Send Us Your Customer Service Calls And We'll Mock Their Flaws

Call centers of the world, we’re gunning for your asses.

Readers, record your customer service calls and send them to us. We will post them and point out what went wrong. Something super bad need not happen. Let’s kick their everyday banality and inefficiency in the face. HP, AOL, Best Buy, Amy’s Ice Cream Store, Comcast, we want them all. Our maw is open and our belly growls.

Giving the voicebot all sorts of info, only to have the operator ask for it… unbearable hold times… disgusting hold music… reps cutting you off… getting transferred to wrong departments… put all under an arc-light’s glare.

After posting several, we’ll have a vote off and the winner will win a free copy of Quicken, or maybe a toyger.

Here’s quick primer on recording phone calls. We’ll edit out your personal information but you can make it easier by doing that with any number of audio editing programs like Audacity or Audio Hijack. After it’s ready, just email it to

We must mention that different states have different laws about recording calls. They’re somewhat vague and untested in relation to this particular case, but you should read them first.

To help get this party started, here’s our take on The Most Excruciatingly Painful, Yet Typical, Customer Service Call Ever

1. Pandering angelic chimes.
2. Pathetically uplifting hold music. What are we, caravaners on the amber waves of grain, getting ready to join the society for the perpetuation of awesome?
3. Who wrote the book that said it’s better for people with noticeable foreign accents to make up fake American names?
4. Dead silence for 20 seconds as “Chris” reviews Mark’s file. Why can’t he say “hold on a sec as I check your file out?”
5. Chris asks for serial number. It should already be in Mark’s file.
6. Chris asks for the model number, it should already be in the file, or in the database.
7. Oh look, Chris found the model number in his database. Guess he didn’t need it after all.
8. Why hasn’t Chris asked why Mark is calling?
9. Chris is trying to talk over Mark.
10. Why can’t Chris send out a new piece of software?
11. Why was it even necessary to request the model and serial number without knowing why Mark was calling?
12. What does being a technician have to do with sending out a piece of software?
13. 30 seconds of hold time.
14. Followed by silence.
15. Followed by Mr. radio demo tape leftover.
16. Followed by the same hold music as before. Have we started back at the beginning?
17. Call disconnected. The failure is absolute.

Chris obviously had no idea of how to handle Mark’s request. Rather than find out, he tossed the call down the phone tree well.

Congrats, HP, now your customer is even more pissed off. Don’t expect any repeat business. — BEN POPKEN


Edit Your Comment

  1. DoublePlusAnon says:

    You also have to consider this from the employee’s side of things from the call center too. I work in a call center for a certain snoopy branded insurance giant, and I make research calls to obtain info for case managers. Due to crappy computer networks and poorly designed internal computer programs, a sickly person on short term disibility could recieve multiple calls withing the same hour from the very same room. Also, case managers are completely geographically inept and so they may mark calls to ohio residents as pacific time, or calls to Pennsylvania as Mountain time. This results in getting calls after hours (which is illegal, I believe). Employees are intentionally kept in the dark regarding how claims are processed and so we are really unable to answer 90% of questions asked to us. A complaint I do have is that I wish people would shoot the messenger less. I hate delivering bad news, or I might not know that your actually in Eastern time, please don’t chew me out. If you really want to chew someone out or protest your disgust for the company, call the customer service center and ask to be transferred to a case manager. Their at the root of alot of your problems.

  2. mantari says:

    This could be interesting.

  3. eldergias says:

    Here is an interesting question, if you are on the line with customer service and you “consent” to be recorded in a two-party notification state (agree verbally, written, or if the other party has an audible beep on the line at regular intervals) then can you tape the conversation as well without notifying the other party? It would seem like that should be fine since it would be an exact duplicate of the recording made by the other party.

    I’m willing to bet that even on lines that Customer Service records they don’t allow customers to record. But there is a way to confuse the CSR and technically get consent for recording. Example conversation:

    CSR: My name is Dave, how can I help you?
    Customer: This conversation is being recorded.
    CSR: What?
    Customer: Before you came on there was a message saying that this conversation is being recorded, also there are periodic beeps indicating that fact.
    CSR: Oh yes, it is standard policy.
    Customer: Oh okay, so you are okay with this conversation being recorded?
    CSR: yeah, it is standard practice.

