is it ever okay to ask to talk to a customer’s manager?

A reader writes:

I a new supervisor (six months) for an inbound call center for a larger company. We don’t have a manager for the department, but we do have a director who is over us. We provide transportation services. Often times, we deal with third parties who are booking service on behalf of their customers rather than their customers directly dealing with us. These third party reps tend to be poorly trained and extremely demanding. For the most part, people in that industry work on commission for services completed, so they get extremely agitated about any delays, even if the delays are caused by their customers. They don’t seem to have an understanding about what is their responsibility or their customers responsiblity vs. our responsiblity.

Today, I had my fourth contact in a month with a specific rep, “Beth,” from one of these third party companies. Beth always complains that our reps are rude, have bad attitudes, and refuse to answer her questions. I always offer to pull the calls in order to review the call and see if our rep needs coaching. Beth usually demands that I follow up with her after I have reviewed the call. In every single case, I have found that Beth is the problem — she is short with the representatives, not paying attention to questions asked, forcing representatives to wait while she emails her customers or makes extensive notes, screams at the reps, and tells them that they have no idea how to do their job. Usually, I will follow up with her, tell her I have reviewed the call and that I will coach the rep. I understand that we can’t choose our customers, and I do coach our reps about how to handle extremely difficult people like Beth. This includes suggesting that the rep transfer difficult customers to me before they get too frustrated.

Today, a rep transferred her to me because she was being difficult. The problem: she wanted us to transfer her to a separate company to track other orders that we had nothing to do with. The representative offered her the phone number but refused to transfer her. Although we do have some affiliations with this other company, they are a separate company with an office on the other side of the country from us, and we cannot see their orders. She admitted to me that she knew that it was a separate company but that reps had been able to transfer her in the past. I stood by our rep and told her that in those cases that she would need to call the other company. At this point, she began to berate me about my attitude and how I was clearly the problem with our department. In her words, “it’s a trickle-down problem — you have a piss-poor attitude, so your reps do too.” She then hung up on me.

As I mentioned, the attitude problems seems to be with her. The next time that I have dealings with her, I’d really like to ask if I could speak to her manager. I would want to know if one of my reps was acting as unprofessionally as she behaves on the phone. Is this totally out of line?

Yeah, I think it would be out of line. Your job isn’t to manage her or to provide feedback about how she operates; it’s just to decide whether and how to provide services to her.

I do think you’re right that a good manager would want to know if one of their reps was behaving that way, but I don’t think that trumps the strangeness of reaching out to them. It would be like if a peer demanded to talk to your parents about their concerns with your behavior. It’s not access that’s typically given in that context.

However! You have a bunch of options here:

1. You can refuse to continue to provide service to Beth at all. You probably need to clear this with your own manager first, but unless Beth is bringing in a huge amount of business that you’re dependent on, it would be pretty reasonable to say, “Hey, in order to continue working with you, I need you to be polite and respectful to our reps. If you continue to berate them, we won’t be able to help you in the future.”

2. You can do a somewhat lighter version of #1: have a direct conversation with Beth, where you say something like: “You’ve seemed dissatisfied with our service. I want to tell you about how we operate and why, so that you can decide if we’re a good fit for you or not. If we’re not, then of course we’ll understand that you need to take your business somewhere else. But I need to ask you to be more polite to our reps, and I can’t allow you to scream at them.”

3. You can make it really clear to your reps that you know Beth is a huge pain, that you know her complaints don’t carry any weight, that you’re grateful to them for putting up with her, and that you support them in transferring her to you at any point in their conversations with you. Be particularly clear that as long as they maintain basic civility with Beth, they don’t need to worry that they’ll ever get in trouble from her complaints.

4. You can establish a policy that Beth is only dealt with by you, and that your reps should immediately transfer you to you when she calls.

If you’re unsure if you have the authority to do some of these, definitely talk to your own manager and see what options might be in play.

But even if you only do #3, it should go a long way.

{ 197 comments… read them below }

  1. The Other Dawn*

    In terms of transferring the call to the other company, is there the technical capability to do that? It sounds like there is based on OP saying that Beth said she’d been transferred in the past, and the reps are refusing to transfer her this time. If there is a capability and it’s been done in the past for Beth, I can see why she would be pissed that the rep won’t do it this time. It sounds like the rep is giving Beth a hard time because of her attitude. I’m not excusing Beth’s behaviors–she’s sounds like a royal PITA–but I think she has a legitimate gripe on this one particular item.

    1. kac*

      Eh, I don’t think so. Almost every job I’ve ever had has been customer-service oriented, from working a coffee shop to telemarketing services to institutional sales. I will go above and beyond for almost all my customers and I have great relationships with them.

      But if someone is rude or nasty? I will do the bare minimum. I will do it with a smile on my face, but I will not extend any favors to those people. The rep is, imo, within her right not to go out of her way, beyond the regular requirements of the job, for someone this nasty.

      1. Liane*

        Yes, that’s the way I do customer service. If someone is polite and halfway reasonable, I will follow the spirit of the company’s procedures to help–including bringing in a supervisor or manager who can okay things I cannot. However, if they are a jerk, use vulgar language, etc., I will precisely follow only the letter of those selfsame procedures.

      2. Kassy*

        Yeah!! I have always felt that if I cowed to people who were being this ridiculous, I would teach them that being a royal PITA is the way to get what you want. It works too often as it is, unfortunately, without me adding to the problem.
        Call center workers are people too, and they’re more likely to go above and beyond for someone who will appreciate the effort. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

    2. Ashley the Paralegal*

      Not necessarily. I’ve worked in call centers where the expectation was that we were not supposed to go beyond the scope of our job (for various reasons). However, some people would do something anyways in an attempt to be nice or because they had more knowledge in the area than other reps and when that person called back and got a person following the rules, the customer would then get irate with them. If the policy is that you don’t transfer customers to this other company then the person who did it last time is the person at fault here.

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        And based on my call center and retail experience, I would guess Beth is lying anyway. I’ve witnessed plenty of people claiming that someone else did something for them that isn’t just against policy but actually impossible.

        1. Rachel*

          Same here. My favorites were the people who called and said “Well, the person I talked to last time did that!” – not realizing that I was the same person they talked to last time and I did not do what they claimed. : )

        2. Anonsie*

          My favorite is still the customer who claimed that another employee had broken the laws of thermodynamics for her. NOPE.

        3. JeanLouiseFinch*

          It’s been my experience that the bigger a PITA the person is, the more they lie. I would bet Beth follows the procedure of a pro se litigant I had to deal with during the course of my law practice. She would call the client and, knowing she was speaking to a different person every time, she would claim that A promised that they would do ___ for her, or that B said they would allow her to waive certain fees. It was always a lie. I told the client that they must tell her to contact me every single time she needed something and requested her to contact me, as the client’s attorney, regarding anything involving the pending litigation. That quickly got her under control and we were able to proceed with the litigation unencumbered by her lies and ridiculous misrepresentations. I suggest that the OP adopt a similar practice of always having the calls from Beth transferred to her. It is a bit of a pain, but it cuts down on the ridiculous demands when she realizes that “no” means exactly that.

      2. Schnauz*

        Or, equipment is upgraded or changed and certain capabilities go away. I just hope any newer employees aren’t using my own pet peeve, “we’ve NEVER done it that way”.

