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Rebroadcast: Is customer service bad on purpose?

A United Airlines Customer Service Center at Denver International Airport in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
A United Airlines Customer Service Center at Denver International Airport in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

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When the digital gadgets and online services our lives are built around don’t work –welcome to the nightmare that is customer service.

You have a problem with your cell service. Or your printer. Or your cable service. So, you go online for help. And up pops the chatbot.

“It says, ‘Ask me anything!’ And you ask it something and you get a few questions in and realize that it’s not going the way you want. So, you pick up the phone and you call customer service.”

Press one. Press two. Try to find a human, but you can’t.

Today, On Point: Is customer service bad on purpose?


Jeannie Walters, founder and CEO of the customer experience consulting firm, Experience Investigators.

Jared Spool, founder of Center Centre, a user experience consulting form. Former professor at Tufts University’s School of Engineering Management.

Also Featured

Marc, employee at a call center in Florida for a mobile phone company.

Transcript: Life as a customer service agent

MARC: The mental stress that we get on a day by day, by trying to not only deal with irate or upset customers, but we turn around, we have irate or upset managers about why we’re not performing at the level they’re doing.

Or can you imagine talking to 70 people on a day-by-day basis, yelling at you about things that you didn’t even cause the issue in the first place? And that’s back-to-back to back-to-back.

CHAKRABARTI: So that’s Marc, who works in customer service for a major cell phone carrier.

We also heard from Jennifer, who also works in customer service. She lives in Pennsylvania, and she worked in customer service for 30 years in exactly the kind of industries that we’re talking about today. Web sites, digital marketing, the like.

JENNIFER: The amount of abuse that just obliterated us, my coworkers and I, for so long since 2020. It was just unbelievable, and insane and so unhealthy. And any time I could get a grateful, thankful, patient, considerate person on the phone, I held onto that call because it helps you get through your day.

CHAKRABARTI: And Jennifer wishes that when people do finally get to a customer service agent on the line, as we’ve mentioned, that they’d remember one thing.

JENNIFER: This is another human being. As much as you’re paying for a service, you’re talking to a person just like yourself. And that seemed to be just gone from a lot of people’s minds because of everything everybody’s been dealing with in recent years.

CHAKRABARTI: However, Jennifer also sees it from your side of things, from your point of view, because she’s a customer too. And not long ago she had a free day to catch up on things she needed help with, like her retirement accounts or health insurance, trash disposal, things like that.

JENNIFER: Almost every number I called had a callback system, because there were not enough live agents in the moment available to be able to help. So, I think it was three or four different sets of calls I did. I didn’t reach someone right away. I had to wait for them to call me back.

And I didn’t realize that had become the norm. Because I just haven’t made calls in a while, because I haven’t had time because of working my day. So that was a cultural shift that I found interesting, you know, in the job industry and seeing all the impacts of what’s going on in the world of 2020.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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