    I’m not sure if this is legal or not since it could easily be argued as misleading, but technically you just stated it was being recorded, then asked if it was being recorded, then asked if it was okay that the conversation was being recorded, not specifying which recording they are okay with.

    Sure it might not be “fair” but consider that the companies you would need to use this tactic with (credit cards, cell phones, ect.) give misleading statements about their services, omissions about parts of services, and misdirection to confuse the customer that are similar and worse than this tactic.

  4. aiken says:

    Will you also critique mistakes that the callers make, or is this strictly an exercise in “every consumer is honest and perfect, every company is corrupt and incompetent”?

  5. Ben Popken says:

    @aiken: Sure! Criticism for all.

  6. eldergias says:

    @aiken: The thing of it is that companies have standardized practices and policies for dealing with customers that the reps have to follow, customers have no such standardization. If a rep does something retarded to a customer it is usually due to company policy, or at least company training. If a customer does something retarded, it is just the actions of one dumb person, not reflective of a large body (as a company rep is). So it is a little more important when we see scuzzy customer rep activities because they are indicative of the company. If we see scuzzy customers, they are indicative of their the stupid customer himself, no one else.

  7. mantari says:

    @eldergias: But if there could be a learning opportunity off of something a caller does or doesn’t do, hey, that’s great for us. Actually, I imagine that there are a lot of ways that customers can improve the results of the calls they place.

  8. mattarse says:

    I work in a tech support office, and know it would be against my company policy for me to give you the recordings. However for every bad customer experience I “could” show you 10 where the rep on the phone has dealt with much worse.
    This is no excuse though, the tech support personnel have chosen to do this, whereas the customer has no choice but to call, and it really does depend on the company, some companies (like the one I work for) realize that a large part of there income is derived from the tech support offices, and strive to make work to the customers benefit, instead of just trying to be able to advertise how much customer support you get for the purchase price.

  9. econobiker says:

    For some calls, the call is not just being recorded but your voice is being fed through a stress analysis program to check for lying. The reasons they ask you the secret security questions is both to prove who you are by having the correct answers and check on the voice stress for truthfullness.

    The financial industry also uses these type of programs. I was late on a credit card payment due to lack of money (divorce, car repairs, etc) and the company called me to ask if I was going to send a payment. I honestly didn’t know at that point if a loan from a friend would come through so I told him I couldn’t say yes or no as I figured he would have an analysis program to check if I was lying or not. I then asked him if he had a program for this and he reluctantly said something to the effect “that customer reponses were monitored for stress patterns.”

  10. Buran says:

    @eldergias: They give you permission. They say that the call “may be recorded”. If someone tells me that I may do something, then they can’t complain at me if I do it.

  11. pc-vip says:

    Our Director of People Services (her title, no kidding, is “Chief Human”) and I JUST got off the phone. She was complaining about the state of our industry and basically telling me how happy she is to be with us.

    Here’s one: What about the old “Level One…Level Two…Level Three” schtick? It’s like they are TELLING you they don’t really want to support you at all.


    Jeff Yablon
    President & CEO

  12. Eugene says:

    Having been on both sides and in the middle as a reseller I can give some insight.
    Typically anyone taking these kind of calls has to use some sort of trouble ticket tracking system which was written by managers who like reports on what models of systems cause the most support calls and therefore cost. So the tracking systems force you to fill in a model/serial before you can get to the field where you enter the problem or can look up customer history so your forced to fill in something there.
    The other thing I see here is the caller was calling for a business but reached offshore support which means he was probably using a home pc (in HP’s case a pavilion). I saw this a lot as a reseller. There is almost no profit in selling one off pc’s to home users so all the big players have two different product lines, the home and the business machines. The home machines have less support and have all the “free” software included where the business machines don’t have all the “free” stuff but have better support. The cost is about the same for either product line but the home pc you appear to get more features since you usually get a bunch of software included so many people in smaller businesses will buy those home pc’s and then expect business level support when it goes down. if you want the business level support then you should be buying the business machines since they have that support built in. Though I used to get on to my sales reps at all the larger companies too since they would sell their home pc line in the office supply stores where small businesses bought all their supplies so a lot of people didn’t know any better.

