Most of the callers I speak with let me know right off the bat they think, given my job, I’m an idiot. They use condescending tones that are the physical equivalent of waving around ten-foot by ten-foot signs with the words plastered across the front. Also, they tell me so. “You’re a friggen* idiot,” they spit into the phone. Sometimes, just to drive home the message, they follow up the phone call with an email to our customer affairs department: Your idiots, they write. Go to hell.
On my rational-headed days, to all of this I say: fair enough. I, too, have encountered my share of seemingly less than intelligent customer service agents. And despite the rigorous training I had to undergo before I was allowed to touch a telephone, this job isn’t exactly one that requires the college degree I spent thousands on. So, while I despise listening to people grade my intelligence, I tend to do nothing. (Actually, I usually write them off as idiots in my book. But since I’m not allowed to do anything that would let the caller know my opinion of them, it’s nothing as far as they’re concerned.)
I used the word “tend” because I recently tossed aside for the first time the unwritten company policy of not engaging with callers on the state of our intelligence.
A male caller said, “I don’t care what your terms and conditions supposedly say. I didn’t understand them. Have you ever read them?”
“Yes, sir, I have,” I replied.
“Well, fine, you read them. But I’m sure you didn’t understand them. I’m a lawyer, and I didn’t understand them. So there’s no way you did.”
Feeling pettish after a day of calls, and resentful of the way he confused lawyer with intelligence (I was willing to write off the insult to my own—that I’m used to), I informed him that I had been pre-law in college, then went on to mention I had taken classes taught by a professor from a nearby law school. Obviously skeptical, the caller interrogated me briefly before realizing I was making legitimate claims. He then forgot entirely about the terms and conditions and proceeded ask, rather flirtatiously, about my relationship status and whether I could be found on the service.
Now, callers flirt with me on occasion, but only because they want a refund or an obscene discount and assume a little flattery will do the trick. Their over the top openings make it easy to identify them: “Wow, you sound hot. I bet all the other callers would be jealous if they knew they missed out on hearing your voice.” ”Today must be my luck day, ‘cause I get to talk to you. How’d [insert company’s name here] ever get someone as amazing as you to work for them?” Then they move on to the part where they ask me to break—not just bend—company policy, and I say no, and they call me a name or seven and tell me to put on a supervisor.
This call didn’t follow that familiar flow, and the confusion it caused was apparent in the way I stammered, “Uhh … I’m, uh, flattered. But let’s, um, let’s try and … focus on your refund request.”
“Can you do it?”
“Get me a manager.”
Now that was territory I was used to. Quickly, surely, I replied, “Of course. One moment, please.”
*Not the actual word used.