, Roger is a very common male name.

    In a former life, I used to work in a call center in the Philippines. We let all our reps use their real names if they wanted to. (And, for the record, I with my midwestern accent got chewed out a few times for being a ‘furriner’. Not sure what to make of that.)

  11. valthun says:

    I really don’t have a problem with this. Being in CS myself, I have seen co-workers get threatening calls to their homes, and in some cases the call would go to a mom, since the kid hadn’t registered a new phone to their own apartment. Or there is always the threats on the customer service reps life. Why would you want to give out your real name so that the one crazy and pissed off customer can track you down?

    In our office we simply don’t give out our last names. But we do provide a badge number.

  12. jbohanon says:

    This reminds me of a Dilbert where his company started outsourcing calls to Elbonia. I’m sure I’ll get the names wrong, but the last panel said “My name is …I mean Bob”.

  13. jbohanon says:

    Oops. I didn’t realize anything I put in angle brackets wouldn’t show up. It was some 20-letter long name.

  14. SkaldGrimnir says:

    I’ve been in call centers where the use of false names was common. I have always used my first name. I refuse to give out my last, but have no problem giving out my rep number to allow tracking.

    I personally have had my life threatened 4 times. Once by someone who knew the address of the call center.

    We took those threats very seriously.

  15. CharlesJBarry says:

    I’ve worked at my fair share of call centers and this was common practice at most of them. In fact, it was encouraged, especially for the female employees, for all of the security reasons listed, and more. Of course, we had to register our alias with the company for accountability.

  16. frankadelic says:

    If you give out your real name you end up like Mike Jandreau. I work in CS and I can’t think of any reason why a caller would need to know my full name.

  17. golgiapparatus says:

    One time this customer got really angry and kept asking my one of my managers for his last name, but he wouldn’t give it to him, because, uh, he was scary. The customer started getting angrier and saying he was a manager and how he would gladly give out his last name and how he couldn’t believe my manager had made it all the way to management and all sorts of shit like that. My manager was super calm, he just wouldn’t give him his last name. He told him his first name, and that he was the only person by that first at our store. I honestly don’t understand why that’s such a problem. I wouldn’t want to give my last name to that guy, either. He asked two other guys who work with me what my manager’s last name was, and they wouldn’t tell him either. I did, however, find it amusing that I was the only employee at the store at the time that he didn’t grill about the manager’s last name or the proper procedure for handling the situation he was angry about — but I also happened to be the only girl working. Hooray for sexism? I was scared of him, whatever.

    This comment was way ramble-y, I’m sorry, it’s late.

  18. kim says:

    I have a girlfriend that worked a call center for collections, and everyone was asked to use false names.

    When I was in retail, I was able to convince managers that using false names on our in-store nametags was a good idea, too, after one of our female workers was stalked via phone and in person by a dork that got her real name from her nametag. Don’t be so sure Bruce at Barnes & Noble is really Bruce!

  19. gorckat says:

    I’d be very interested to see if the instance of work related crime/violence against call center (and retail, I suppose) workers is significantly higher than the rest of the population. A fan of Bruce Schneier’s security blog, I’ve acquired a skepticism of perceived risks like this.

  20. dbeahn says:

    I’ve worked in a call center before, and I happen to have a very unusual last name – I mean like I’m the only person in the US with my name, and there are only about 70 people in the US with my last name.

    If you think I’m going to give that name to someone screaming at me that they want my name, you’re mistaken lol

    It’s a safety issue.

  21. weisen says:

    American Express, from what I’ve been told, sends letters out with fake names.

  22. brattpowered says:

    It sounds like they’re just trying to protect their lower level employees. Since there are ways to track back to the employee that someone spoke to if there is an issue, I don’t see any problem with this whatsoever.

  23. Paul_e30 says:

    When I was a phone jockey with Dishnetwork’s (Echo Star) Tech Support, we were required to give out ONLY our (real) first name. If warranted, we were required to give out our OpID to be identified within the company. We had strict guidelines as to when we had to give it out. Examples: Un-resolved resolutions, installer damage, anything Billing related (inquiries, payments, PPV, etc.). This basically motivated employees to be 100% accurate, because if a client called back and said “well, Paul said this and that and here is his OpID!” that person’s supervisor would get a phone call about it. Getting reamed for screwing up was not fun. it also was good thing too. Dish rewarded employees with vacation time, merchandise, and (my favorite) your supervisor had to take 5 calls in your place, if a client called back to say “Paul w/ OpID did a bang up job and should have his $8/hour wage tripled!!”