      3. jmkenrick*

        Also, when it comes to going “above and beyond” for a customer, that’s often a judgement call based on how busy things are. Occasionally things are too busy for someone to get all those little extra perks.

    3. Murphy*

      I’d also question whether or not Beth is actually telling the truth about being transferred in the past. When I worked retail I heard every variation of “but I’ve returned this here before without a receipt and with no problem” which was almost never true and simply an attempt to manipulate me into doing it for them now.

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        My favorite was when people claimed to have used credit cards in the past that our system had never been set up to take… Or had bought items there that were not part of our brand.

        1. CMart*

          Restaurants get this all the time as well. “You had it last time!”

          Yeah? Free breadsticks, from an establishment that does not and has never carried them? Please, tell me more about what else happened the last time you were here.

          1. finman*

            My wife had a family claim that the nurse gave the patient a sandwich the last time they were admitted to her floor. She nicely reminded them that she was the nurse who admitted them 3 weeks ago and that she did not provide a sandwich that time. And yes she was sure the patient hadn’t been on the floor between those 2 times.

          2. mirrorrim*

            Another favorite: “I’ve ordered from you before and I’m sure I *wouldn’t* have done that!” in regards to ordering things wrong, forgetting to order, ordering the wrong thing, typos in the order…

            Yes, because we just like to mess with you from time to time. It makes our day SO much fun.

    4. Ghost Town*

      I really doubt that they have the ability to do an outside transfer like that. Considering all the other negatives of how Beth operates, I wouldn’t put lieing past her.

      1. Anna*

        Or even if they can, that they should. It’s not that company’s responsibility to do that, even if they were going above and beyond for Beth. They provided the damn phone number for another company that isn’t even in their family of businesses or a separate department for their company. That seems above and beyond to me since it means the rep had to actually look it up to provide it. Beth can make her damn phone call.

        1. JoJo*

          I once had a woman call my number by mistake and 1) deny she had called a wrong number; and 2) insist I look the right number up for her; and 3) got pissy when I refused to take time out of my busy day to do this.

          Seriously, she wanted a department store, called Pontiac Motors and kept telling me that I was lying when I told her she was on the phone with a car factory.

          1. Cactus*

            I work as a receptionist at the administrative office of a business currently, and for some reason people call all the time looking for a local hospital. When I explain that no, there are no doctors here, we’re a [product] company, and they have the wrong number, most people take it well. One dude, though, responded by saying, “No, I don’t [have the wrong number.]” In a very flat, self-assured tone. To which I think my response was just “um.” I couldn’t think of what else to say, because I can’t magically turn this business office into a hospital for some rude dude. (And if I was a hospital employee, why would I lie and say we’re some random company?) It was so weird, like I was insulting his self-worth to imply that he could ever misdial.

            Then there was another caller who asked to speak to someone who, to my knowledge, has never worked here. Her name did not appear in our address book as an employee of any of our parent company’s related businesses, anywhere. I explained this…and she said she’d try back later. I was not looking forward to seeing how that went, but she must have either dialed correctly the second time or forgotten about the whole thing.

            1. Annonymouse*

              “Well sir, either you’ve dialled the wrong number for the hospital or you dialled the right one and ended up at product company like you meant to. Can I take your order?”

    5. Kelly L.*

      It’s a whole other company–I bet someone did a three-way call or something once, and she has conveniently remembered it forever as a transfer.

    6. Solidus Pilcrow*

      Assuming transfers to the other company are technically possible but not something reps should be doing, the OP could also make it an actual policy where the rep could say something like “I know we have done this in the past, however, our current policy prevents us from doing that now.”

      I personally think she’s either making it up or mis-remembering something as others have suggested.

    7. Temperance*

      I don’t think that she does – she sounds like a lazy, demanding jerk who has maybe received special treatment in the past because of her lazy, demanding jerkiness. Unless she’s paying this company for services, which I don’t think she is, she doesn’t get to treat them like her personal secretary.

    8. Bleu*

      In the call center I worked, you’d be fired for transferring a call to an outside company. It isn’t done. It’s not the fault of later workers that someone earlier might have (and they might not have — Beth might be making demands that no one has accommodated, ever, and is saying that they have).

    9. TootsNYC*

      It’s usually not possible to transfer between companies.
      And I don’t give Beth any credibility; I bet nobody’s -ever- transferred her, she just thinks they have, or she doesn’t care whether she’s accurate.

    10. Gene*

      Pretty much every modern business phone system has the ability to transfer a call to any other number. Some users have that feature turned off for certain workgroups, some have outgoing calls turned off from certain workgroups/phone lines; but the ability exists.

      Personally, I would have transferred Beth to a known dead line, one that I know has a full voice mail box and is never answered, Time and Temperature (does that still exist?), or back to her own organization. “Oops, I must have misdialed.”

      1. Alli525*

        If the company OP writes in is entirely different from the company that Beth wants to be transferred to, then it’s not possible. I mean, yes, OP could google the number for the company and transfer her, but this isn’t an internal transfer, and googling a number isn’t necessarily reliable, and it CERTAINLY isn’t in the best interest of OP’s company to act as an operator.

        Although we do have some affiliations with this other company, they are a separate company with an office on the other side of the country from us

        1. Gene*

          I just tried it from my NEC Dterm phone (by no means a top-of-the-line system). Had my wife call me from home, hit the “Transfer” button, dialed 9 + my cell phone number, and talked to her from my cell.

          I was talking technical ability, only. Whether or not it’s a good idea, or within the guidelines/policies of the company is a different discussion.

          The easy out is, “Sorry, I don’t have that number.” or “Sorry, company policy doesn’t allow me to act as an operator.” But neither one of those would have mollified Beth, as she was SURE it had been done for her previously.

          1. PizzaSquared*

            It does this by making another outbound call and connecting the two together. Meaning it ties up a second phone line, and consumes resources. The cost is probably inconsequential, but it’s not free as it would be to transfer someone internally.

      2. Cactus*

        When I worked for an organization which is well-known and somewhat controversial, we had a mailbox that was checked periodically where we could transfer suspicious-seeming phone calls. I can’t remember if we ever used it for ANGRY people, but we did get some callers who were obviously trying to lead us into a trap of some sort, and it was very satisfying to know that we could send them to “Hope.”

    11. Ad Astra*

      I assumed that Beth was either lying or mistaken when she said OP’s company has transferred her to another company in the past. I don’t see how it would be possible to transfer someone to an entirely separate company, since they’d likely have an entirely separate phone system, though I admit I don’t know much about these things.

      But yeah, if your interpretation is correct, then I agree that this is a legit complaint, even if none of Beth’s other gripes are reasonable.

    12. Observer*

      Come on. Transferring customers to a different company is NOT something that any service rep should be expected to do. EVEN if another rep had done so in the past, it still does not entitle Beth to make such demands, much less screaming at people. And, given her attitude, I would not assume that Beth is actually correct that it’s been done.

      1. cuppa*

        I agree. I’m a big proponent of going the extra mile and great customer service, but this seems to fall under “give an inch and they’ll ask for a mile” . It’s not a reasonable request.

    13. ToxicNudibranch*

      Yeah, this isn’t a legitimate gripe, regardless of whether the physical ability to transfer someone exists. It’s one thing to transfer someone to a different department, but Beth is asking demanding that she be transferred to a different, independant company. That’s not reasonable, and the onus is not on the OP’s company to comply with her unreasonable requests.

