Call Center Workers Shared The Calls That Haunt Their Nightmares, And It's Brutal
Nobody should have to take this kind of abuse at work.
Note: This post contains mentions of harassment, abuse, sexual assault, violence, suicide, and racial slurs.
Working in call centers is hands down one of the hardest jobs out there. All day, you're stuck at your desk taking calls that are timed, recorded, and graded, but you often have very little power to solve customers' actual problems. And since people can't see you, they often don't think they need to treat you like a human being.
To show you the kinds of stories I'm talking about, I checked out r/talesfromcallcenters, a subreddit dedicated to stories about working on the phones. Here are some of the absolute worst calls people have had to take:
Oh, and this shouldn't need to be said, but please be nice to people on the phone!
1. "The first time I ever broke down at a job was when I was working at a call center. I was still in the training queue and this lady called in. She didn’t know her pin, didn’t want to do the text confirmation, didn’t want to go to a store with her paperwork."
"Honestly, it would have been a quick call with little issue. But she just did not want to go through the process by which her account was secured. I did my best to remain calm… right up until she started cussing at me with more ferocity then I think I have ever seen. This lady went on the longest and loudest tirade. Most of what she said didn’t bother me. No, it wasn’t until she said, 'you must really suck at your job if you can’t get me into my account.' Followed shortly by some comment about my overall intelligence and how they shouldn’t hire people like me and so on.
My training manager came over to my station, took my headset and in the most respectful way told the lady to piss off and ended the call. After she took my headset, I went outside for about half an hour. I wish I had quit then, but I managed to stick in for an agonizing six months before I went on vacation and just never went back."
2. "A few years back, I worked my first ever Christmas Day shift. I'd been prepared for the usual — people with new tech toys they can't figure out how to get online, little old ladies trying to watch church services on TV, kids trying to get better speeds for their new gaming systems."
"My fourth caller had issues with their phone line. This is, I know, super frustrating, but there's only so much I can do remotely. Fine, send a technician, they said. I had to explain we can't do that on Christmas Day — it would have to be the next day.
Nope, they want one NOW! Had to explain, again, that this is not happening. Well, that's OK, because he knows that one of his neighbors works for us, so he'll just go over there and get them to come fix it. Umm, don't do that, I politely asked. Ummm, doing it, kbyeeee, caller responds.
And they did. At 5 p.m. on Christmas Day, they stomped over to the house of one of our TOP BRASS to bitch that no one would send them a technician to fix their phone. Stood there, in the doorway, while Christmas dinner was being plated, to complain how useless we all are. And our top brass? Walked over to their house and actually checked out their phone, confirmed it needed a tech, and explained again that we'd get them one there the next day, only to get screamed at some more. Happy Holidays, y'all!
I have never forgotten the sheer cheek it would take to show up at someone's house mid-Christmas dinner to demand help."
3. "There was a guy who kept calling in to complain about receiving letters where he was addressed as 'Mrs' instead of 'Mr.' The issue was, of course, fixed the first time he called in, but he was so irate that he kept calling back and screaming and being abusive."
"It was a Sunday, so there were only a couple of agents taking calls, and within three hours, every one of those agents had already spoken to him and hung up on him because of the screaming.
All the agents remembered it as something funny, having virtually no other callers that day, it turned into something funny rather than something frustrating. So they didn't think too much of it.
A little while later (I think it was in the next week), the guy tried to drive his car into headquarters. He drove through the gates surrounding the building, but didn't know that the building and the gates were separated by a lower level for a car park. So he crashed down about two meters with his car and got himself arrested."
4. "Not too long ago, I worked for an online used car dealership. I worked in underwriting, meaning normally my job involved verifying the customers' documents to make sure everything was in order for their financing. This wasn't the sort of call I usually got."
"A woman called in, and I could tell she was highly stressed. Not mean, not yelling, but obviously doing her best to maintain her composure. I ask her how I can help, and she tells me she's trying to trade in a car that's got both her and her ex's name on the registration. Our team told her both parties needed to be present at the time she received her new car and we took the old one to sign paperwork.
She asks me if there's any way around this rule. I tell her unfortunately no, both parties have to release the car. She begins to cry, and explains to me that she hasn't seen her ex in several months... because he repeatedly assaulted her in her own home in front of her own kids. And I mean that in both the hitting way and the other way.
I tell her I'm so sorry, and let me check. Maybe there's a way around this. I'll try to get a registration rep on the phone. I promise her I'll explain everything to the rep so she doesn't have to go through that again.
It's important to note at this point that I am an assault survivor myself.
