Customer Service (Call Center) and Depression

An older article but very dear to my heart!

Hello Everybody !

I thought to write about something that really got my attention lately : can the customer service profession provoke depression ? As this might involve face to face customer service as well, I will mostly talk about customer service in a call center.

People that do not work in customer service might say it has nothing to do with depression. They might think that it is a very easy job, you stay at your desk, in front of your computer and you answer calls all your shift. That is not hard to do, right? I mean it doesn’t involve physical strength so obviously it is a very easy task.

What do people that work in call centers think though? I would be very curious to do like a small group talk with some random people, that I never met in my life, from different call centers around Canada. I am sure that they would probably all agree at one point that the customer service job in a call center is probably one of the hardest jobs.

Let me explain to you a bit why. I am working in customer service since 2008. I started very randomly, with a part time job in a company that does customer service face to face and as well over the phone. I worked in that company for 2 years. I never thought at that point that my career would became customer service representative. I must say that even though the people that I worked with were amazing and we were having lots of great time at work, I found myself sometimes in situations where the stress level was very high. Why? Well, example : there is one very upset customer that if he/she doesn’t get what he/she wants, when he/she wants it, it is the end of the world and you (the customer service rep, because you represent the company right ?! at that moment you are not a human being) are the worst person in the whole world and that customer will make sure to make you feel so unimportant and so stupid. Of course you did everything you could to please them, but we all know that there are situations when you just can’t do more. Well, customers forget that; actually they don’t, they think that just because they paid some money to the company you work for, they have the right to treat you so bad that you feel sorry you were born. However, I have to say that doing customer service face to face is not as hard as working in a call center. Face to face you see the person, you look them in the eyes, you have the choice of inviting them to leave the shop if you feel threatened and you even have the choice of calling the police (yeah, been there, done that, it was a pretty funny situation I must say).

So, after I got pregnant and I came back from my maternity leave after 1 year, I found myself looking for a job because my priorities changed so I needed now a full time job. I ended up working in a call center. The first thing that stroke me about this place was the people. I told myself : well this is not that bad, people are very nice and friendly, very helpful and they made me feel welcomed. Well, I should tell you how my first call was : a very frustrated customer that was looking for some item online and could not find it. For some reason, he thought that I know all the items that were sold on that website, and after he called me a very funky word, he hang up on me. Well, I was not impressed I must say. I was actually in shock. I said to myself that I don’t know if I can do this every day. Oh Gosh! Can I live with the pressure that a customer might get upset at me?! It was difficult but I stayed. And it got worse and worse. From customers that called me names and hang up, I got to customers that were screaming their lungs at me, so bad that I had to take off my head set because I would have been deaf by now. I was promoted to team leader (like that would get any better), I was taking now supervisors calls. Believe me or not, I often told myself that I should just be an agent instead. Wow, people get mad at you when they know you are the ”power” of the customer service, though you can’t do any much more than what the agent told them. (Please note that I am not saying that all my calls were like that. There were very nice and understanding customers as well, not as often as I would liked though). Believe it or not you are not quite allowed to hang up on rude customers. No !!!! You have to let them vent and remember that because of them you have a job, that after they vent they will be more reasonable and listen to you as well. (yeah right).

Hmmmm…this is when it becomes a bit more interesting. At one point I realized that I have the power. I am the one doing the things on the other line. So yes, the customer is screaming at me, venting, calling me and the company that I work for funky names, making me feel guilty because ”all these bad stuff” are happening to them. But….I have the choice if I want to have a professional, civilized conversation or not. I am the one that decides if today someone is going to call me a bad name and make me cry or just not let them get away with it. So instead of letting these people mistreat me I chose to warn them to keep it polite and professional or I will hang up and they can either call back and talk to someone else or call back when they are calm and reasonable. I can’t say that it change my attitude 100% but it did gave me more confidence when dealing with this type of calls. (Please note that I am not saying you should hang up on customers, I am saying you have the right to warn them and end the call if you start to feel you are being bullied).

After some years of working in this call center, I realized that I was depressed. Nothing in my life was working (or so I thought). I wanted to cry every morning thinking that I have to go back there, the only thing keeping me going were my friends from work, the people that were passing through the exact same thing as me and that could understand me. I started to have problems in my personal life, with my fiancee, with my kids, I started to feel physically ill. I ended up in the hospital at one point, and guess what, after many tests they did on me, nothing wrong was found in my system. I was fine, but yet I was sick. I could not find a reason to go on with my life (never thought of taking my life thank God), I had to think about something to motivate me every day to be able to go on.

Luckily, life happened. And I ended up not working there anymore. I started not so long ago a new job. This company is just amazing. The way they treat me as an individual, the way they care that I am well, that I am happy and like that they know I will do my job right. Right now I am not taking calls, it is customer service via email, but I am 100% sure that even if it would be to take calls, I would still feel amazing. This company cares about the customer, of course they do, because at the end of the day it is true : without the customers we will not have a job, but first it is the employees that matter. Isn’t that amazing ?! It is truly !!! I don’t know how this will go, I guess time will tell, but I must say that even if I would not be there anymore in some time, I would definitely look for a company that makes sure I am well first. Guess what, I do not feel that things are going bad in my life anymore, I am more patient with my fiancee and my kids, and I do not need to find a motivation to function every day. It is all coming naturally now.

This post is not to make any company look bad. Each company that I worked for made me learn and grow in my life. This post is for you people, if you are an employee working in a call center or a customer calling a call center, you all should learn something from this.

Customer Service Reps. you have the power. Depression is well known unfortunately in call centers. But you have the power to change it. Your employer doesn’t give you many options ?! You can either decide to leave that place or fight for it to get better for you and your work colleagues. Talk to your boss, let them know what is happening, how you feel. Don’t be scared to tell other people that you see and hear they don’t feel well about their work place to talk to their boss as well. Things change but it needs a multitude of people to make that change. When one person talks about it, it might be that one’s person issue, when a mass of people talks about it than it is for sure that employer’s issue.

Customers that call call centers : don’t be rude with the agents. You need to vent ?! Write to the head office of the company, write on social media, talk to your friends, family, etc. The agents on the phone can only do so much for you and if nothing more is done and you spoke with a supervisor and still nothing more was done it is really because this is the most they can do for you. Appreciate the agents jobs, they are there to listen and care for you, they are not there to hear you scream, nor for you to call them bad names and insult them.

I really hope that my post will help in any way. I really hope that people on both sides will understand something from it. I really hope that I did not offend anyone, and I really wish you all mental health. There are so many depressed people, or that suffer from any other mental disease and often they do not realize that this comes from the job they are doing. Fight for your human rights, and make people remember that at the end of the day, before being an employee, employer, or customer we are all human. 

Thank you for taking your time to read this.

Cristina B.


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