In defense of Comcast’s name-calling phone reps

A brief glimpse into the world of inbound call centers.

 

Mike Wehner

Tech

Published Feb 9, 2015   Updated May 29, 2021, 2:20 pm CDT

Comcast is in hot water once again after another customer came forward with evidence that a Comcast phone rep changed her name to something quite offensive. One Mary Bauer of Illinois found her name had been oh-so-subtly tweaked to “Super Bitch” Bauer, and she wasn’t too happy about it. This comes on the heels of an incident a week earlier where a bill arrived at a customer’s home carrying the first name of “Asshole.”

These are, as Comcast has noted, examples of unacceptable behavior on the part of its employees, and the company is investigating the incidents and has already parted ways with at least one of the offending representatives. That’s all to be expected from a company trying to keep from further tarnishing its own public image, and there are plenty of articles out there damning the phone reps and blaming Comcast for hiring them in the first place. I’m going to say something that none of those articles are saying: I deeply sympathize with those employees.

Before I began my career in journalism, I worked for several years as a phone representative. Not only that, I worked for a cable company, just like the reps who pulled these little renaming tricks. For over two years, I answered hundreds of calls a week and dealt with a countless number of customers, and I can say with confidence that unless you have done the same, you absolutely cannot pass judgment on these name-changing call-takers.

If you worked in a food service job, a retail setting, or any other industry where customers walk through the front door and get to look you in the eye, you probably think you’ve seen the worst that humanity has to offer. Yes, people can be rude in any setting, but nothing compares to how absolutely putrid otherwise good-natured men and women can be to you when they don’t have to actually see your face. I’m talking about the most nasty, abhorrent, cruel things you can think to say, with zero regard for how it might actually affect the person on the other end of the line. There are plenty of normal, level-headed callers too, but these are always overshadowed by the ones who simply want to ruin your day. 

Their Internet speed was a little slower than normal, so I was a “dumb piece of crap.” Their cable signal went out when they were watching an NFL game, so I was an “incompetent jerk.” (And those are PC versions of the name-calling.) A bill arrived that wasn’t exactly the same as it was the month prior, so the customer was going to “come down to that little office and blow [me] away.” There’s actually a dedicated system in place for calls like that last one; it happened so frequently that we had to report and track threats of physical violence against people who answer the phone at a cable company.

I’m based in the United States, which means I was one of reps who customers actually wanted to talk to. Any time a caller would land in one of the overseas call centers and demand to be transferred to the U.S.—as if we didn’t have the exact same computer systems as the individual who originally answered the call—I would routinely be subjected to a several-minute rant about how stupid my company and I were, and you can bet there would be plenty of racial slurs tossed in there for good measure.

Nothing compares to how absolutely putrid otherwise good-natured men and women can be to you when they don’t have to actually see your face.

None of this is out of the ordinary, and if you feel like convincing yourself that I just had bad luck, and that these reps don’t really have it all that bad, I’ll offer you one last little factoid: During my initial training, which took place with a class of about two dozen others, we were told on the first day that most of us wouldn’t be working there in a month’s time. Not because we weren’t capable of doing the job, but because most of us, inevitably, would quit shortly after training was over. It wasn’t a joke, but we all just kind of snickered and went about our business. After the two weeks of classroom guidance was over, we began taking live calls for the first time.

On the first day, four people quit. By the end of the first week, our class had been cut down to 10. After three months, I was the only one of my 25-person training class who had survived. I would eventually spend over two years doing it before moving on.

It takes a certain kind of personality to put yourself in the position to be verbally abused every single day and not simply walk out, and anyone who has worked incoming calls for an industry that spawns as much vitriol as cable knows that to be true. If you pick up that phone for a living, you’re going to see the worst humanity has to offer; there’s just no two ways about it. That’s to say nothing of the intensely competitive nature of the job itself, where your job is to get customers to buy more, even if the reason that they called in was to have their cable removed entirely.

The customers who received their bills with names altered may think themselves good, wholesome people—the woman who caught the “Super Bitch” moniker has admitted that after many service calls she was “a little hot” on the phone—and I’m sure they are, but let’s not overlook the fact that the calls that spawned these changes aren’t exactly a matter of public record. If one or more of them was spouting even a fraction of the nastiness I recall from my time on the phones, and the representative had finally reached their breaking point, perhaps they could be cut a bit of slack for taking out their frustration on something as inconsequential as the name section of a bill, and if not from their employer, then at least from the rest of us. 

Photo via Solarbotics/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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*First Published: Feb 9, 2015, 12:52 pm CST