      I remember when I used to work for a large cable provider. Our phones had conferencing ability so we could do things like set up 3-way calls with our independant installers or foreign language interpretation services, but that doesn’t mean we were allowed to transfer the client to XYZ Utility Company because Lil’ Miss PITA didn’t want to dial the phone herself.

      1. Cactus*

        Yeah, I have had to do the 9+area code transfers that Gene mentions above….when people who had an existing relationship with the company called in and wanted to be connected to an offsite employee’s cell phone. That’s not weird. But a completely different company is super-weird.

    14. Senorita Petty*

      I’d offer to transfer her and then just disconnect the call. At the point all that she would do is dial the number herself, I highly doubt she would call my office back to be transferred to another company.

    15. A Bug!*

      “The last person did it for me, so I know you can.” Dreaded words of a dreadful customer! But if the thing in question is at all possible, and any of your coworkers are prone to going “off-book” for a customer, how can you be sure this one’s blowing smoke?

      Whether or not it’s true that Beth got transferred in the past, Beth makes a good example for the risks of going outside policy in a customer service role. It’s not necessarily that you should never go above and beyond for a customer, but rather that it requires discretion and the understanding that “customer service” involves more factors than just what’s most helpful or simplest in the moment.

  2. kac*

    Ugh, this woman is a nightmare. As an employee, I’d really want my manager to have my back–even if that has to look like #3.

    I wonder if there is a way to push back after you “review the calls” and see that Beth is the problem. You may be unintentionally encouraging this behavior when you say that you will be coaching the rep; that implies that Beth was right to be so upset.

    1. Liz T*

      I wondered about that too. You’ve directly told Beth, “Yes, my employee was the problem” every time.

      1. MsM*

        Eh, if OP doesn’t actually have the authority to use Option #1 or #2, I’m not really sure what else she could say that isn’t going to come across to Beth as unresponsive or recalcitrant. I guess a generic “I’ve discussed the situation with the rep; thanks for the feedback!” might work, but Beth’s still probably going to hear that as “They got a lecture” when what OP really means is “Yeah, she’s just like that.”

        1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          Maybe something like, “I reviewed the call and the representative you spoke with was following all our policies.”?

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      That’s a great point, and I’m kicking myself for missing it! Yes, definitely tell her that you reviewed the calls and tell her that your reps acted correctly.

      1. Dynamic Beige*

        Hell, tell her that you will be using her calls in future training sessions for new employees on how to identify a difficult customer that must be referred/hung up on/new policy regarding telling them that perhaps they should seek another vendor.

        No, it won’t do anything to change this woman and the company will probably lose a customer but: “If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning.” — Catherine Aird

    3. Stranger than fiction*

      I’m wondering why she didn’t stand up to Beth after reviewing the calls too! Shoot play them for her and then see if she slinks away mortified after hearing herself.

      1. Robin Gottlieb*

        Exactly! Review the calls with Beth and be sure to emphasize when she was screaming at the rep, making them wait while she sends an email, not listening to their answers, etc.

        1. LawBee*

          It reminds me of a news program I saw where aggressive angry drivers were filmed (with their knowledge and consent) and then had to watch themselves on camera. Some of them were mortified. Some of them felt completely justified. Some of them just got pissed all over again.

          1. Annonymouse*

            Damn phone.
            Put up with some absolutely terrible behaviour from people cause “they’re the customer”.

            In normal circumstances is tell them “no, you do NOT treat me like that .” And walk away.

            In those jobs you have to smile, get kicked in the teeth and then apologise for getting blood on their shoes (metaphorically of course)

      2. neverjaunty*

        She’ll just start screaming, conveniently won’t listen or will out and out lie about what she just heard.

    4. Not Gloria, A.A., B.S.*

      Yeah I agree with this. It sounds like you’re telling her that she’s in the right, even if that’s not what you’re meaning to. Do your reps have the ability to hang up on rude customers? Having them tell these vendors “I am asking you to speak to me in a professional manner, or I will terminate this call.” And then follow up on it might change things. Customer Service Reps don’t get paid enough to put up with that crap.

    5. grasshopper*

      I think that the next time there is an issue with Beth, the response should be that the reps are correct. If the OP moves directly to “perhaps another business could better suit your needs” it might come out of the blue to Beth and surprise her, causing more confrontation and hostility. But if Beth hears that the reps are doing the right thing and are supported by the manager, she might even choose to take her business elsewhere before that conversation even has to happen.

    6. Ad Astra*

      Absolutely. Knowing your supervisor has your back is huge for an employee’s morale and confidence. It’s very hard to be good at your job when you’re worried about being thrown under the bus.

    7. Not So NewReader*

      This, this.

      If employees think that their boss will not back them up, then you have recipe for major failure.

      Lack of back up can be as simple as, “I will speak to the employee” when there is no intention of speaking to the employee. That employee is counting on her boss to draw the line and instead it’s made to appear like the employee is at fault and being spoken to for it. The customer will continue to push the envelop.

      I had awesome bosses at one job, one time after a major hassle with a customer they told the customer to take their business else where. I was young and I had never seen any boss actually say this. It was a huge learning experience to see that happen. (What should have been about an hour process, the customer dragged it out for seven hours. I told the bosses. And I told them other things that were going on during the seven hours. They immediately saw what the customer was costing them and decided it was not worth having the customer’s business.) At the same time we were all told, that if the customer wanted to buy something we could ring her up, but we could not wait on her while she made her purchasing decisions.
      It worked, the problem fully stopped.

      1. Tempest*

        I worked at McDonalds for five years as a teen and one of the best things that ever happened in my teniour was observing the owner of our franchises personally see how an abusive and problematic a customer was and how he spoke to us on a weekly basis. The owner proceeded to escort the customer off the premises and request he never return. That the owner was willing to say his staff shouldn’t need to put up with that treatment over a cheeseburger made me respect him so much more and feel so much more valued as a staff member.

        I worked my way up to management in the business and I once had a gentleman order in the drive thru like a machine gun and when the young member of staff apologised for not catching his order and asked him to say it again he called her stupid via an R word I won’t use in that context and started to swear a blue streak at her. I always had a headset on to monitor things and I cut in and told him rather than repeating himself he could just leave, that we wouldn’t be serving him if that was how he was choosing to speak to my staff. It was likely the right call as you can bet his order would have been incorrect or unsatisfactory and he likely would have thrown it back through the window at us anyway. We had to lock the window and I was almost at the point of calling the police in as he pounded on the locked window and screamed obscenities. At least I knew that if I told the owner how the customer had conducted himself he would have had my back in any complaints because I’d seen him ban abusive customers before. There comes a point when some customers just aren’t worth their business.

  3. Daisy*

    Could you tell her you have reviewed the calls and that you think your reps acted correctly in the situation? I feel like by telling her the reps have been coached it makes it seem like they were actually in the wrong and she can continue to push them around.

  4. Sascha*

    I highly recommend #4 if it’s feasible. There’s a “Beth” at my university (a “Bob” rather), and my VP made the decision that Bob can only contact my manager if he needs technical support, because he was so insulting and difficult to my support team. It has drastically cut down on contacts from Bob, because he’d rather not deal with my manager. He handles all of his own stuff now – things he used to complain that he couldn’t/didn’t know how to do, he suddenly figured out when he was told he couldn’t have a “tech slave” to do it for him.

