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Responding to an absurd claim from a customer.

QI'm a customer service team member for an auto manufacturer. Recently, a gentleman called requesting to speak with someone "high up." When I asked him what the issue was, he refused to say and continued to request that he speak with a supervisor. I didn't want to upset the guy even more, but in order to get him to the right person, I told him I had to know what the situation was. After a moment of silence, the caller finally told me that he had flooded his new SUV while he was launching a boat. As he put it, "I backed down the boat ramp and stopped a little past the launch point, and when I got out to roll the boat off the trailer, water came pouring in through my door and totally flooded the interior. It's obviously a manufacturer's defect, and I'd like it fixed!"


To say it was an unusual case would be an understatement, so without a word, I transferred the call to my supervisor. Unfortunately, I never heard how she handled it, and now I'm curious. What would you have said to the caller? (The cause of the flooding seemed apparent to me and probably worth a joke or two, although I know a joke would have been inappropriate and cause for a disciplinary write-up, or more.)

A You know, after nearly 18 years in this industry, I've heard some strange complaints from customers, but this one definitely reaches unchartered waters. A "little past" the launch point? Just a hunch here, but something tells me the guy was half a mile out into the lake ... so I'll crack the obvious joke for you:

"Sir, is your SUV the LE (Land Edition) or the H2O Edition?"

No matter how absurd or amusing a customer's claim might be, Rule #1 of being a call center agent is that you should always refrain from thinking aloud and saying something a customer might interpret as inappropriate or a personal affront, even if said in jest. So, from that standpoint, you handled yourself quite professionally. Personally though, I don't favor constantly muzzling agents and turning them into robots, but the face is, Corporate America and the societal differences of global markets leave no room for attempted humor during a business interaction. Which brings us back to Rule #1 and the need for professionalism, discretion and tact at all times.

To their credit, most experienced agents in customer service understand having to keep their thoughts to themselves at certain times. Likewise to the credit of most call centers, they know that, ongoing training and a supervisor's guidance will let agents know what's off limits when a customer is on the other end of the line. However, that's not to say an agent can't go on break and tell co-workers what they wish they could have said!

Honestly. Anyone who's ever worked in a call center will tell you they've made light of some bizarre customer claim behind the scenes. It's simply an outlet for that mischievous inner voice that always seems to battle with your professional image. I consider such an outlet invaluable, in that it helps the agent balance decorum with the absurdity of someone consciously flooding an SUV and saying it's a manufacturers defect.

The "Outrageous Interactions" Promotion

Absurd, embarrassing, outrageous, whatever you want to call them. The "Outrageous Interactions" promotion is both an outlet and contest for contact center agents and managers to tell us your most outrageous stories. As a contest, you can win a five-day/four-night trip to Hawaii if your story is selected as the most unusual. Or win $500 if our panel of judges selects your "referral" story of another agent or manager as being the best one.

Submit your entries before August 31, 2008; we'll announce the winner on September 30. For more details and to enter online, visit the "Outrageous Interactions" Web site at

May the best story win, or perhaps the most absurd one.

Tim Passios is Director of Solutions Marketing for Interactive Intelligence Inc. and has more than 17 years experience in the contact center industry. Interactive Intelligence is a leading provider of IP business communications software and services for the contact center and. the enterprise, with more than 3,000 installations in nearly 70 countries. For more information, contact Interactive Intelligence at or (317) 872-3000.

By Tim Passios, Director of Product Management, Interactive Intelligence
COPYRIGHT 2008 Technology Marketing Corporation
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Copyright 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Ask the EXPERTS
Author:Passios, Tim
Publication:Customer Interaction Solutions
Article Type:Interview
Date:Jun 1, 2008
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