Confessions Of A Customer Service Rep: Dishonesty Is Part Of The Job
So who is that person on the other end of the line when you call customer service to troubleshoot problems with your cell phone? What's the experience like for him or her?
As it turns out, the customer service rep is probably having worse thoughts than you'd imagined, if you believe Reddit user Cyberphonic, who claims to have worked for a year and a half in customer service for a major cell phone company. According to Cyberphonic, the culture is more dysfunctional than even some of the products that the industry creates. [Note: Reddit's "Ask Me Anything" section uses anonymous sources, which can't be verified. Excerpts that appear here retain their original spelling and grammar.]
In sizing up how customers get treated, here's how Cyberphonic put it: "I regretted not being more honest with my customers about their options for cancellation or managing their bills." The rep later added, "I felt like a scumbag at the end of most days." (The gender of Cyberphonic was not apparent from the Reddit post.)
Regardless of how excruciating the experience is for everyone involved, customer service jobs are growing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the sector is expected to see 15 percent growth by 2020. Current average annual salary is $30,460 per year, according to the BLS Occupational Outlook Handbook. (Are you looking for work as a customer service rep? Start your job search here.)
Cyberphonic reports leaving the industry after having worked at one of the big four mobile networks. (The rep preferred not to mention the name of the employer, but insisted they all have the same culture.) Cyberphonic then explained the modus operandi behind the dissembling in the industry: "The retail sales team will lie their ass off to get commission and then say, 'Well the fees, etc. were outlined in the contract.' "
Not everyone in the sector agrees with Cyberphonic's dismal assessment of the field. According to the job search aggregator, Indeed.com, cell phone industry employees, including customer service representatives, gave 4 out of 5 stars to their employers, the four major cell phone companies. And customers appear to be equally satisfied. According to a report put out by the American Consumer Satisfaction Index in May, 3 out of 4 cell phone customers say they are satisfied with the customer service they receive.
Cyberphonic says customer service reps are receptive to helping out customers -- if treated nicely. "Most of the workers hate the company more than you do, so be nice, get them on your side and don't be pushy." Indeed, it's important to charm the reps, Cyberphonic says, because "supervisors have the ability to approve adjustments for just about everything. And a good agent can talk their [supervisor] into issuing an account credit for just about anyone."
The rep described some of the common tricks, and called out two that might sound familiar to customers:
1. Giving two-year contracts with five lines to people who make $28,000 a year, and so "can't afford a [$]300 phone bill."
2. "Keeping people on the phone for two hours and transferring them to five departments instead of just issuing a $20 credit."
"Pretty sh--ty," was how Cyberphonic assessed the treatment of customers.
And so this year, the rep left the job for which pay was "phenomenal" and the work was "easy." (Cyberphonic didn't get into specifics about actual salary figures.) And the schedule wasn't too bad either: 24 personal days a year, in addition to two weeks vacation a year and paid holidays. "The schedule," Cyberphonic added, "was very flexible and overtime incentives and benefits are some of the best I've worked with."
How did the rep feel about foreign customer services representatives doing the work?
In spite of the rebuke of current industry approaches, Cyberphonic did maintain the importance of not just the work itself, but also crucially having it done by workers who can fully understand and communicate. "You can get straight talk for $30 a month but if something goes wrong, you're best off throwing your phone in a fire." And so the comparable rate of $80 for an American rep is worth it, Cyberphonic said.
When speaking in general about the telecommunications industry, was there any company whose product was worth admiring?
Apple and its iPhone. They do their work "extremely well," are great with user-friendliness, and if Apple "finds a software problem (which is rare) it is usually fixed in 24 hours. This isn't the case with Androids."
And what about crazy experiences on the job?
They are common, said Cyberphonic, and calls come "from people who just needed someone to talk to." But bizarre phone calls can go further than attempts for a little intimacy. One time, the rep said, a man called from a subway at around 1 a.m., requesting to see his wife's Facebook messages, something his company obviously didn't have access to. The caller suspected his wife of cheating on him. "I kept explaining to him that he needed to talk to his wife," the rep said, and "not his phone company."
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Dan Fastenberg was most recently a reporter with TIME Magazine. Previously, he was a writer for the Thomson Reuters news service's Latin America desk. He was also a reporter and associate editor for the Buenos Aires Herald while living in South America.
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