  13. zaebra says:

    please be aware that your consent to have your call recorded for quality assurance is not the same thing as the customer service rep giving their consent for you to record their call for any purpose. i work in a call center, and this is an issue that i have looked into quite a bit. if we get a call where someone has said they are going to or have already recorded us, we are to end the call and transfer them to our legal department. just be careful, because a recording could find its way around and you might find yourself staring down the barrel of a lawsuit. (not being flame-bait, just trying to help everyone be fairly forewarned)

  14. zaebra says:

    oh, one more thing i forgot. calls that are recorded for QA absolutely can NOT be used in court or anywhere else outside of a QA program, because that was the only implied reason for consenting that the customer gave when they stayed on the line. i’ve checked in to that one myself with the head of our legal department. :)

  15. MrFalcon says:

    This could be GREAT! Will you guys edit out personal information from calls that are submitted to you? If not, you may wish to post some links teaching people how to do that…or state that you’ll edit out the info when you post.

  16. please be aware that your consent to have your call recorded for quality assurance is not the same thing as the customer service rep giving their consent for you to record their call for any purpose.

    @zaebra: Umm…yes it is.

    If the phone call is already being recorded why should it even matter if it’s being recorded again at the other end? That doesn’t even make sense.

    Only once have I ever called a company and heard the option to opt out of having the phone call recorded. If you require that customers allow themselves to be recorded to get support you can hardly complain if they do the same. Also, I’m pretty sure this was cleared up in an earlier Consumerist post on recording phone calls and that once both parties agree that the call can be recorded either may do so.

  17. thomkallor says:

    “this call may be recorded for quality assurance”

    Where in that statement does it specify WHO may do the recording? I am explicitly being given permission to record by that statement.

  18. urbanride says:

    I work at a call center. Yes a lot of the time I too think that some of the people you get at these centers are totally useless. But at the same time the total lack of knowledge and “it’s not my fault its yours” attitude of clients its very frustrating and totally unproductive. Now i work for an internal north American help desk for a major telecom company. I should post some of the calls that i get and see how it sometimes feels from the other side.

    Mind you our help desk is for business users only so we are not like your normal desk for end users.

  19. Ah, found it (or at least one of them):

  20. Eugene says:

    I like the message “to insure quality your call may be recorded”. So I asked once if my call could be recorded so I could be insured quality support.

  21. Andamom says:

    While I did not get it on tape, my favorite most recent experience with customer service was with the United Airlines call center. I had a layover at Dulles when flying to San Juan. The layover was delayed –and by the time my flight arrived, it was 1:00 am. I was tired and had my two children with me. When our bag never arrived, I filled out the requisite paperwork and was told that my bag would be delivered.

    The next day, I still did not have my bag –so I called the call center. After repeated disconnects, I waited for 30+ minutes to speak with my first representative –Shruti. I explained the situation to her and she told me that my bag was “in-transit”. When it still did not arrive that evening, I called multiple times –finally getting through and again waiting for a representative… This time, I was even more frustrated as all of our clothes, my son’s food, and our toiletries (including my husband’s glasses) were still “in – transit”. This time, I had to reexplain my situation –which took at least 20 minutes of time –and then I had to explain the geography of Puerto Rico to the representative.

    When I called the third time, it took various hang ups and waiting nearly 45 minutes,the representative Sumit came on the line. He kept saying that I had flown in to San Jose –but I repeattedly explained that I was in San Juan which is located in Puerto Rico an island in the Caribbean. Then, I explained to him the proximity of the Caribbean to the United States and so forth. After that, I repeatted the explanation of the situation and everything I had said to Shruti and representative #2. After an hour on the phone, he apologized but said that there was nothing that could be done because the bag was in transit. Then, my husband got on the line. He was irrate, reexplained our situation, and then hung up –apparently as Sumit tried to offer him a $25 coupon.

