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