We’re all probably familiar with the sort of customer service that leaves a bad taste in your mouth and a touch of anger in the pit of your stomach. It’s the sort of so-called “assistance” that would take a very well-adjusted person to be able to call in with a legitimate complaint or concern and leave without feeling even the least bit swindled. And at the last place I worked, that exact sort of service was our specialty…

Confessions of a Bad Customer Service Rep, Part III

I never figured out if our CEO really hated the people whose support provided the basis of his livelihood, or if he just hated humankind in general. But he really did seem to love giving our customers the hardest time possible. And rather than reprimand a customer service representative for being unkind to anyone who called in with a concern, he actually applauded the snarkiest of them. And the rudest of them all was a man – let’s call him John – who was quite hilarious in person, but also quite terrifying were you to ever be unfortunate enough to get on his bad side. Our CEO loved everything about him.

John sat right outside our CEO’s office, and as I was only a few desks away, I was lucky enough to be able to hear his shrill voice mocking customers day-in and day-out. During my first week of work, I clearly remember listening to him speak so rudely and with such mockery to a customer that I was actually in shock. I wondered how he possibly had the guts to do so with the CEO within ear-shot. (This was before I learned all of the customer-shaming policies my company had in place, of course). It wasn’t until one day, after one particularly harsh conversation, I heard John reprimand a customer in a way that made me cringe in my seat. But when our CEO came out of his office, he was doubled over laughing.

“What did she want?” the CEO cackled.

John informed him that the customer had been complaining about our product arriving broken into pieces, but she had gotten “snooty” with him. Our CEO laughed harder. “Yeah,” he said, “those do break easily. But way to tell her off! That was hilarious.”

I was confused. Had I just witnessed unnecessary rudeness not only being condoned, but actually celebrated?

I thought maybe I had missed part of the story. Maybe this was a repeat customer who always caused problems. But as it turns out, I’d hoped too highly. This was merely standard operating procedure with John, and our CEO positively ate it up. The more John’s rudeness could make him laugh, the more he encouraged the behavior. I often listened to John hang up on a customer mid-sentence, and everyone around him would laugh.

“Did you really just hang up on that woman?”

“I didn’t want to deal with her anymore,” he would chuckle.

Lead by Example. But, where are we going?

This behavior encouraged other employees to follow suit and cop an attitude with customers as well, cultivating a weird sense of camaraderie within the office (though not necessarily a good kind). Our customers were no longer “people,” they were pawns in the big game of business. Who cared if they were satisfied with their service? As long as we already had their money, nothing else really mattered. A strange “us-versus-them” mindset purveyed across the call center, and looking back, it’s almost mind-boggling that we had any repeat customers at all.

Karma, and the Golden Rule

I always wondered if my coworkers realized how awful we were treating others, or if they really thought this was just the acceptable norm. And then one day, a wonderful thing happened. It started off normally enough; I heard John out in the call room, berating someone over the phone. But something about this one sounded slightly different. I tuned in, listening closer, and quickly realized that he wasn’t on a work call. No, this one was personal business. And he was more frustrated than ever. His vocal volume rose, his pitch got higher. As it turns out, he ended up spending his entire lunch break arguing with his cable service provider over unfair charges to his account… until I heard him slam his receiver down hard enough to cause a small earthquake and scream, “They seriously just hung up on me!”

The entire office was silent. After a few moments, I peaked into his cubicle to catch him resting at his desk, face in hands. “Geez,” I heard him sigh under his breath. “Customer service these days.”

Now that’s what I like to call karma.