    Yes, our luggage did arrive at a later point –after a call to the Puerto Rican luggage service delivering it. It was strangely cold –and the guy delivering it came at midnight after picking it up from the airport…

    Ah –customer service.

  22. Nytmare says:

    In PA, recording is not allowed unless all parties consent, with the specific exception that telemarketers and customer service personnel may record them “for the sole purpose of training, quality control or monitoring by the business”.

    That means they can record the call with or without your permission, but you can’t without theirs (in PA).


    Yeah, VocaLabs released a taped recording of a Dell phone call, I knew they sounded familiar.

  24. elysium1298 says:

    HP technical support tried the same “A clean install is the only solution to your problem” bs I refused because I knew they were clueless. HP tech “support” problem if you want to call it that, is that they have no idea what they’re doing, it’s all about senseless time wasting troubleshooting. I only bother with them since my dvd burner die and my machine was still under warranty, and by they way if you need a replacement part for you pc you’re only entitled to a refurbished part not new, or as they called “New but that has had internal part replaced before, but works “”””LIKE””” new”. Which I informed after received two used dvd burners and placing a complaint against HP with, it’s was not my assumption that I was expecting a new dvd burner the phone tech support explicitly said “Yes sir you will be getting a BRAND NEW whatever brand dvd burner”, which was later corrected by the non outsource QA manager that contacted me two days after I filed the complaint
    To be honest I was fed up with it, since I had been week since my first called to HP and I still did not have a working dvd burner, which now a days cost less than $40.

  25. strathmeyer says:

    I think the most important thing to point out here is that HP is not actually providing customer service. They advertise it in their television commercials and on their website, but when it comes down to it, they are not able to provide any actual service to the customer. Oh, they can get some foreigner who knows a bit of English to read a script to him, but when it comes down to providing a basic, easy, simple service to the customer, HP is unwilling to do it.

  26. kuipo says:

    also be aware, that if you treat a csr like shit, they will also treat you like that, believe me, i understand that almost all of the time is the company’s fault and you expect some kind of apologize at least, but come on! they are real people on the other side of the line, treat them well, and they may as well do the same ;)

  27. oldhat says:

    When the computer informs me that this call “may be recorded” I correct it by saying “No, this call will definitely be recorded.”

    If they are going to have computers talk to me, then why can’t I talk back to the computers?

    If I ask humans about how or why the computer does something, they say they don’t know and have nothing to do with it. *

    So it seems like the recording negotiations is between me and the computer! The human is just doing its role.

    So hopefully, if and when it ever comes to it, a real human judge will decide the law in a fair and just manner. And when it’s Human vs Computer, the human judge will be on my side.

    And if the company doesn’t want to stand behind what they say and do, they can conduct business with me via written, registered mail. If they want.

    * Like ask me for info only to have to repeat it to the human, or transfer me to the wrong dept, or hang up on me, etc.

  28. eldergias says:

    @Buran: I absolutely love this interpretation of that line. Never thought about it before, but you are correct. If it says, “This call me be recorded for quality assurance” it never says WHO may record it. You have made me happy.

    @zaebra: If a customer asks you to turn off the recording of the conversation are you capable of complying? If not, and the only way for a customer to talk to a CSR is to be recorded, and customers are not allowed to record the conversation, where CSRs are supposed to end the call if they know they are being recorded, this would seem like an impossible to defend double-standard. As the consumerist article Rectilinear Propagation pointed out, companies have no expectation of privacy since they are recording the calls in the first place. Also, the recording laws stipulate that both parties must agree for the conversation to be taped, but they do not specify to be taped by whom. At the beginning of the call I am told it may be recorded and by staying on the line I am agreeing by action to the recording of the line, so both parties have agreed to allowing the line to be recorded, but there is no stipulation of which party is allowed to do the recording, either by the company or by state laws.

    @nytmare: They do have to disclose to the customer that the line is being recorded because they have no way of knowing if their caller is from a state where both parties need to consent. If the caller is from such a state, then both parties must agree, because the dual agreement state laws override single agreement state laws. If they didn’t have to do this then why do they do it anyway?