    All accounts had to have highly detailed notes on it and those notes were stamped with the CSR’s OpID as well, so tracking down what the person did was easy. I don’t see why some companies have to resort to “fake names”… its creepy.

  24. KatieKate93 says:

    I occasionally pull the dreaded “Phone Duty” at the small manufacturing company where I work; company policy is to gently but firmly turn away all cold sales calls. On occasion these people get belligerent and rude (as if that would get them the name of the person who handles our photocopier account), and they always receive a fake name. On the other hand, those who are polite and/or potential or existing customers always get my real name. This is not a very large company, and I regard it as a matter of safety.

  25. outsiderlookingn says:

    Since I work in a call center, even as a supervisor, I will not give out my last name. You can have my first name, my badge #, my e-mail address, the e-mail address for my boss or the corporate addres, but no matter what, you will not get my last name. There is no reason for you to be given my last name and we have a policy in place that employees are not to give out their last names or the location of our call center.

    In the past when we gave out last names and our location, we received gifts, threats through the mail, bomb threats and employees were stalked.

  26. youngatheart says:

    Who really cares—you can never get that person bsck if you call and ask anyway.
    However I really believe that security is the main reason

  27. Indecision says:

    @gorckat: “…I’ve acquired a skepticism of perceived risks like this.”

    What’s it matter? Using a fake name introduces zero cost, and makes the employees feel safer. Besides, let’s take a look at all the possible scenarios:

    1) Fake name, no threats => Everyone’s fine
    2) Fake name, threats => Everyone’s fine
    3) Real name, no threats => Everyone’s fine
    4) Real name, threats => Someone maybe gets killed

    Look how there’s only one possibility of a negative outcome, and it involves the use of real names. As the Virginia Tech guy showed us, some people are f*cking nuts, so why take the chance when the solution is free?

  28. WV.Hillbilly says:

    I have a friend that works for the IRS. They use a fake name when dealing with people. He even has business cards with that name on them.

  29. number9 says:

    quote: Nothing particularly earth-shattering, just interesting that while a company knows everything about your credit and purchase history, and most certainly, your name, they still feel compelled to use false identities.

    As a person who worked in multiple call centers in the past, most people you’re talking to DO NOT have access to your credit. And it’s a crappy job, that normally pays a little more than McDonalds.

    Last I checked, you don’t deserve death threats, verbal abuse, etc for that kind of money. No one does.

    Maybe working in a call center for a year will change your attitude, Ben. Because right now it’s a little piss poor.

  30. Karmakin says:

    Work in a call center myself, use my first name, but policy is not to give you the last. I’ve only seen a potential issue with this once or twice, to be honest, but once or twice is too many (although, they really wern’t that serious, more annoying than threatening)

    I don’t see the point of not giving your real first name. It would take too much mental energy to make it up I would think.

  31. kdwade says:

    I noticed this with Chase’s credit card customer service, which is a nightmare to deal with. The first woman I talked to told me that her name was Janice and her employee ID number was so-and-so, then she said she couldn’t help me and forwarded me to someone else. The next woman told me her name was Kelly, and when I asked for her employee ID number she said Chase doesn’t use employee ID numbers. The next woman told me they’re not allowed to give out their names. I pictured a little room with four people in it, and all of them passing the phone around and giggling over my jacked-up 32% interest rate.

  32. ReccaSquirrel says:

    This is something I have wanted for some time at my call center. I have a very unique name and deal with some very angry people. I don’t mind giving out my first name, but I have problems that I have to give out my last name if asked. There is, unfortunately, no way around this policy.

    I can, however, state that I’m happily no longer on the phones but the other representative aren’t as lucky.

  33. Mike_ says:

    When I worked for an ISP, I had a customer track down my home phone number and call me at 7:00 am on a Saturday looking for tech support. I was a sysadmin, rarely interacting directly with customers, and my email signature had my first and last name. Someone must have forwarded something I wrote, and that’s all he needed. (I tore him a new one and hung up on him.)

    When I worked there, standard procedure when asked for a last name was to say something like, “I’m the only Bob here. Ask for Bob.” Sometimes, that wasn’t good enough, so it became, “I don’t give out my last name.” That makes the CSR sound paranoid, dickish or both. I think giving a fake last name is the better approach.