    1. irritable vowel*

      Yes, I totally agree. #4 should be #1! We have a “problem patron” at my library who got into the habit of making unreasonable demands based on years of no one telling him no. He’s polite, but in addition to asking us to basically do what a paid research assistant should be doing for him (and/or secretarial-type work), he had a habit of calling 3 or 4 librarians and asking for the same things, which caused a lot of unnecessary duplication of effort. Finally our department head said that we should no longer answer questions from this person but instead immediately direct him to a designated person. That has made everyone’s life a lot easier, and it actually seems like it’s cut down on his contacting the library in general (I think part of the whole situation was that he derived some kind of pleasure from having us all at his beck and call).

    2. CJ*

      Agreed – I lead a team of volunteer tech support for an org, and there’s a few regular contacts that are “just assign it to CJ”.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      This is what a good boss does, she intervenes when the customers are abusive to her staff.

    4. Chalupa Batman*

      At a college I worked for, problem students and staff/faculty learned pretty quickly that being put on the “only send them to Boss” list was not a reward. Boss was super busy, off campus frequently, slow to respond, and would regularly just have one of us take care of whatever they wanted anyway. If they established themselves as someone who only spoke to Boss, they’d just get the same thing slower. Word got out fast that “you can just come to me from now on, me only” was for us, not for Boss, and it was in their best interests to play nice. It was something I liked a lot about Boss.

      1. Meg Murry*

        Me three! I keep being surprised when I don’t see them at other sites. Wait, where are the blue bars to show new comments? Oh, that’s only an AAM thing. Oh yeah.

    1. KSM*

      Oh thank goodness for your comment! I was legitimately baffled by the pattern of blue bars/no blue bars.

  5. Rubyrose*

    Would I talk to her manager without telling Beth -no. But after going through the steps as outlined and if they do not work, what about warning Beth that the next step is to talk to her manager? And then, if no improvement, following through?

      1. Terra*

        I would think that they should talk to her manager if they’re going to refuse to serve her since making this calls is part of her job and may be a fairly large part I would assume that she can’t just choose not to do them. If you just tell her that you won’t serve her anymore then she could either lie to her manager which may cause problems between the companies or tell the truth and have her manager not believe her/tell her to call anyway (didn’t we have a question about someone who was supposed to price compare at another store, the other store told her not to, and her boss sent her back?). I can see how it feels like an overreach to ask to talk to him just for bad behavior but if they do decide to cut Beth off it might be a good idea.

        1. Mike B.*

          It’s none of OP’s business whether Beth is doing her job adequately, nor is it any of her business what story she tells her manager once the business relationship is severed–her responsibility is to her employer, which almost certainly doesn’t want her meddling in this way in her official capacity. The manager, who knows Beth, should be capable of figuring out what happened if a vendor abruptly refuses to continue doing business with their organization.

          1. Observer*

            I agree that Beth’s relationship with her boss or the workings of that organization are not the OP’s problem. But, the OP may want to make sure that the company knows the score. And, I think it’s just courteous to let a customer know you cannot serve them and why.

            1. Mike B.*

              There are so, so many ways this call could go badly. OP doesn’t know Beth, doesn’t know her relationship with her manager, doesn’t know what’s going on in her life, doesn’t know what’s happening behind the scenes at her company, etc. What if the manager took her side? You’d have multiple people at this place angry with both OP and her company. What if they then made a stink about it? Does OP want to admit to having looked up and phoned the boss of a customer to complain about her? Whatever mitigating factors there might be, how exactly would that look to a higher-up who doesn’t know OP personally?

              In an attempt to be “nice,” OP would be opening a huge can of worms that involves numerous other people. It’s a bad idea.

              1. ThursdaysGeek*

                In addition, you have let the “customer know you cannot serve them and why” — you’ve informed Beth, the customer. What she does with that is her problem.

          2. Terra*

            Except they wouldn’t necessarily be refusing to do business with the organization, just with Beth. If the company has another rep that could make the calls then potentially their business relationship could continue.

            There’s also an argument to be made for professionalism. Alison is saying she thinks it’s unprofessional for the OP to call Beth’s manager but I could also see an argument that it’s unprofessional to essentially tell an employee “tell your boss we won’t work with you anymore” or “tell your boss we won’t talk to you anymore.” We also don’t know how much power/authority Beth has which feels important.

            Also, what if Beth lies to her manager about why OPs company is no longer offering them service and the manager then repeats the lie? Granted the manager shouldn’t do that but if OPs company hasn’t made an effort to reach out to them then they may feel like they don’t have any reason to reach out either. There maybe some middle ground like sending Beth’s company a letter stating why they can’t work with Beth and/or the company anymore. Or if they have a contract with Beth’s company potentially having someone contact the signer and explain the situation.

            1. Observer*

              There’s also an argument to be made for professionalism. Alison is saying she thinks it’s unprofessional for the OP to call Beth’s manager but I could also see an argument that it’s unprofessional to essentially tell an employee “tell your boss we won’t work with you anymore” or “tell your boss we won’t talk to you anymore.”

              That’s where I was trying to go.

              There maybe some middle ground like sending Beth’s company a letter stating why they can’t work with Beth and/or the company anymore. Or if they have a contract with Beth’s company potentially having someone contact the signer and explain the situation.

              That might work a bit better, as then it’s not about “I’m talking to you boss about you”, but a business to business communication about terms of service.

              1. Mike B.*

                Why is there a need for any of this?

                Beth is in charge of the relationship with this vendor. Other people at her organization would notice if it suddenly changed–OP’s company provides transportation services, not something fungible like office supplies. A transition would likely lead to errors, interruptions in service, new and unfamiliar personnel, different costs, etc, and people are going to be angry and demand to know what happened. The trail leads directly to Beth’s door. The manager may himself then choose to contact OP (or someone else at her company), at which point it would be entirely appropriate to provide an explanation.

                And I think you’re tying yourselves in knots trying to look at this the other way. No rational manager is going to be disappointed in an outside organization *at which he knows no one* for failing to reach out to him with a critique of one of his direct reports. It would in no way be unprofessional of OP to let the matter lie.

                1. Sunshine*

                  Seconded. Beth is only the OPs problem as long as she’s a difficult customer. Once that relationship ends, OP is under no obligation to save the rest of the world from Beth’s crazy.

          3. nofelix*

            “It’s none of OP’s business whether Beth is doing her job adequately”

            It kind of is when her behaviour affects OP’s staff.

            We have had a similar issue in our office. My colleague Mike has been dealing with an external site manager who has been wasting a lot of everyone’s time. Our director noticed this and called the director who employs the site manager, and said if this continues we won’t work with this guy again and you’ll have to use someone else if you want our projects. However, big difference here is that this is two directors with an existing relationship.

            1. Mike B.*

              You’re conflating Beth’s horribleness toward others with her horribleness at her job–they’re related, of course, but one is a problem that OP has to deal with and one is a problem that Beth’s manager has to deal with. And OP has several options that don’t require her to make that awkward contact.

              And yes, the existing relationship certainly changed things in your situation, but it wouldn’t have been out of line for one director to call the other even if they were strangers. They’re colleagues, and they’re as such mutually responsible for solving problems like these. OP is not–she just has a bad customer, and she has options for dealing with those that weren’t open to the director in your case.

          4. snuck*

            I agree… and the manager might well reach out and say to the OP “Beth has explained that you won’t provide service to her anymore, can you tell me a bit more about that please” and then the OP can say “well she was abusive on umpteen occasions to our staff, and we stopped service after a) reviewing our communication policy and b) making all contacts with Beth go through a supervisor and still finding we couldn’t agree on a communication style that was professional for all parties” … and that will tell that manager a WORLD of information.

