Customer Service Zombies

I’ve always thought zombies were entirely fictional, but last week I encountered a real one for the very first time. It was hilarious… in a disturbing sort of way. Then again, I didn’t actually see the zombie; I only spoke with him on the phone. An in-person encounter might have been scarier.

Here’s how it happened:

I’m hoping I won’t have to make a disability claim for my back problems, but I had to comply with the insurance company’s 30-day reporting deadline. So I made the initial call. And a zombie answered.

It was a deep, sepulchral voice; utterly without expression. For a moment I thought I’d been connected to a computerized AI system, but then I realized that AI voices are a lot more expressive than the guy (I’m assuming, perhaps incorrectly, that it was a man) on the other end of the line.

After I explained what had happened, he replied, “I’m sorry to hear about your back injury.”

I had to stifle a burst of laughter. I can’t fathom how anybody could pronounce those ‘sympathetic’ words while keeping their voice so completely devoid of emotion. This guy could make good money hiring himself out as a drone for bagpipes — he was that toneless.

Actually, y’know what? Even bagpipe drones are more expressive. (I don’t know what’s in this recording; so if you listen all the way to the end, let me know. I couldn’t make it past the first 10 seconds):

That was the zombie’s tone for the entire conversation. Maybe the guy was desperately depressed or vastly over-medicated; or maybe that’s just the latest innovation in customer ‘service’: Detachment so profound that even that crankiest complainer gets dragged down and smothered in a black hole created by the total absence of human emotion.

But the soul-suck didn’t work on me — I’m still giggling. And I’m wondering: Do they have to hire extra cleaning staff to sweep up all the fingers and toes that drop off the customer service team throughout the day? How long do zombie employees last before too many bits fall off and they have to be shovelled into a bin and replaced with a fresher corpse? And where do they get fresh zombies, anyway? Zombies R Us? ZombieZon?

Or maybe they create their own zombies by forcing new employees to read every weasel-word in the policies over and over, eight hours a day for a month. Only the strongest survive and become managers; the rest gradually lose the will to live. At the end of the month the HR team swoops in, jams an IV drip of downers and stale coffee into their victims’ deflated veins, and then rolls the zombies (still in their office chairs) to the Customer Service Call Centre. There they remain until they’re in such an advanced state of decomposition that they’re no longer capable of answering the phone.

That would explain a lot…

Book 17 update: I’m on Chapter 16 and Aydan can’t decide which of her friends to protect. It seems like they’re all in danger… and so is she.

29 thoughts on “Customer Service Zombies

  1. I’ve known a few customer service zombies, but love the “only the strongest survive and become managers”. How true!!
    Hey, I am just reading that you had a massive rogue wave up there…so I just wanted to be sure you and your husband were OK? I don’t know how close you are to the shoreline or if you were close enough to be impacted, but hoping all is well.

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    • Hi Beth! Thanks for your concern. It was a helluva wave, but our place is far inland and on the opposite coast of the island, so no worries here. We couldn’t even afford an ocean view, let alone oceanfront property — most of the island would have to be obliterated before a wave ever got to us here. 😉 (I suppose I shouldn’t joke about that, though. *knocks on wood*)

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  2. The long complicated menus make me crazy. I used to punch 0 to get a person but they fixed that. Now it takes you back to the beginning of the menu. Most of the real people I talk to have been very helpful. The reason you start low on the knowledge scale and with stupid questions is because you would not believe how often that is all it is but it is frustrating when you know mare than the tech. And never phone Revenue Canada for income tax advice as they know nothing. If they tell you the wrong thing and it costs you well you are SOL.
    By the way, how is Ayden’s sex life? I read 15 John le Carre novels in January and his characters, male and female, make her sound like a vestal virgin (based on the first 5 books I read).
    Also I love how your comments section works. No wonder you get few trolls

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    • Yes, I’m happy with the way WordPress handles spam and trolls — they don’t slip through very often. BTW, did my comment on your latest blog post end up in spam? I hit ‘Post’ and it vanished. I never know whether it’s gone into moderation or the big spam bucket in the sky.