  34. TM says:

    Cruthfield has been doing this for a long time. Not just so that you can “complain” about someone. But if I call back and say I spoke to Steven or Joe, there is only one of each one working the phones. It makes a lot of sense, I dont have to remember extensions or anything. This may have changed recently, as they’ve grown, but I used to find it amusing.

  35. universasluser says:

    As above, I worked at a call center and personal security was taken very seriously. This place implemented the fake name policy after an incident involving a former employee with a pretty unique first name, that name being part of his custom car paint job, and a mentally imbalanced customer who lived close (and knew he did) to the call center.

    Does it matter to Joe Public, as long as the call history can be traced to the rep, that they talked to Bill or Rich or William? I don’t think so.

  36. davere says:

    My ex used to do tech support for Compaq. It was not weird to have a customer bring the computer to the call center and ask for the tech they spoke to to come out and help them.

    Obviously they were escorted out.

  37. htmom says:

    It’s pretty hilarious to get the UAL reps in India because it’s clear they try to pick names that sound “American” like “Wyatt Earp” and “John Wayne.”

  38. etinterrapax says:

    I used to work support for a now-conglomerated HMO, and we had to give our real first and last names to callers. It was a nightmare. We got death threats regularly, especially when the company’s stock was down, and we didn’t live far from the customer area that our center serviced. I took a pay cut to process claims just to get off the phone. I think there’s some lady in West Nyack, NY who’s still out to get me because we denied her daughter’s infant’s nursery claim. She went through the support staff like a virus.

  39. brattpowered says:

    Ben– thanks for adding on, “Probably a good security move, nonetheless” to your post. I used to work at a call center where bad blood was the name of the game. I’m glad I wasn’t required to give my real name.

  40. bbbici says:

    There are only a handful of people in the world with my last name, as it is nonsensical and unrelated to any language.

    Therefore I use it everywhere: bars, online, whatev.

    I like to encourage stalking anyway, it makes life more fun.

  41. ScramDiggyBooBoo says:

    And all this time i thought that Indiana Jones cared about me at Dell? I thought it was just coincidence.

  42. Valerae says:

    I happened to call American Airlines this past Sunday and spoke with “Mike” who was clearly from India.

    I was calling for bereavement fare which was quoted at over $100 more than the tickets I could buy via Expedia or Travelocity. Gave me the warm fuzzies.

  43. Shutterman says:

    The old story on here about the guy from Lycos may have shown why fake names are used.

    Although, most of the time when I call a CS number, the person mumbles so badly I can’t make out the name they give me to begin with.

  44. Echodork says:

    @Paul_e30: When I was a phone jockey with Dishnetwork’s (Echo Star) Tech Support, we were required to give out ONLY our (real) first name.

    I was a Tech Support rep with Dish Network from 2002-2003. We had the same policy, real first name and OpID only. At the time, DN had a strict policy about first names… we HAD to use our correct legal first name, and if we were caught giving a false name, it was a bad QA score at best and termination at worst. At least, that’s what I was always told. Of course, we had a girl there who had a running list of fake names she used, everything from “Destiny” to “Jasmine.”

  45. upokyin says:

    “interesting that while a company knows everything about your credit and purchase history, and most certainly, your name, they still feel compelled to use false identities.”

    The nurses at the hospital know what I look like without pants on. When I try to get the same information out of them, they get all pissy. Hypocrites!

  46. When I managed a reservations call center, we had everyone use their real first names, and refused to give out last names. If there were complaints, we knew either by the first name, or if there was multiple people with the same name, based on when the call took place, or by looking at the reservation and seeing who booked it.

    However I once had issues with a credit collections agency (stupid USPS for not forwarding stuff like they are supposed to)…and they used names like “Ms. Black”, “Ms. Green”, “Ms. Orange”…I felt like I was in Reservoir Dogs…and they were assholes about everything…(I know they have to get money from people who don’t want to pay them all day, but when I’m trying to be nice, work with me a little bit)…

  47. dwarf74 says:

    Yeah, I can’t see how this is even news.

    It’s smart security and costs nothing.

    I gave out my real first name at both call center positions I’ve worked. If asked for my last name, I’d tell them I could not do that but gave them my ID number. That way, if someone needed to find me through official channels they could. On the other hand, if they wanted to find me through the phone book or anything else, they couldn’t.