I get a registration rep on the line, and as I'm going through the explanation, I have to pause several times to breathe so as not to cry. The rep is extremely apologetic and tells me there's no workaround, but that he'll be happy to take the call from me and explain it to her himself so at least there's the semblance of effort made.
I thank him, transfer the call, and immediately go into Not Ready. I tell my team I need 15 and go outside to vape, where I immediately burst into tears and shake all over.
I'd understood what a trigger was before this. But I'd never actually experienced it myself. The idea that this lady would have to go through worse to get rid of this car that reminds her of her ex was just devastating to me. I never found out if she found a way to make it work. I hope she's okay."
5. "Mine was some dude who, at the end of the call, said I was really helpful and he was glad to talk to me instead of 'one of those Asians.' Feigning ignorance, I cheerfully said, 'Oh! I’m actually Asian.'"
"He sputtered a bit, then said, 'I meant one of those immigrants.'
I laughed and said, 'Actually, I am. I immigrated last year.' (All true at the time, by the way.)
He laughed nervously before saying, 'I would never guess. You speak really good.'
I didn’t call him out on how 'good' I speak, just said thank you and that was that."
6. "I had a guy who didn't live too far away (rare for us since we deal with people across the US). He kept trying to get my whole name and wanted me to tell him how to get to our building so he could visit so he could 'see what it looks like.'"
"He gave me the major creeps. I looked him up and he had sex offense charges against him, but they had been dropped. He was incredibly fixated on trying to come here and meet me."
7. "I work in a call center for a credit card servicing company. I get a call today from a woman who wants to know why her balance is so high. She says she's been paying her bill every month for the last four months, but her balance is increasing."
"So I look at the payment history. True, she's been paying her bill every month since October. But the payments have been only the minimum due. Those of you familiar with the concept of interest know this is a problem already.
However, she's also been making her payments late. So every month, she pays $35. Then she gets a $40 late fee. I explain this to her. To say she is displeased would be an understatement. She starts yelling at me, punctuating by her screaming, 'You should burn in acid!' before she hangs up. So that was fun."
8. "Been told to kill my self once because I told them I could not discuss billing info without verifying. Luckily at my call center we're able to disconnect the line if we give them warnings about staying professional, or basically immediately of they threaten us or wish us harm."
"So I gave that prick the ole, 'I can no longer speak with you due to the nature of your language, I will disconnect the line and notate your account, goodbye.' Immediately reported that customer to my sup, I'm pretty sure we blacklisted them."
9. "I don’t have any actual legends, but my nastiest caller was probably the one who demanded to be taken off the mailing list but refused to speak slowly enough to let me type it and continued yelling while I tried to type and ask for verification."
"He then spent several minutes calling me sweetheart and princess in a sneering tone while continuing to cut me off and shout the address faster than anyone but a top court reporter could type. I think he wanted me not to be able to do it so he could feel superior.
With some of these people you just have to say, what a waste of a life."
10. "I had a caller go off about how 'those Mawzlums' are coming over to Canada and 'destroying her country wearing rags on their heads' when she had 'spent her whole life fighting for women’s rights and those Mawzlums' were trying to force Canada backwards by 1400 years."
"I really, really, wanted to say 'huh. WelI, as a Muslim woman wearing hijab, I just solved your problems, so you have a nice day.' But I just didn’t have the patience I knew would be required so I gave my closing script and took my headphones off."
11. "Had a woman who started out alright, asking about her payment history. I politely let her know it looked like we never received a certain payment. No exaggeration, she went from zero to full on screeching monster in 0.1 seconds flat."
"From that point, every time I tried to say anything, she literally SCREECHED at me repeating the same thing over and over again. I hung up on her. Read the notes on her account to find out she did this shit every month.
I’ve gotten death threats and shit and one time we had to send out the police on this one guy, but like, this woman really took the cake for me."
12. "I got a zero star review/survey because the company I worked for changed their website and now you have to answer questions before making a tech support appointment."
"She wanted to just schedule at her desire and answer no questions ahead of time. In her review, she said I should have contacted the CEO on her behalf and request it be changed for her.
Bad thing is our surveys affected our bonus pay. Took two pay periods for that to roll off. Royally ticked me off!!!!!"
13. "My poor trainee called me over because her customer was being sexually inappropriate and jerking it. So, I take over the call. He stops being verbally inappropriate but continues to be physically inappropriate. I had to get a male supervisor to take over that call."
"I cannot overstate how completely obvious it was he was jerking it by the sound. Once we were free, I marched us over to our workforce team, told them to schedule a 30 minute training for my rep and I’d explain later, and we alternated saying 'ew' and being glad he didn’t get one of the very young agents and traumatize her."
