Customer Service Burnout

The ‘fun’ customer

I’ve been working in customer service for quite some years now, first in a store and later online/on the phone and frankly I had enough.

When working in a physical store, people tend to pipe down when they are unhappy about service, price or product. The discussions tend to be more civilized. Don’t get me wrong, I agree that customers deserve a great service but some tend to go overboard with downright unreasonable requests. I wasn’t prepared for the abuse and intimidation that comes with being a customer service representative on the phone. And the saying the customer is always right doesn’t always fly.

My first non-physical job was when I worked for a FB-game company. Sometimes there was a hick-up when people made purchases but if they showed us their transaction we made sure they received the items. You get daily freebees and that’s where the ‘fun’ part started. Like all games, you can have a glitch and not get the freebees. Most people just get a bit annoyed and move on but for some this was a trigger to send very threatening e-mails. An example that sticked with me for years that our team received around close the Christmas and it went a bit like this: ‘I hope your Christmas tree catches fire and you and your whole family perishes.’ Welp, a Merry Christmas to you too and this all about freebees. I’ve seen quite some e-mails with all caps and exclamation marks and several threats in my time there.

The next job was promoting a country as a tourism office, this was actually bliss. Sometimes people were annoyed that their free brochures didn’t arrive or were stolen but I can’t recall that we received any threats or intimidating phonecalls. People were just happy they were planning a holiday. Best years of my life.

But then I moved back to my homecountry and the misery started. I found a job at a telecom company and most of my callers had money issues, they had arrears and when the amount was so high, their services were locked. Which meant you can’t call, watch TV or use the internet until you pay your debt. Usually there are more issues, we weren’t the only company they owed money, but some people just blew a fuse by making serious threats. One man said he was going to find me and slit my throat if I didn’t lift the lock on his TV signal. You might think why do you care? Well this guy knew exactly were our callcenter was and had in the past showed up at the door. No fucking way did I feel like this was nothing to me. After this my Facebook profile went on private, I never put employers info on it, nor a photo of myself.

At each different call center I worked it was just rinse and repeat of similar incidents. And it starts gnawing at your core. When confronted with shouting and threats, you just drop the line. Some callcenters make you warn the customer 5 times before you are allowed to hang up. Really great when you have a customer shrieking like a banshee or throwing every disease under the sun at you. There was also another type of customer that was just plain malignant, their insults weren’t brought in shouting fashion but they tore you a hole in your soul by attacking your IQ because you don’t work in a worthy position. Plainly said: ‘Because you are dumb, you have to listen to me insult your position.’ They might hear my quivering voice but they won’t hear my tears after the call.

My last position, being the first point of contact for the local government, triggered my PTSD and blew my anxiety through the roof. Mind you, my employer did everything in their power to make it safe for us to work. They did way more then commercial companies ever did when faced with threats. They actually filed police reports against civilians whom had crossed the line in a terrible way.

Pre-Covid some calls were tough, people could blow a fuse but we had clear instructions just to disconnect the call immediately and file an aggression report. But when the pandemic hit, fuses became really short and the times we had to file an aggression report increased tenfold. I understand people were frustrated with the sudden restrictions but standing in front of our window and saying to the colleague you’re talking on the phone that you see them, is not making us feel very comfortable. You tend to look twice when exiting the office. I’ve been called a whore, a slut, I’ve had many incurable diseased wished upon, people were going to find me and rape me, etc, etc. And each time a little piece of me died.

Insomnia became my partner, I was having tremors in my legs, and before work I was so stressed that I vomited. Every symptom of anxiety attack hit me. I wanted to flee during the conversation and took a long while to calm down. I was diagnosed with PTSD and went through extensive therapy and EMDR to cope. But the sweating and heart palpitations never went away when I got a ‘tough’ call. I started to hate people in general. My SO said to me you actually love people a lot but can’t deal with the fact that some dissapoint you. I’ve always went the extra mile to help people but when they become abusive I don’t have the energy to spare.

When my manager said, this is work that won’t make you happy in the long run, I knew deep down inside it was true. I want to help people, but the downside of it was ruining my health. I went from 32 to 24 hours so I had extra days to recover. Would I be spending the rest of my life like this? I keep everything locked up inside, and I was looking at a stress build up that would kill me in the long run. I just can’t let it slide or grow a thicker skin.

I wished companies would take better precautions with phone aggression and intimidation. You can’t play it off at people’s mental conditions. As a sufferer of bad mental health I never went out of my way to destroy a person on the phone. Even if I felt the company had wronged me, because it is my duty to stay civil.

My resumé is online as I need to find a new position but I am not going to return to customer service. I had enough. Sleep hasn’t returned to me yet, but I’ll be okay in the end.

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