            Besides. If Beth is like this with you, she’s like this elsewhere. It’s going to bite her in the butt all over town.

      2. Observer*

        The thing is that if Beth is coming in as a representative of her company, then it’s not just about talking to her supervisor as a means of discipline or control. After all, if you are going to stop serving a customer, it’s basic decency to let them know WHY. So, if the OP has the standing to decline to serve Beth, and thereby Beth’s company, I think she has the standing to reach out to Beth’s supervisor and tell her that OP’s company will no longer be providing service to them. Better yet, reach out to the person who manages the contract and tell her.

        1. V2*

          I don’t think there’s a contract, it sounds like customers have their own third party arrangements with people like Beth. This would be like me having my assistant call the cable company on my behalf.

        2. Colette*

          She could tell Beth, but I really disagree that she should tell someone else at Beth’s company. The most she could do would be to tell her internal sales team/account manager, if Beth’s company has an ongoing agreement with them. There is no plus side for her or her company in contacting Beth’s manager.

          1. Observer*

            The most she could do would be to tell her internal sales team/account manager, if Beth’s company has an ongoing agreement with them.

            That sounds like a good idea.

          2. nofelix*

            “There is no plus side for her or her company in contacting Beth’s manager.”

            They could ask for one of Beth’s colleagues to be their contact instead. It might be simple to fix.

      3. AtomicCowgirl*

        I think it depends on the situation. As a manager, if one of my employees was being rude to a vendor of mine I would appreciate hearing about it, because our corporate values and our published code of conduct states explicitly: “…as part of our commitment to a positive work environment, we expect all employees to adhere to our Values, which includes treating everyone with integrity and respect.” Yelling at or belittling a vendor – even if the vendor did something wrong – is a violation of our code of conduct and I would want to know so that I could counsel my employee in a good faith effort to help them improve their behavior. If they did not improve it would be considered a performance issue and we would take disciplinary action.

        I’ve also experienced this from the other side – a very large customer of ours has a director who is incredibly unpleasant to interact with. He is hostile, sarcastic, inappropriate and at times seems as if he is possibly mentally unbalanced. My Vice President has actually taken action to speak to this person’s superior. There is simply no reason to be unprofessional when dealing with customers or vendors, and really good managers and directors want to know when their employees are not acting appropriately in their interactions with customers and vendors alike.

      4. Chameleon*

        But wouldn’t you, as a manager, prefer to know if an employee was threatening the relationship with a vendor? Presumably finding an alternate would take time and resources, so it might be worth it for the manager to stop Beth’s behavior before it got to that point.

        1. Colette*

          If the OP severs the relationship with Beth, Beth’s manager can contact the OP to find out why if she’s concerned. I’d suggest Beth’s manager probably already knows what’s going on.

          1. Mike B.*

            And I’m sure OP’s company would happily welcome this customer back if Beth were no longer the point of contact, so it’s not as though it’s an irrevocable severing of ties.

      5. Not So NewReader*

        There may be exceptions such as there is a formal contract in place, and other exceptions. If Beth is the contact point for the two companies, then it may be necessary to contact her boss or other appropriate management person, such as the person who signed the contract.
        If Beth is the only person calling from that company, then it might be a little tricky to cut off Beth with any type of contract in place. Additional steps may be necessary.

        It could be that someone needs to stand up to Beth, tell her NO and give her a chance to correct her behaviors. “Beth, I noticed that you were swearing at my staff during the phone call I reviewed. My staff is not allowed to swear at customers and our policies clearly state (OR, I have informed my staff) that they are to hang up if a customer becomes abusive.” I sincerely doubt this will work given the wide variety of ways that Beth is offensive.

        Or it could be that OP decides the situation is totally out of control and tells Beth that a letter/phone call is going out to her company management to notify them that OP’s company will not be able to assist Beth any more. Then list the reasons. This is probably something that OP will need to run by her boss before proceeding.

        My thinking is that if two companies are locked into doing business with each other it is up to the employees of each company to communicate when there are major problems going on. I would describe Beth’s behaviors as a major problem. Which brings me to my next point, maybe OP or her boss could start the conversation with the other company official by asking how they feel the working relationship is going between the two companies.

        OP, I am sitting in the comfort of my home, armchair guessing at what your work place is like. These thoughts here come under the heading of “leaving no stone unturned” and just something for you to mull over.

    1. Kate M*

      I just don’t get what the outcome expected would be by talking to her manager. If you can afford lose this client, and want to take that step, then all you would need to do is say you can’t provide her service anymore. Then, it’s her problem. Her company (and manager) can reach out to you from there if they really need to use your service, and at that point you can say (if you want to work with them again), that as a condition, you need to work with someone who is not abusive to service reps or whatever.

      If you can’t afford to lose the client, then talking to her manager probably wouldn’t go well towards that goal. Talking to her manager might make it seem like you can’t work with them, so they might find someone else. I just don’t see what this would accomplish.

      1. finman*

        I would try my best to get the approval (if needed) to stop accepting this persons business and communicate that to a manager/contract specialist at Beth’s company. Even if this Beth represents a large chunk of business. There are companies that stopped doing business with Walmart due to the onerous terms and conditions required and that by firing their customer the company financials actually improved.

      2. nofelix*

        Why wait for them to go through the steps in your first para when one could just ask directly? Call their director and say “We enjoy working with you, but recently one of your reps has started abusing our staff. I have to look after my staff, so I’d like to ask that we work with someone respectful”. Then if they say this isn’t possible, mention that this will mean the business relationship is sadly at an end. Then they can either confirm this or make the change. One quick phonecall.

        1. Mike B.*

          One quick phone call to a complete stranger wherein you give unprompted negative feedback about someone they work with every day. Simple, right?

          I said it earlier: this is BETH’S business relationship. From OP’s perspective, Beth is the only customer, and she’s created a bad situation for her company. She’s a grown woman who can face the consequences of her actions, and those consequences will appropriately be more dire if her manager only learns how bad the situation is when they suddenly have to change vendors. Why shield her from that?

  6. Workfromhome*

    Agree that telling them the reps have been “coached” is not the right thing to do. We often use this term when a rep makes mistakes and the customer complains. Its a nice way of saying “they screwed up and they will get a talking to so it won’t happen again”.

    First order of business is to talk to someone higher up to let them know that this customer is being disrespectful and you might have to “fire the customer”. I don’t know if the OP has the authority to do that. If a customer has enough volume they can sometimes get away with almost anything.

    I have had customers be rude (even profane) to reps. After reviewing the call and seeing how bad it was I did call the customer’s manager and express concern over how they behaved. That’s the good thing about a recording they can’t really deny it.

    As long as someone above doesn’t forbid it I would inform Beth that while we are happy to do our best that no one is required to be abused and that if it occurs again that its authorized for the rep to disconnect from “any client” who is abusive. If this happens you or your boss can “review the recording with her”.

    The advice to have your reps back is perfect. No one needs to put up with abuse. I know I have told people “If you cannot continue without being abusive and profane I will disconnect and then following through. As long as its documented immediately what you did and why people should be protected against this regardless of how much money the customer spends.