  48. Nemesis_Enforcer says:

    Lol I worked at two Call centers in the past one was an national Alarm Company and the other was Health Care. We only gave out first names and ID’s. I cant even count how many times we had people come to our offices and threaten us. I drove an old beater I bought for $500 because our cars were always getting keyed or tires slashed. We even had the FBI at our office for a few weeks after 9/11 since we were a national alarm center for high priority people.

  49. spidra says:

    As long as it’s consistent and the company still knows what rep someone talked to, I think it’s pretty understandable. Though I did my damnedest to be an advocate for customers, there are still crazy folks who have an undeserved sense of entitlement and a hair-trigger temper. I worried that one would start Googling me and hound me when I wasn’t at work.

    Having a “nom de guerre” also allows the rep to have more freedom in their private life if they blog or have a considerable online presence. They don’t have to limit their off-the-clock speech as much for fear they’d lose their job.

  50. royal72 says:

    i understand the need for protection, but give me a fucking break. the reason a csr may need anonymity is because they and/or their company fucked up. add to that, the automated phone system that guarantees it’ll be 20 minutes before you even talk to a human and then every scripted apology, ie: “i apologize for that sir, i will certainly help you with that mr. so-and-so.” how can you expect people not to be pissed?

    lol, it reminds me of the wonderful bullshit argument, “if you have nothing to hide, then…”

  51. acambras says:

    Every time I’m on the phone with Chase, it seems to be with someone from India. So when I’m on the phone with “Caitlin” or “Larry,” I’m thinking those are not their real names.

    Yes, I’d definitely remember if I talked to a CSR with the last name “Squirrel.” ;-)

    I totally understand the reasons to use pseudonyms and that’s fine with me, although it’s good if there’s some sort of ID# that I can get so that if I had a problem, the company will know which CSR is calling himself “Wyatt Earp.”

    Just a couple of weeks ago, I spoke with an AT&T CSR who offered only “Karen H.” as her name. That was good enough for me.

  52. Blackneto says:

    i don’t have a problem with fake names as long as there is consitent tracking of who is taking what call.

    people can be vicious to call center personel for any percieved slight.
    I’d hate for Suzy Sunshine to get attacked IRL because some jackhole didn’t like the job an installer did.

  53. I worked at a company that conducted phone surveys and it was a constant gag amongst the 30-40 people making the calls each shift. As we sat there coloring in our coloring books (the favorite activity amongst call center employees) we would make up fake names and pass them on to the caller. On smoke breaks we would sit around and tell everyone that we just called someone as “Buster Cherry” or “Ivanna Tinkle.”

    On a related note: never, ever, hang up on these calls. You are marked as a dropped call and will be called back the next day – always tell them to take you off of their calling list and wait for the person to confirm they have taken you off. Of course, you are only removed from that current campaign and not all campaigns, but at least you won’t get called again tomorrow.

  54. JohnMc says:

    United Airlines excuse, can’t think of any. They have big call centers and should be able to use proper names.

    Small companies are a different matter. A lot of folks wear multiple hats and rather than confuse the customer we use a pseudeonym. One company I worked for used the fake name Francis Parker. If a customer called the main switch board for support and asked for Francis the operator knew which extension to send the call to. Whoever was covering that line knew what was associated with that name and acted accordingly. Easier on the customer and on the rotating staff to boot.

    Sometimes using fake names are done for a purpose not associated with trying to lie.

  55. dwarf74 says:

    @royal72: You can’t be serious. Are you saying that a CSR’s safety should be put at risk because their company has bad policies and long queue times?

  56. Marce says:

    That’s pretty sick. I work a combination of phones and front desk and always give my real first name. You can’t have my last name, though. There’s no one else in here with my first name, so I’m not about to let someone stalk me because I “ruined” their financial situation.

    A previous boss claimed he would give out a fake name over the phone when he was a student.

  57. Elvisisdead says:

    @bbbici – you’re Prince, aren’t you?

    My company operates a call center in Manila, and the reps have fictitious names, logins, everything. When I was adding users to the system, the first one was Fred Rogers. The second was Ginger Alle. So, I brought up the issue because of SOX compliance. Apparently, if each employee has an individual alias and you have a system to track what employee is what alias, it’s OK.

  58. MarkMadsen'sDanceInstructor says:

    I fear that we aren’t too far away from the day when customer service reps just decide make up different names every time you call so you won’t be able to file any complaints against them for poor service.