      Le Carré makes Aydan look virginal?!? Obviously I’ve sampled the wrong le Carré books. I’ve tried several times to get into his first one, but I just haven’t connected with it. Maybe I should try a different one — suggestions?

      And you’re right, I shudder any time I have to phone Revenue Canada for advice. I usually call three times, on different days. If two out of three answers match, I go with that; otherwise keep calling until I get a consensus. 😉

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      • People either love or hate le Carre. If you are looking for Bond or Bourne type action, forget it. And there is no graphic sex but everyone has at least one lover or more, one night stands are frequent. All casually mentioned as though it were the most natural thing. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is likely the best place to start. Richard Burton starred in a very good movie version.

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  3. Having worked on a help line about a quarter of my career my curiosity is humming. I alarmist think your guess of depression might not be far off? Disconcerting though when the person is dealing with health issues. Hope your back is improving.

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    • Thanks, Sue! I’m getting along okay — still finding my boundaries and hoping that time is my friend.

      And I honestly can’t imagine doing that guy’s job. He probably gets paid very little, and it would be incredibly stressful and difficult to have to talk to people with problems all day long, knowing there’s nothing he can do to solve them. If he’s over-medicated or depressed, I don’t blame him a bit.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, I too had a Zombie!

    We were having a piece of furniture delivered and he was absolutely monotone. Just had a big snow dump so I joked that it was a good thing it was coming before more snow fell or the moving crew wouldn’t get in. Silence. Repeat. “Is that date exceptable?” He droned on and we almost didn’t get the Loveseat because I dozed off listening to him and almost missed hearing the delivery date.

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    • Oh, yikes! That guy must have had his sense of humour surgically removed. But maybe his drone was part of a clever strategy to send you off to dreamland every time you tried to arrange delivery. You pay for the loveseat; and then they get to keep the loveseat. Win-win… for them. 😉

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  5. Smiling and wincing.
    Mind you I think I cope better with zombies than I do the overly friendly ‘service’ personnel I have had to deal with by phone. I want my problem fixed. I do not want you enquiring about my day. And don’t believe you and worry for the office chairs (liar, liar pants on fire) when you tell me that you hope I have a nice day.
    Re your book. I suspect that Ayden needs to ensure her own safety first. On the same principle that flight attendants tell us to fit our own oxygen masks before helping others… I bet she won’t though… Her own safety will be an incidental side benefit…

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    • That’s usually how it works for Aydan. Maybe someday she’ll figure out that she’s no help to anybody if she’s dead.

      I’m not fond of the overly friendly ‘service’ calls, either; but as long as they make a reasonable attempt at pretending they care, I forgive them. We both know they’re lying, but it’s not so different than any other business meeting where it’s clear that everybody is focused on their own interests and the politeness is only a veneer. Have I mentioned lately how glad I am that I work for myself…?

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  6. This makes me wonder if the call was “offshored.” I rarely try to call any sort of customer service number, but of the few I’ve dealt with over the past decade, some had no emotion at all, speaking in the most plaintive voice possible, and very obviously reading from a script, as I felt as though certain “keywords” in my call caused them to look up their canned responses which were skewed in such ways that they did not directly apply to my situation.

    A few calls were local, or at least within the US, and it was an actual conversation. Thank goodness.

    Having spent 20 years in a former career with a lot of time on the phone, though, there are days I probably sounded like I was on autopilot and drifting off course…

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    • I can only imagine what it must be like to have to deal with an endless stream of unhappy people. Maybe it’s not downers in the IV line after all — it’s uppers. And they still get dragged down.

      I hate it when I call a support line and it’s clear that they’re working from a script. Particularly if it’s a tech issue — nine times out of ten I already know more about their technology than their “helpdesk”. But they still force you to listen through all their ridiculously inappropriate solutions before they’ll finally escalate the call to a tech who actually knows something. I can only assume that they’re paid by the call; or maybe their jobs are at risk if they don’t follow the script to the letter. I think I’d rather pump out septic tanks for a living than work at a customer service call centre.