    1. Ashley the Paralegal*

      Years ago I worked in a call center that helped military personnel with their health benefits. One day a young private called in and chewed someone out over something beyond her control. Well her supervisor (who was retired military) didn’t think the private’s actions represented the military community well so he called the private’s commander who apparently chewed out the young man and made him call back and apologize the the rep. It was awesome. Thanks for reminding me of this.

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        There are some advantages to dealing with the military. (I’ve worked in a similar call center.) The base commanders actually want to know about this kind of stuff, and there are consequences for the AD service members for behaving like this. (The retirees do what they want… but it can affect their on-base privileges.)

        1. the gold digger*

          This was never an issue for me, because I was too scared of anything going on my Permanent Record, but military brats are usually pretty well behaved – if you catch the attention of the MPs, they will go to your dad’s boss.

          1. Anna*

            Uh. No. Military brats can be some of the worst and while it is true your kid acting up can affect your career, having been surrounded by military brats for a significant chunk of my school career I can tell you it didn’t seem to bother them too much. :)

            Back in the day my dad was a military brat and while living in Alaska shot at airplanes with a beebee gun while they took off at an airfield. Marines were called in to take down the enemy on the beach. Military brats can be TERRIBLE.

          2. LawBee*

            you were around nicer (or more timid) military kids than I was. They tended to be the terror of the school because they knew they were moving on in a couple of years, so who cared.

            1. the gold digger*

              I was more timid than most. It didn’t help being the new kid again and this time not even on a base school where at least everyone is in the same boat. Oh, the joys of being new (chubby, wearing homemade clothes) in a school where everyone else had known each other since kindergarten. Junior high was not fun. My senior year of high school was not fun. Nope. Almost nothing I miss about my grade and high school years!

          3. acmx*

            I believe the Gold Digger is the military brat she was speaking of. Military brats are just like other children: some well behaved and others not so much.

            I was and grew up with lots of military kids. Can’t recall any that were terrors.

  7. KR*

    I have told my cashiers frequently that if they have a customer that is extremely difficult, to call me over (supervisor) for a BS reason just so I’m there to back them up. It’s important to know your management is behind you.

    1. Jade*

      I’ve also seen correlations to OP’s problem when I worked in retail. We had a few extremely difficult customers who would come in and harass the staff regularly (things like telling us we don’t know what we’re doing), and we’d do our best to be polite and professional, but we always just wished a manager would come in and deal with these people directly. If we tried to handle them ourselves, they’d just go and complain to a manager that we gave them bad service, and we’d endure the questioning that followed. Usually we’d get a few minutes with said customers before we handed them over to a manager, who were usually glad to take over for us. The persistently difficult ones would usually eventually get told by management not to come in anymore- we didn’t need their kind of business.

      1. Former Retail Manager*

        Ahhh…yes…I had my fair share of these in retail. If they treated my employee poorly and clearly had an issue with them, I’d tell them to simply ask for me if I was there and I’d be happy to help them and a handful took me up on it or stopped being rude to the other employees. I believe strongly in backing your employees and letting them know you do. The idiots won’t cease to exist, but it makes them easier to deal with if you know that your manager has your back when they do spring up.

  8. Bleu*

    While I understand the advice, I’m conflicted — only because Beth is not the customer, but a third party booking the OP’s services on behalf of the eventual customer. Depending on the dynamics of the business relationship, to me it seems there might be a legitimate reason at some threshold point to ask for her manager, especially if one option is that the OP’s company is not going to provide its services to customers via Beth’s third party company.

    1. Who Watches the Watcher's?*

      That was something I also noticed. Since it’s a mutually beneficial relationship between these two companies, is there any room at all there to somehow reach out to someone in a similar position as the OP at the other company and let them know about the Beth situation?

    2. ali*

      This bothers me too. Does the customer know how Beth is behaving on their behalf? It makes them look bad too. If you cut Beth’s business from your company, that directly impacts the customer, so they might need to be involved / know about it.

      1. HRish Dude*

        That doesn’t seem like a good idea at all.

        If I book a flight on Priceline, I don’t want a call from United telling me that the Priceline rep was rude.

        1. ali*

          I think it depends on the business relationship, as Bleu said above. If I’m working with a web design company who is asking me for changes on behalf of the customer, the customer is my real customer and not the web design company, and I go to them if I have issues or concerns about the project.

        2. ali*

          also letting the customer know about it might be as simple as a note in an email newsletter to all customer that says “we have ceased our working relationship with , you can now use x, x, or x instead”. It all depends on the company and the nature of the relationships. But in your example, yes, that would be stupid.

        3. Anna*

          That’s not the same sort of relationship. If I hire someone to act on my behalf and they are an ass, I might like to know that. Beth is working directly for a customer. However, I don’t see how telling the customer would possibly work, so it doesn’t really matter.

        4. Hannah*

          No, I think the analogous situation would be for you to book with a travel agency, miss your flight, then your travel agent calls United and chews them out for leaving without you. The travel agency’s managent is hoping to build a good relationship with United so they can get preferential fares, but meanwhile one of their own agents is out there developing a reputation for being difficult with United’s customer service, not helping them.

          I agree it wouldn’t work for the LW to just ask the rep to put her manager on the phone – she could just tell him to buzz off. But maybe if the LW’s company’s management ever had a forum where they’re meeting with the rep’s company’s management, they might be able to bring this up and it could get back to the rep’s manager. It really depends on the politics of the specific organizations I think.

          Something like this happened where I work recently. Complaints about one customer did make it up the chain to their own management, but the problem customer was not just a nuisance, there was a large impact from this one person’s actions so YMMV.

        5. Not So NewReader*

          However, if OP is in the human service field this might be very doable. Or it might work in some B2B situations for retailing and services, especially if they are locally based and their target area is local.

          I do agree that if it’s big companies like Priceline and United, then the solution is about as effective as throwing a stone in the ocean.

    3. Sunshine*

      I work in the same industry as the OP and I have a hunch about what the relationship is. If I’m on the right track, then I think the best option is for OP to call Beth directly (don’t wait for her to call back in and be abusive), and address her head on. “Beth, in order to continue providing our services to you, I need you to work respectfully and professionally with all our representatives.” After that, if it continues, she doesn’t get to call anymore. Period. (If the OP is in the clear to take that step without repercussion). There’s no reason to stop doing business with the Beth’s company – just Beth. It’s up to Beth to explain that to her superiors as she wishes but Beth has a responsibility to her customers as well. If she can’t provide the service her customers need because she treats her vendors like crap, then she’ll eventually have to answer for that.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        This and if OP does not know where to draw the lines, the OP’s boss should be helping her by showing her what the company expects. I am the type of person who gets into trouble by telling subordinates just hang up on an abusive person. Then I find out whooops, no, management wants us to kowtow to everyone no matter how poorly they behave. At this point in the story, this becomes a whole ‘nother post. ;)

    4. Grey*

      I agree with this. If the OP ends the business relationship with Beth, then Beth will no doubt tell the customer that it’s the OP’s fault and that the OP runs an awful business. The customer may simply take their business elsewhere and your reputation is damaged. It’s best to let them know what’s going on.

  9. Pwyll*

    Why not offer to review the call with Beth directly? Listening to yourself is extremely difficult sometimes (I hated hearing my own calls when I worked in a call center). Assuming it wouldn’t violate policies or somesuch, it could just give her the right amount of embarrassment to change behavior.

    1. Rebecca*

      I like it! Set up a phone conference with Beth, and play the call for her. She may be shocked by how awful she sounds.