    Finally, I work in a brokerage firm and there is a special recording law that applies only to brokerage firms to prevent anti-trust issues. Feel free to skim the NASD regulations. I may be wrong, but this is what my COO, CTO, and compliance officer have told me.
    I’m not entirely sure they are correct, but they said that we never need to inform other parties of our taping even when doing it across state line, due to NASD regulations on communications with brokerage firms. I have been looking through the NASD Regs trying to find what they are referencing, next chance I get I will ask them.

  29. Squegie says:

    I can understand that if a recording wasn’t agreed upon prior, it couldn’t be used in a court of law.

    However, a recording for your personal use, or for a group of interested parties, is glorified note taking. Students taking a tape recorder into a classroom or lecture hall are very familiar with the ease of a tape recording vs taking notes. If I wrote down every word of a telephone conversation and posted it online.. it would equate to about the same thing.

    I don’t know the specific laws on this, but that’s how I feel it should be.

  30. eldergias says:

    @Squegie: Yes, however recordings are evidence while notes are hearsay. Students can record classes because the professors have no expectation of privacy, the class is public, not private. In a one on one tutor session with a student you might have a different situation. Also, lets say that someone records a conversation for “personal use, or for a group of interested parties” then someone else appropriates those recordings, they could be used against you in court (there is precedent for using possibly illegally obtained certain types of evidence so long as the lawyer himself did not procure it, from what I understand). There is a reason why companies have the “this conversation may be recorded for training purposes” disclaimer at the beginning of calls. If they did not need that disclaimer they would not use it.

  31. TheGlassEye says:

    I truly wish US firms would do one of two things:

    • Stop outsourcing customer support to the Philippines.

    • Spend time and money training the Philippinos to whom they outsource support, both technically and in how to speak US English.

    I use Charter Communications for broadband and Earthlink for Web hosting. Both firms have outsourced virtually all customer support to firms in the Philippines. In the rare instances when I have to phone them for a support issue, e.g. a service outage, it’s like playing Russian Roulette with five out of six chambers loaded. Invariably I have to educate the CSR on the problem and what needs to be done to correct it at their end. Often they don’t understand what I’m saying, despite the fact that we’re supposedly both speaking English, and I frequently can’t understand what they’re saying due to the CSR’s accent. They also waste my time by being nauseatingly obsequious in each call, apologizing for the problem rather than fixing it.

    Atop this, they also try to “up-sell” services to me that I don’t want. Whoever thought that attempting to sell me a new service when I’m calling because the existing service doesn’t work should have their head examined.

    Charter also outsources some work to a group in Canada: the language and training issues don’t exist with that group.

    GE is known for outsourcing CSR work to India, but their service is generally excellent as they spend the money training the CSRs, both technically and in speaking US English.

    When asked, I’ve started recommending people look to firms other than Charter or Earthlink for the services I buy from these firms as the customer service provided by their Philippines outsourcing provided is so dreadful.

  32. infmom says:

    This was several years ago. One of my most frustrating customer-service experiences was when DayTimers was still selling their own Organizer software. Mine worked fine for a while and then started freezing up, refusing to sync and most annoyingly refusing to print. In those days I was using a Philips Nino WinCE PDA but I still wanted a printed-out address book to stick in my paper planner.

    Called tech support. Explained the problem. The tech started off on the wrong foot by assuming I was a clueless newbie. I pointed out that I’d been using personal computers since 1983, had an A+ certification and we could assume that I probably did know what I was doing. OK, that cleared, we tried several things and just couldn’t get it to work.

    Tech said he would escalate it to a higher level, and when would be a good time for the higher level tech to call me back? We set up a time and date when I would be at home.

    Time and date came and went, no call. Two days later I got home from work and found a message on my answering machine from the upper level tech who had called when he got around to it. Naturally, their phone number was closed for the night. So I sent an email that used no bad language but expressed my feelings on the matter quite, quite clearly.

    I got an email back from the higher level tech who was very miffed indeed at being called on the carpet for not calling a customer back when he was supposed to. This led me to be even more emphatic about the impossibility of my taking his call at home at a time when I was at work, and since he was supposed to be the higher-level fixit guy, what about fixing my software that wouldn’t print?