14. "A man called in, upset that we had sent him a new debit card, because his old one was expiring at the end of the month. The caller was so angry about us replacing his debit card before it could expire and then decline on him, that he called in just to scream."
"His exact wording was, 'Listen you little b*tch, I know you are a N*****, and I am going to be there when they string you up.'
I hung up on him with no warning. He called back and got me again, and demanded a supervisor. I made no attempts to de-escalate the call, just put him on hold, and let my lead know he had called back.
I was in awe of her that night; she read him up one side and down the other, and told him he was gonna lose more than jobs with a temper like that so out of control. She had him in ashamed tears before she was done with him.
I wanna be her when I grow up."
15. "The one that really got under my skin was a customer who said he didn’t understand his past due balance and asked me to add it up for him. I read it to him as, 'you paid $100, then your bill was due for $400, so $400 minus $100 leaves you with a balance of $300.'"
"He said, 'I know you probably didn’t get a good education, since you are working in a call center, and it probably isn’t your fault, but that’s not how that adds up. Maybe you’re just slow and that’s why you can’t get a real job. Are you retarded? Do you need me to do your job for you?.' It took everything had to even half way politely say, 'sir since you have decided to personally insult me, I’m going to disconnect this call and the collection efforts on your account will continue,' and hang up. I could have been fired for hanging up, but I cannot handle having my intelligence insulted like that. Luckily the call was never pulled."
16. "When I started at my bank, I was making outbound fraud calls. We would either verify charges or, if it was fraud, transfer the call to a higher team to take a report. I had only been working for about a month at this point."
"I call out to an account where a woman is the primary, and no one else is on the account. We can’t disclose anything to anyone who’s not on the account— we can’t even confirm that there is an account. When I would get a third party, it was always tricky because I couldn’t give them any information besides 'have this person call us back.' On this account, a man picks up.
I ask if primary is there and he says no, she’s at work. I ask if he could please take a message and he says to just tell him why I’m calling. I apologize and say I can’t say, but I need to have the primary call in. He goes fucking ballistic. I have never heard so many swear words strung together in my life, and my previous boss was ex military. He called me every single name in the book. I don’t even remember what exactly he said, but it was personal attacks (I remember he said I must be retarded because I couldn’t remember why I called him) and he ended the call by screaming 'WHORE!' as loud as he could into the receiver and hanging up.
I lost it crying and ran from my desk and hid in the bathroom for several minutes. When I came back, I messaged my coach to let her know why I had taken an unscheduled break (they were up our ass about schedule adherence constantly). She responded by giving me shit for going into not ready instead of logging off the phones completely."
17. "I have been told a lot of horrible things by customers but here are the worst:"
"After not being able to fix a mans DVR:
'I hope your mother gets cancer and dies'
After reviewing a bill that the customer owed three months worth of service that racked up $600:
'I know you guys work at (gave correct address) and I have a gun. I'm going there today and I’m going to shoot people until I find out who you are. I will blow your mother f****king brains out. Then I will ~censored ~ on your corpse.'
After telling a customer that I won’t be able to refund him for the year he had his cable box in his attic that he forgot about:
'You know what, I hope your children get their heads chopped off and get kidnapped by a pedophile."
18. "I worked at a bank call center that automatically sent out surveys to customers after a call. I had a lady call in to let us know she will be out of state making purchases with her card, due to a hurricane. I was extremely kind and sympathetic, letting her know that I’ll take care of it and she has nothing to worry about."
"I was going through some questions that we are required to ask (things like a general location of where she will be swiping her card and how long when she will be gone from her home state). When I got to the question about how long she will be away from her home state, she lost it. She was screaming and accusing me of being insensitive. I let her know that we require that info when putting an alert on her account. She ended up hanging up and I never got to put the alert on her account.
Two weeks later, there is a survey on my record from her. All she wrote was “the agent asked me how long I would be away from my home state” and gave me 1/7 stars. I ended up getting in trouble for asking a required question that would have given me a defect if I didn’t ask."
19. And finally, "I worked for a major credit card company in a call center, just doing front line every day stuff. Woman calls in and states she just wanted to make a quick payment because she was currently being treated for breast cancer and really just needed to lie down."
"She couldn't know, and I certainly couldn't tell her, that my mother was also going through breast cancer at this exact time, and I just kind of went on automatic pilot, trying to get through this as quickly as possible so she could go rest. I was not rude in any fashion, just probably robotic and efficient. I took her payment and wrapped up and she concluded by telling me I was the most horrible customer service person she had ever experienced and basically I should be ashamed of myself. I had to log out as soon as we were done and go cry."
How it feels each day leaving a call center:
Note: Some stories have been edited for length and clarity.