When it comes to manning the phone banks as a customer service representative, you have to have patience, a desire to help the customer resolve any issues and, most importantly, a sense of humor. Sometimes, the person on the other end of the line is just completely insane, yet it's your job to make sure they hang up the phone happy with how you handled their off-the-wall complaint.
Read on for some of the craziest calls these professionals ever fielded; and next time you call a customer service line with a problem, remember that the person on the other end is truly ready for anything you have to say.
Looney tunes television station calls
I didn't realize that when I took the job as a receptionist at one of the local television stations in Spokane, Wash., I was really taking a job in customer service. We weren't selling anything or providing any services that people would be paying for. I thought the majority of phone calls would be news-related and forwarded accordingly to the news department. So imagine my surprise the first time I received a call from an angry viewer who had all the self-righteous fury of a customer wronged!
Within only a few days of working at the TV station I had gotten the gamut of "crazy" telephone calls. A viewer one morning called in to tell me how "embarrassed" she had been to show our morning newscast to a friend visiting from out of town because the weatherman's shoes were "old and dirty." I wasn't sure what his shoes had to do with his ability to predict and inform about the weather, but I promised to pass her message along.
Another viewer called in to inform me that she thought it was "disgraceful" to have anchors on the air together who were "obviously sleeping with each other." This was the first I had ever heard of this alleged affair, for as far as I had been told both anchors were happily married -- to other people.
Yet another viewer called to say she didn't care for the colors in the station logo and graphics; they made her "annoyed and uncomfortable" and if we didn't change them she would no longer be a regular viewer. While I was actually inclined to agree with this viewer, I also knew that a lot of time and money had gone into creating those graphics and that changing them would not be on the schedule in the foreseeable future.
However, the most memorable calls I received during my tenure on the phones at the TV station were those that were completely bizarre. A viewer called one afternoon to complain about something happening on another station. She had tried calling their offices, but no one had answered so she called our offices instead.
Then there was a viewer who called to demand to know why we weren't showing our normally scheduled programs. When I assured her that we were, she argued that we were not. I had a television set at my desk, tuned to our station all day long, and it was showing our normal programming. So I assured her once again that we had not made any changes. This argument went on for some minutes before the viewer finally realized she was on the wrong station.
Viewers would also call in to report on events and situations they thought were newsworthy, but sometimes those calls were a little more insane then serious. A gentleman called one morning to let me know he was being followed by the government. He was sure of this because every time he was driving on the freeway he could look behind his car and see cars following him. I took his contact information and promised to deliver it to the newsroom.
Answering the phones at a TV station will give you a crash course in customer service, from dealing with calls complaining about commercials, about public-service announcements, about audio volume, even about the lack of commercials when our servers crashed one day. And every call had to be taken in a polite and professional manner -- not the laughing or screaming or crying fashion that I was tempted to unleash sometimes. After two years of handling calls at the TV station, I think working in an actual "customer service" job might actually be easy!
-- Melissa Voelker
I'm considering changing my name to "Hello! This is Sierra. How may I direct your call?" I repeat this line about 300 times a day, five days a week, for nine hours a day. I work as a receptionist at a busy car dealership. I've been there for about six months and I have my fill of crazy calls every single day.
My favorite, though, was right before Thanksgiving of last year. I had an older gentleman call and, even after I answered the phone by identifying the nature of the business -- a car dealership -- he gave me his life story. Not only did he give me his life story, he told me he was trying to find a thermometer for his turkey fryer. I very nicely told him, yet again, that we were a car dealership, and we didn't sell turkey fryers, let alone turkey-fryer thermometers.
The gentleman immediately went into a expletive-filled tirade about how I was a liar, that he hates women lying to him, and that now (thanks to me) he hates all women. I apologized (while trying to not laugh into the phone) repeatedly while he kept going for another three or four minutes, ranting about how he would never trust another woman again.
Then, suddenly he calmed down. It was like someone threw a switch and changed his personality. He was flirting with me! He told me I had a beautiful voice and was so very nice and kind. I really didn't know what to do except to say thank you.
As soon as I opened my mouth, the switch was flipped again. He was angry and screaming about the thermometer and promised me I'd never get his business ever again if I didn't tell him the price of our fryer thermometers.
I apologized again and he hung up. Never in my 25 years have I talked to such a strange person.
I wish he would call back. I miss him.
-- Sierra McConnell
My name is Kate, and I'm 27. During the course of my career, I've worked at several places answering calls as a customer service representative, including both Charter Communications and Kaiser Permanente.
I got a lot of crazy calls when I worked at Kaiser, where I was part of the tier-two support staff, where calls were forwarded if the original call center could not resolve an issue. But the nuttiest call I ever received was from a man who, quite seriously, wanted to know if we would cover castrations for religious purposes. He explained he wanted to be castrated and he even managed to rattle off several Bible verses supporting his case, before I could get a word or two in edgewise.
I worked in the Medicare processing department, so specific procedure coverage wasn't even our area of expertise, but I was pretty sure castration wasn't a procedure that would be covered! It was up to us to explain enrollment and disenrollment as those issues pertained to federal law. Apparently this caller had been shuffled from queue-to-queue after calling the 800 number connected with our support center. I forwarded the call to my supervisor, who then forwarded the customer's contact information to a regional agent who could call the man back and explain specific procedures covered. I never heard whether he got what he wanted, but I sure hope not.