    2. neverjaunty*

      Because people like Beth are beyond embarassment. In her little mind, she’s always right and everyone else is always wrong. She’ll just ignore the parts where she yelled or was rude, or will recast it as ‘well it’s not my fault your rep was stupid’.

      Business can fire customers. If possible, OP should do so.

      1. Sunshine*

        This. It will likely just make her more defensive. Obviously she thinks this it’s okay to treat people this way, because “she’s the customer.” Agree – time to cut ties with her.

        I had a similar situation recently with an absolutely crazy customer. He had called in and cussed out (literally) every one of my reps, including the ones that were not involved in his issue but had the unfortunate luck to answer the phone call. By the time I got wind of it, the entire group was in chaos. I immediately told them all they were not to engage with him on the phone – if he called again, ask him to please send his request via email and we would communicate that way, and end the call. (He was being an ass through email too, but that’s easier to ignore and also gave a paper trail.) I also told them that if he continued to call and show his ass, to immediately transfer him to me and I would deal with it. It never got to that point, but I was fully prepared to cut him off at the knees and ask him to take his business elsewhere. Of course, I’m confident that my boss would have had my back. Anyone on the front lines of a business has to expect a certain amount of shitty interactions, but no one has to tolerate abuse like that; and it’s important that your team knows that management believes in that and will act on it.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          OP, check this out. This is where you want to go to. Your people need you to do this for them. Sunshine, I am sure your people feel very confident in doing their jobs and feel confident that they know what you expect from them. Nicely done.

  10. Sunshine Brite*

    I guess I’m coming at this from a different perspective, social work mostly, but I see a place to reach out to her supervisor eventually. I think the OP needs to push back more next time a review is requested and her actions are seen as the problem and support the reps in that way. I know in previous job, there were smaller scale local companies that we dealt with to arrange transportation as a third party for people with disabilities. Often times, the scheduler had to be pushy to the companies to get results or last minute requests as there were a lot of delays with one of the drivers we usually got. It’s different, particularly since our scheduler was well-trained and knew the kind of service to expect.

    Four contacts like this in a month is a lot. Like I mentioned, push back more that she needs to fully respond and actively listen to the reps to get the most out of the service. I would also consider if you have the opportunity to empower the reps more to not accept her screaming at them. I work with people with behavioral problems primarily and if people get too abusive with me over the phone I am to end the call and escalate the concern to my supervisor in case it is a pattern. Once it becomes a pattern, my supervisor reaches out to that client to create some distance between my interaction with them and provide support for my decision-making in the case and offer any additional resources or options including ones that I have discussed with them in an attempt to diffuse the situation. These efforts often reduce the harassment from clients who think I have not done what I need to. I just re-read and OP is doing a lot of this, so keep it up!

    I haven’t needed to have my supervisor reach out to another’s and I only did once myself with supervisor approval when there was a series of miscommunications affecting customer service. I’ve seen it happen with others when someone is completely non-responsive or if there is a pattern from a certain provider of misinformation (like not just Beth but most of the people who work at her 3rd party). I could see reaching out if you’re considering not allowing Beth to contact your reps any further so maybe they could switch those accounts to someone else and still maintain the business relationship if that’s something that would be beneficial to most. I suppose a long way to say, it might get to the point where you need to speak with her boss but try more directly with her first.

    1. Sunshine Brite*

      …and by direct I also mean very specific. Please don’t raise your voice…, please listen to all questions, anything that you notice is missing from her side of the calls.

  11. Sarah*

    If this is the industry I’m thinking of (my industry, travel), it’s also very possible that this woman doesn’t have a manager to speak to. A lot of agents these days are independent franchisees of host agencies, who don’t terribly care what kind of face their agents are putting out there as long as they make money and keep paying their monthly fees. Unfortunately, some people are just overentitled jerks, especially to call center workers who are judged rather harshly for the tough job they’re doing.

    Seconding Alison’s point though, that if it’s at all possible you could refuse to continue to work with her. If your company is really large, that actually might be enough of a wake-up call for her to cut down on her poor behavior because then she won’t be able to book your services.

    1. AnotherHRPro*

      This is what I was coming to say. Unless Beth’s business is VERY significant (i.e., rainmaker level) then I would strongly recommend you consider ending your relationship with her. This will show your representatives that you have their back and that you will not allow customers to treat them poorly. If this is not possible, then you should have Beth contact only you.

  12. Lisa*

    Customers who can’t be rehabilitated from their massive angry time-waster status with honey (apologies, a way to get directly to a supervisor in the future, thanks for their feedback, assurances they are important) should be treated like you would an errant employee: Coach them, help them understand the possible consequences of their behavior, and if they don’t change, “fire” them by refusing service in the future. OP’s boss may not support this but I suspect she could get agreement by showing how much employee time is spent on this one woman and the cost of that time vs. the value of her business. (In my experience, it’s rarely the hugely valuable customer that is a nightmare.) Even if she reacts to being refused service by putting the company on blast all over the internet, her nightmare customer status will shine through and people will laugh at her rather than reject the company.

    1. Zillah*

      Reading poor reviews of things can be really interesting for this reason – you can often tell how legit a complaint is by the way it’s phrased and what it addresses. For example: I am not impressed by people who are outraged that the organic vegetarian restaurant near me doesn’t carry meat. (Yes, really.)

  13. Ad Astra*

    Beth seems to think OP and OP’s company must do business with her. Telling her otherwise — in the tactful ways Alison recommends — would be enough to straighten up most versions of Beth I’ve encountered. People don’t act this way when they know the object of their rudeness have some recourse.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      If it’s human services, OP’s biz might be the only real biz in town. So OP could be concerned for the people that Beth represents (the third party). I still say, let the mop flop, OP. Your staff is going through a lot because of this woman and you have to draw the line.

  14. WellRed*

    I never worked in a call center, but the idea of transferring a call to a completely different company? Reminds me of customers who didn’t understand why I, as a Borders employee, couldn’t look up inventory for Barnes & Noble.

    1. Ad Astra*

      When I worked at a newspaper, people often called me to complain about things the radio or TV stations did. Always when I was on deadline, too.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I was in big building supply store the other day, they are still running on DOS. People think the technology is in place and it’s JUST NOT.

    2. Kelly L.*

      I worked at a sandwich shop once and we had an ad in a local flyer…the nightclub down the street advertised in the same flyer. People would try to buy tickets to the club’s events by calling us.

    3. AndersonDarling*

      I once answered the phone at work and it was a wrong number. But the caller wanted me to look up the number of the bank they were trying to call and transfer them. Some people have no limit.

      1. Ama*

        This happened to a colleague of mine — I was working in academia at the time, and the caller was trying to call an insurance company in a completely different part of the country, there was absolutely no way we could have known the correct number, but he wanted to be transferred anyway. In trying to explain why she couldn’t transfer him my colleague let slip that we were in New York and then he told her that he could tell because she was so rude. Um, okay.

        1. Zillah*

          As a New Yorker, there is very little that gets me defensive faster than “Well, New Yorkers are just so rude!” No, we’re not. Sometimes we don’t stick around for five minutes of pleasantries on each end, but we are not super rude as a city (or state, for that matter).

    4. jmkenrick*

      I once had someone demand repeatedly that I give her a refund for a product she’d purchased (months ago) from one of our competitors.