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      • There was only one time I called for an issue with the cable Internet at the house I lived in many years ago. Right away they start in with the “reboot your computer, restart the modem, etc.” nonsense, and I forgot what I said (probably included technical jargon above their pay grade), but they immediately caught on and forwarded me straight to an upper level tech, and we had it sorted within minutes. First and last time that ever happened. And I think the tech enjoyed the chat since anything he told me, I already understood.

        Yet for the flip side of that coin, I had to deal with Xfinity (a provider here in the US). I had an ADSL line but Xfinity had a deal going. I ordered online, for a self-service install. I believe I got an appointment, but, nobody showed or called. I called. Offshored. Got forwarded to another department and had to repeat the entire story. I was then forwarded to a third department…repeat the story again. This went on for three or four subsequent calls, each time having to start over. It was determined in one of those calls that they assumed they had dropped a cable to our house (which was many years before we lived here) but, claimed they would send out someone to drop a cable so I could get connected. A few more go-rounds and I finally gave up. I checked their competitor’s site, Wide Open West, using my home address, on a Friday. Saturday, one of their salesmen is walking up our driveway while we’re loading a few things into the car. I invited him into the backyard for a chat, I told him my woes with Xfinity, and ten minutes later I had a deal, at a slightly lower price (since this deal included the taxes and other fees), and their tech arrived Monday morning to run a cable. I had Internet by 10:45am. Still with them to this day. I call the retention department every two years to get a lower rate, and I’m good.

        I’ve had far, far worse experiences than the Xfinity fiasco. But that certainly was the most frustrating and time-consuming.

        But I will say this–when I worked the phone, it was typically customer support/troubleshooting, inside sales, and even a spell in outside sales. I sometimes had to call suppliers but even there, they were all helpful; even if they were large corporations, most of us knew everyone in customer service.

        Luckily, no zombies…other than a few customers who had the personality of sphagnum moss. 😁

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        • LOL! Now I’m visualizing a ‘spaghnum moss’ personality. It’s not pretty. 🙂

          And wow, what a great experience you had with Wide Open West! I’ve had a (very) few experiences like that; and on the rare occasion that it happens, it leaves me almost weeping with gratitude. It’s pretty pathetic that it’s cause for jubilant celebration if a company 1) responds to a call in a timely manner; 2) shows up when they promised; and 3) finishes the job competently, on time and on budget. You’d think that should be rule, not the exception; but these days I’m learning to let go of ‘shoulds’. They only lead to madness… in both the ‘anger’ and ‘insanity’ definitions.

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  7. I had a customer issue with a product I’d bought…I got a robo assistant to “help” instead of them replacing something missing, they credited me and sent a new one. Really, if they’d had a real person help it would have saved them money

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    • I always wondered about that. Those automated systems only seem like a good idea.

      The other thing I wonder about is the automated menu systems that force you to press button after button to get through the menus “to serve you better”. I imagine that by the time their already-dissatisfied customer makes it through the gauntlet of phone menus and gets to talk to a real human, they’d be so rabid that the poor human customer service rep would suffer. Maybe that’s why they sound like zombies — they’ve been so abused that they don’t have any human emotions left. Brrrr!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Tombie, my Inner Zombie, resonated with this post, Diane. Reverberated, in fact. He likes hearing about his fellow kind.
    When I worked in customer services during the last century, I was very often asked if I was a recording. Why would someone ask a recording if it was a recording, I often wondered… but I think you’ve provided the answer. It’s those subtle over the phone tones we give off. My recording tones were more prominent, whereas your customer services guy had a richer zombie tone.
    That, or you may have just woke him up. It’s very easy to fall asleep in customer services.

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    • I can believe that. I did some computer helpdesk work in the distant past, and it was hard enough. At least then I was trying to diagnose and solve a problem. If I had to just listen to customers complaining all day, I’d probably sound like a zombie, too (or I’d just be snoring quietly).

      And I think it’s hilarious that you got asked if you were a recording! Now I’m imagining an AI system that’s designed to pretend it’s actually a human…

      Liked by 1 person

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