When I worked the 2PM-to-11PM shift at a Charter Communications call center, I regularly got calls from men who wanted to order adult pay-per-view titles. Easy enough -- even though it was even easier for them to order their selection through their remote. Calling me meant they had to wait 15 minutes in queue. I would confirm their selection by repeating back to them the channel name and time block ordered, but many of them wanted to insist I read the salacious title back to them. That seemed to be the only reason they had called in. I politely and repeatedly declined. Sadly, those calls were common for every female on the closing shift. We just learned to laugh it off, but keep our dignity.
-- Kate Pesich
The pantyhose pervert
My name is Lucy, I'm 50 years old and I work for Orchard Brands, a company that sells clothing and useful household objects to seniors from a variety of catalogs. I've worked for Orchard Brands for almost a year now and have received calls from all sorts of people, not just the elderly -- customers ranging from polite to irate, some who are just plain stupid as well as some who are bored and just looking for something to do. I field anywhere from 25 to 50 calls per day. Most of the calls are from women 60 and older wanting a new suit for church or a pair of our ever-popular white pants; but occasionally we get something a little more interesting.
Apparently, some restless thirtysomethings have little else to do but sit at home and make prank calls. One particular caller is very well known around our call center. Many of us have had the "good fortune" of getting him on the line, since the call-in assignments are random.
He calls what he must know is a company geared toward older people and always asks the same question. He can't even come up with new material to keep us entertained! Everyone here handles calls in a different manner, but my favorite method is to play along whenever I know someone isn't actually ordering something.
This youngish-sounding man comes on the line and says that he's just bought a new pair of suit pants and wants to know if he can wear pantyhose under it, in order to keep things warm and under control. It becomes obvious that he has flustered others who have received his call, so I remain cool. Dealing with this joker is quite entertaining after talking to deaf old ladies all day, so I respond by saying, "That would be fine. Is it black?"
He's really disappointed that I'm not surprised or embarrassed and continues to try to startle me by clarifying that he's a man and he's not sure which pantyhose can go under his suit. I reply that he should probably match the pantyhose to the color of his suit, but otherwise it should be fine. He's growing increasingly frustrated by this point; his call is not as fun as he had hoped.
I tell him that we have hose with tummy control and hose to keep your bottom looking firm, will he be needing either of these? It sounds like he growls on the other end of the line, so I continue detailing our color options: black, nude, brown, tan and white. I also tell him we offer a discount if he buys five pairs or more. On the other end he has obviously given up, shouts "never mind" and hangs up. Five minutes later, I heard the person in the cubicle across from me saying that men don't need pantyhose. I just laughed and continue taking orders for skirts and short heels.
This is by far the most fun call I've ever gotten the pleasure of handling, and I've gotten it more than once. He just can't be satisfied. Pantyhose selection is, after all, a vitally important issue!
None of us has ever gotten in trouble for dealing with him in whatever way we saw fit. As fast as possible, was the method advised by most of management, since we need to move on to paying customers. The managers get just as frustrated as we do with prank callers. Customer service isn't always as dull and monotonous as it sounds. Some people go out of their way to spice up our day.-- Lucy G.
The lascivious trombonist
A symphony box office is probably the last place anyone would think would get strange phone calls from ranting ticket buyers, but occasionally, we do get some very interesting inquiries. Most of the time, the crazies who call us are older folks who are either delusional or just feel like complaining, but in all cases it seems that the crazy calls come from people who just want to have someone to listen to them.
I have worked for the symphony for four years as the sole group sales representative for the company, and occasionally I also sub on the reception lines when we are especially busy. I typically take or make about 40 calls in a day, which means that I spend a fair chunk of my work days on the phone. I've gotten calls from patrons insisting that the same season seats they have had every year since 1992 were being moved more and more to the right every year, as if the hall itself were physically shifting.
I've also made a phone friend out of one of our more, let's say, "overzealous" patrons, who insists that we should be throwing tickets for unsold seats out in the streets and giving them away for free so that more people can come to our concerts. That particular patron also happens to be a poison specialist with a doctorate, who will occasionally send us lunch "anonymously" when he thinks we're actually doing a good job getting people into the hall. So far, no one has died from any potential poison he might have had laced into the sandwiches he sends -- but I still try to stay away from the food he sends, just in case.
The best call I ever got, though, was from a patron saying that he wanted to sue us because our trombonist was gay. Or at least, he believed our trombonist was gay. Apparently this patron had gone to a concert featuring our principal trombonist the weekend before. He complained that his seats were terrible, but that the trombonist could see him from the stage, and was making advances with his eyes, while he was playing. Yes, the man insisted, the trombonist had been looking directly at him the entire time and had made him uncomfortable during the length of the entire performance. He not only wanted his money back, but he wanted to sue the company for sexual harassment.
Now, this man's seats were upstairs in the mezzanine. The trombonist was seated in the back of the stage, with 60 string players in front of him and full lights bearing down, which would really make it impossible to see beyond the first four rows of the audience, and that sight-line is there only if you're sitting in the concertmaster's seat. Yet according to this patron, he had been mentally stripped of his clothing by the trombonist's eyes while the concert was taking place.
On the day he so kindly brought this matter to our attention, this patron called back at least 20 times, one call every five minutes, in order to speak to "someone in charge." He asked to speak to our executive assistant. To that, he yelled, "No! I want to speak to someone in charge and you will let me speak to someone in charge!" Needless to say, every time he called, we told him voicemail was his only option; and each time that answer was not well received. After about four hours of calls to our main line, the patron gave up and finally stopped calling.director. We said he could speak with the executive director's
So what did I learn from this? Never underestimate the kinds of people that make up a "symphony crowd." Some of them are crazy.
-- Annette Grieshaber