Experiment 411: Transcending the customer call center experience.  

One of the most unpleasant tasks a present-day human can undertake is making the dreaded “phone call to customer service.”

A typical experience might involve, oh, say Verizon Wireless and a customer representative named “Cyrus.”* After waiting on hold for the requisite 25 minutes — a length the company hopes will provoke you to abandon your quest — the endless loop of grocery store jazz clicks off.

“Hello, thank you for calling Verizon customer service, my name is Cyrus, how can I help you?” comes a less-than-ebullient voice, hoarse with (presumably) cigarettes and coffee.

“I want to cancel my account,” you say with practiced authority.

There’s a long pause. Too long.  “Are you there?” you ask. Cyrus clears his throat, then asks for your first and last name, and the phone number associated with your account. You spell both names out so he’s crystal clear, and slowly recite the digits so he has time to type them correctly. Long pause. He asks you to repeat all your information again.  You do.  He asks you to spell your name again.  You clench your teeth. Now again with the phone number. Really? You wonder if Cyrus is in need of a quality hearing aid.  Or perhaps Verizon teaches him to torture you as much as possible.

Now Cyrus asks how he can help you.  You repeat your request. “I am calling to cancel your account and I want to assure that this takes place today, as I will no longer be paying an exorbitant bill for services that don’t measure up.”

Another long pause. Cyrus tells you he’s very sorry to hear that, and he will do everything in his power to assist you. Then comes a bombshell. “Unfortunately, I must tell you all the systems are down at the moment.”

You take a deep breath. You’ve prepared for this sort of dodge, so you ask Cyrus if there’s a street address he can give so you can write Verizon and cancel your account that way. He says no, the only way to cancel an account is through a customer service representative like himself, except of course that the systems are down so there’s nothing he can do right now.

You remind Cyrus of the Verizon promise, which reads: “With a positive culture and integrity throughout, the Verizon customer service team is one of a kind.” he hears you out without commenting. You then tell Cyrus you’ll be cancelling the recurring charge for Verizon services on your credit card in two days, so you demand he take your information down and then call you back when the system is up and he can cancel your account.

He says he will definitely take your information down, what was your name again? You repeat your name through teeth so clenched you fear you might crack a molar, and he asks how to spell it, for the third goddamn time. You spell it again for him. There is a long pause and he says sure, he will take care of this when the system comes back on line and give you a call back.  When can you expect to hear back from him? you wonder. Cyrus says he’ll “most likely” call you before the day is out.

But you don’t believe him.  Why should you, he’s done nothing but stonewall since the conversation began. You ask for his last name, the name that comes after Cyrus, for with his full name you can make sure he’s held accountable for his actions. He says he can’t tell you that, it’s company policy. You ask if you can have his extension number, so you can stay in touch with him and not one of the other 40,000 customer service representatives there to not help you. He says unfortunately he doesn’t have an extension, none of them do, that should you call back you’ll be helped by whichever one of the 40,000 unhelpful CSR’s answer the phone first, and adds that the individual could be anywhere in the world.

So after all that, after 49 minutes of your day that you’ll never get back, you do the unthinkable. You thank Cyrus.  You thank him because even though you know he won’t be calling back, there’s still a shred of hope that he will.  You hang up, defeated.

So what are the positives in all this?

  • You took action and made the call, knowing deep down that nothing would be accomplished. In SuperOptimist practice, this is known as “detaching from the outcome.” Maintaining equilibrium regardless of success or failure is a big step towards achieving nirvana.
  • You held back from calling Cyrus a “stupid f(&#@ c&*.” This shows that you retain level of empathy for your fellow human, who can’t help it if working in a call center in South Carolina is the best he can do at present.
  • You avoided telling Cyrus of the possibility that an explosive device could be detonated at his particular call center (a head fake, for sure, but perhaps effective to spur action from a minion at the multinational telecommunications conglomerate.
  • You are able to “defervesce” when you hang up the phone, adding a new word to your vocabulary in the process.
  • You decided that the $40 a month you’ve been wasting on the Verizon GoUnlimited plan you no longer use really isn’t that much to spend to avoid another call with the likes of Cyrus.  So you’ve detached from money too, which you’ve been trying to do for awhile now and maybe, just maybe, this is the experience that will free your mind from ever worrying about such petty matters again.  (Or at least until you get next month’s bill.)
  • You give yourself a gold star for all of the above.

* Verizon was chosen from a myriad of corporate behemoths who operate customer call centers. We could just as easily have featured Amazon, Wells Fargo, or 1-800-My-Pillow as teachers of transcendence for this experiment.