    Well, the upshot of that was that he didn’t know how to make it work either. He sent me to a couple of ftp sites to get unpublished updates that didn’t solve the problem. He offered me a copy of Lotus Notes instead of Organizer and I turned it down (gack, as if that’d be a solution). He sent me to some super double secret site where I could pick some kind of consolation prize for my software not working. No dice. I didn’t want any of it. I just wanted to for pity’s sake print out a stupid little address book!

    Eventually all concerned gave up. I never could make that software print again. About a year later, I got a Palm based PDA and discovered what the problem was: The software really just wanted to sync with Palm, not WinCE. By that time, DayTimer had flat-out discontinued the software. I wish the uninstaller had come with a GOOD RIDDANCE key.

  33. scooter7 says:

    I am a manager in (insert large Japanese electronic company name here), and here is my take on the call recording issue. 1) I always told every one of my reps to assume that they were being recorded on every call, and that they should not worry about it, since they were doing the very best that they could, if it ended up on TV they would want their mother to listen to see what a good job they were doing. 2) There is really no reason for the customer to worry about any legal issues about recording as the firm has given permission for the customer to record the call (and of course for the firm to do so as well) by the “this call may be recorded…”. Think of it like a sign “These candies may be eaten to satisfy a chocolate attack”. The “may” gives both permission, and acknowledgement that the action is only a possibility. Please do not think that recording is universal, it’s not. The calls that are recorded are reviwed by the “Quality Team” and each person may only be able to do 1 or 2 per hour – since after review the QT person has to have a feedback session with the rep to go over the call. So a 5 person team may only hit 40 calls a day, out of maybe 10,000 that are answered. The job is both hard and fun for the reps, and it helps if the customer is truthful about what happened and is able to follow instructions carefully. By the way did you hear the really old one about the WordPerfect rep who told the lady to take the computer back to the store because……..?

  34. Voiced_One says:

    My complaint isn’t so much about the Customer Service calls as it is about the Customer service itself. During Christmas of 2007, I picked up the phone in my home office, and called a Benjamin Office Supply and Services located in Rockville, Maryland. Their Customer Service, a David W. Waters not only answered their phone but offered me a 30 Day Invoiced Business Account, which I accepted. It took almost three weeks to get their catalog, but I chocked that up to the Holidays.

    When one finally arrived the week of January 16, 2008, I placed an order. The order was delivered in two increments. However, when I went to place a third, the Owner of the business, a Sanford Benjamin, found that his employee had opened up an account WITHOUT the proper paperwork being at hand, and basically flipped the script on us, threatening to Call the Local Police (He’s located in a different State) because I would not let him come to my home office and pick up a check for what he had already purchased, claiming that he doesn’t think he is going to get paid or anything else all of this without Cause – and all of this because we are African-American. He had been given no indication that he would not be paid when the bill arrived – which has YET to be issued and Nothing is Past Due or even Due.

    What he wanted to do was to correct the error of his employee who screwed up something through us: but we are making them stick to the Verbal Contract that we were given. We were never given a limit of how much we could order, and we were never told that we needed to complete ANY paperwork for this account. It was a Good Faith Account. And in Good Faith, any bill I get will be paid “when” it comes due and not before.

    I had to block the contact numbers of these people from our phone to maintain silence and leave orders that No Visitors will be accepted for us to keep him away from the building. No emails from them will be received or other messages. Anything that they send will be returned. The man is clearly a racist, and never wanted blacks to have accounts with them – which is fine, because we will endeavor to make sure that No blacks do business with them. We filed a Better Business Report against him the same morning that all of this jumped off, when he called “us” screaming on the phone. He even made up a lie at one point, about coming and bringing me a brand new television and a box of their chewing gum to try and entice us to end the 30-Day Invoiced Contract and pay him now. I saved all of his recordings. He looks like the idiot that he is.

    Might I suggest that everyone stays away from this place:

    Benjamin Office Supply
    760 East Gude Drive
    Rockville, Maryland 20850
    Sanford Benjamin / President
    David W. Waters / Account Executive