  59. CoquiCoqui says:

    The last CSR job I had the company asked us to make up fake names (I was Juan Assole and I still crack myself up over that one).

  60. digitalgimpus says:

    I always heard that was standard policy for csr’s. I thought they all did this.

  61. North of 49 says:

    As a person who worked in multiple call centers in the past, most people you’re talking to DO NOT have access to your credit. And it’s a crappy job, that normally pays a little more than McDonalds
    The call centre in town here pays just slightly more than McDs if you get the right contract. But the raises and advancements are far better at McDs than there. I’ve heard of 0.07$ raises in a year vs 0.25$ raises quarterly from McDs.

  62. kuipo says:

    i always give my first and last name… my REAL ones.. now again.. i’m on mexico.. so i guess there’s not much of a problem, also i can assure you i’m always good to customers :) and a recomendation!
    ALWAYS! be nice to reps!.. and i mean ALWAYS! even if u’re reaaally pissed off or something… if someone treats me nice.. im more than willing to try to help them or give them credits.. even if it’s not comcast fault or something but yeah.. be nice to us :)

  63. Miguel Valdespino says:

    There’s another issue – what about the CSR that gives out a pseudonym that’s different from the one registered to them? They then become untraceable and can do whatever the hell they want.

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  65. dantsea says:

    From a call center management perspective, fake names are all about keeping that average handle time down — at least with offshoring contracts. In the next-to-last job we found that most Americans will short-circuit when they hear a name that sounds foreign, taking anywhere from three to five minutes to process it, writing it down, asking for the correct spelling, rambling on about it, etc. Having the agents use Western names slashed queue times by about 70 percent.

    As far as figuring who did what with your account if they’re giving out a fake name, bear in mind that the person touching your account leaves an electronic trail that includes their real name. You may have talked to Joe, but we can tell that it was actually Navdeep or Sumati who looked at your account.

    For the record, as a supervisor, I always gave out my real name — first and last. As far as threats went I had quite a few. I would always remind callers threatening to track me down that I already knew where they lived and worked and to give it their best shot at finding me in the five minutes it would take to report them to their hometown police. I appear to have survived.

  66. ApathyGirl says:

    I’ve worked in many call-center environments (both in-house and outsourced) in a variety of positions/roles. They all pretty much had the same policy regarding how I was to identify myself:

    1. Use the same “real” first name on every call. Most places I worked, “real” could be my actual first name, my middle name, a nickname, or an alias – as long as I used the same one, every time.

    2. If requested, provide last initial only. This included other reps, leads and in some centers, supervisors.

    If pressed for more identifying information, nearly all the large/multiple site/outsourced centers I worked for would instructed us to say which call center we work in and the First_name/Last_Initial of our supervisor. If pressed beyond *that* we were told to escalate the call up.

    There were companies that allowed me to use my own judgement about providing my full name – using the ‘real’ name rules above – but I hardly ever have. It’s just not necessary. My firstname/last initial AND location I work in AND firstname/last initial of my supervisor ought to be enough to track me down. Not only that but nowadays, my username/login “fingerprints” are logged from the moment I look up an account – even if I don’t make any changes or leave notes. It may not be something the next rep you get can look up, but I guarantee management or the Quality Assurance monitors can.

    Also, getting caught giving a caller a different/fake name will typically get me written up. If I’m suspected of attempting to deliberately mislead someone? Grounds for termination.

  67. thrillhouse says:

    This also makes it easier for them to back out of an agreement by saying, “Peter Parker? No he doesn’t work here. You must be confused.” or, “Bobby? no, he got fired, but he used to make all kinds of crazy deals like that.”

  68. abysmalbeauty says:

    I work for a rather large bank and personally I wish we were allowed to have an alias. Not only do we have to use our real names but we have to clearly pronounce our first and last name at the very beginning of every phone call. Being that i have a very unique name (only 3 associates in the bank have the same first name as I do) and i also have an RI accent, its pretty easy to track me down. Luckily I have not had any angry customer try to track me down however I have had customer who thought “my voice sounds hott” track me on myspace just by knowing my name :/

  69. Fusey says:

    Wells Fargo call center employees have fake names as well. I worked at the Sacramento call center and everyone there had the last name ‘Sanders’, and every person had a unique first name. You can always trace what call center you’re speaking with based upon the surname of the representative.

  70. Mindym22ct says:

    I used to work in call center where I had to answer the phone, every call, with my first nad last name.It made me VERY uncomfortable.