      She finally relented, but then sent me a very uppity e-mail explaining how a “good” customer service rep would have treated her.

    5. Florida*

      Maybe the call center reps could say, “Sure, please hold so I can transfer you.” Then accidentally hang up on Beth. This wouldn’t solve any problems, but it might be fun.

      1. Sunshine*

        I’ve totally done that before (a long time ago, when I was young and impulsive). Now I just dream about it.

      2. Tempest*

        When I worked in a call centre our end call button was called release shortened to RLS. We used to ‘transfer the caller to RLS’ all the time.

    6. Emily, admin extraordinaire*

      When I worked in a local bookstore chain, I once had to call our competitor DURING THE CHRISTMAS RUSH to see if they had a specific bookmark a customer was looking for. I tried to politely tell her we didn’t do that, but eventually did just to make her go away (she was VERY insistent). I actually told the other worker that I was from [Bookstore], and could she check her stock to see if they had the bookmark. The other worker was flabbergasted that a customer would ask someone to do this (especially as they were literally located across the street from the mall where my store was located). It felt very Miracle on 34th Street, and I was sending a customer to Gimbels. Except they didn’t have the bookmark. Ha!

      Another time I had a nice old lady call to ask me how to spell “Sincere.” She didn’t have a dictionary handy, and she thought we could tell her because we were “always so nice and helpful.” I told her how to spell it.

      1. jmkenrick*

        That’s funny. Actually, when I worked at Borders, we had a store policy of calling other local bookstores if we didn’t have a book in stock and the customer didn’t want to wait for it to be shipped.

        The logic behind the policy was that we want the customer to associate the store with leaving satisfied, even if we weren’t actually making the sale.

        1. neverjaunty*

          Sure, Nordstroms is famous for doing this sort of thing – but there’s a huge difference between a business telling a customer “We’ll find that for you” and a customer demanding that the business hunt it up from their competition.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Yeah, I did this routinely for one company I worked for. It was a reciprocal relationship. The two owners had discussed their arena and agreed that there was plenty of work for both businesses.

          What happened next was amazing.

          We sent them customers and they sent us customers. They ran out of a basic item, we would send a truck of our stuff to them and visa versa. The owners kept running tabs and squared up with each other on a periodic basis. No one lost money and both businesses THRIVED. For their arena, they were the two biggest businesses in the area, town and county departments were among our customers.

    7. bkanon*

      High five for that. I had it bad at one of my Borders because there was a B&N almost directly across the street. The number of people who just would not believe we were two different companies was staggering

    8. PurpleDaisy*

      I once had a woman demand that I phone around to other locations to try to see if they had any pumpkins in stock. On Halloween. At 6:00pm. This was after telling her that we had been out of stock for a few days now and it was likely that the other stores would be too. I phoned two stores, told her again that all our stores were out of stock. She then started “brainstorming” other places that I could call(competitors, farmer’s markets, etc.). Basically told her that I was not allowed to and extracted myself away from her.

    9. CM*

      Reminds me of when I was in line at the independent bookstore and the woman in front of me was yelling at the cashier, who wouldn’t accept her Barnes and Noble gift card. “What do you mean, you won’t take it? It’s a gift card.” “But Ma’am… we’re not Barnes and Noble.” “But this is a GIFT CARD!” The poor cashier. Luckily she left, muttering, without more escalation.

  15. Grey*

    The next time Beth wants you to review a call, send a written review and a recording of the call to Beth’s employer. Just say, “Here is the review you requested”.

  16. Kiki*

    I once had a manager transfer the calls to her when certain client called. I was *very* grateful and impressed that she was willing to step out in front of me, metaphorically.

  17. Anon21*

    I’ve seen it done the other way to good effect–from the side of the “Beth’s” company. Our “Beth” had various attitude and performance problems, capped by an incident in which she apparently screamed at a rep for a caterer because Beth had forgotten to make arrangements for the meal, and it was now too late. The caterer called our HR department to say they had never been treated so rudely by a customer, and could not work with us if this was the standard of professionalism to which we held our employees. That was the last straw–Beth was fired immediately.

    Now, if the OP’s Beth isn’t already on thin ice with her own company, I doubt OP letting them know about her behavior is going to get her fired. But it’s information they’ll likely be grateful to have, and it may either result in a change to Beth’s behavior or a new liaison to OP’s company.

    1. "Computer Science"*

      This is the reason I’d make the call to Beth’s employer. I’m really not comfortable assuming they know what her behaviour is like, and reaching out to her manager to outline the behaviour they’ve experienced and how they can expect these calls to go in the future. If Beth is a low-ranking employee, disallowing service is going to cause ripples, but not end the abuse.

      If we’re willing to fire the client, we need to contact the people in charge of the contract to inform them of the change.

      1. Mike B.*

        “I’m really not comfortable assuming they know what her behaviour is like…”

        Nor am I. I AM comfortable saying that if they don’t know, either they soon will (without the intervention of any outside parties) or they don’t deserve to be clued in.

        A company that puts a Beth into a position of responsibility and then ignores what she’s doing? There’s no need to save it from itself.

  18. Mando Diao*

    Hmmm, I don’t think it’s out of line to reach out to Beth’s supervisor. As a correlation, I believe that Alison has advised past readers to reach out to businesses who have hired recruiters that aren’t operating appropriately.

    The next time Beth gets heated, is it possible to say something like, “I won’t have someone speaking to my employees in that manner. Can I please speak with your higher-up?” Tell Beth’s supervisor that you’d be happy to send him or her the recorded calls.

    As a human person trying to get by in this world, I’m a firm believer in speaking up when someone’s being lousy to others. When you let someone get away with it (because you don’t want to seem pushy or step out of line), you’re giving that person permission to keep doing it. If the goal is to get Beth to stop treating your employees like shxt, you need to do something about it. She’s not going to stop otherwise, and OP is going to start losing good employees.

      1. Anon21*

        No, but in this day and age, it should be pretty easy to find contact information for Beth’s supervisor–assuming OP doesn’t already have it, which she might.

  19. Florida*

    I hope that OP sends an update on this one. I love it when businesses fire bad customers. Whoever came up with the idea that the customer is always right has never had customers like Beth. She sounds like one of those people who tries to return a smelly, dirty, stretched blouse and claims its new. Then she says to the poor customer service rep in a very snarky manner, “I thought the customer was always right. What a terrible business this is.” I really hope that it is feasible for OP’s company to quit doing business with Beth. OP, please keep us posted.

    1. Fish Microwaver*

      As I see it the OP throws the employees under the bus by telling Beth that they have been counselled when she complains. Instead she should tell Beth that the employees are following correct procedure instead of appeasing her and letting her think she is in the right and giving encouragement and permission to continue to be have like an asshat.

      1. Anon Accountant*

        Agreed. When I hear they were counseled that tells me they were told the previous what they handled something was incorrect. A good starting point would be telling her the rep followed correct procedures.

      2. neverjaunty*

        As others have noted, it doesn’t appear that the OP is trying to throw her employees under the bus – she’s trying to deal with Beth productively while quietly protecting her employees from this abuse. Of course, this is a well-intentioned mistake, in that Beth is probably taking OP’s comments as ‘yes, I have punished the employee’, but OP is not disciplining or criticizing her team.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        I agree. If OP dealt with Beth effectively, the problem would stop entirely. I put this one on OP’s boss, why isn’t OP’s boss getting involved by guiding OP or writing clear policies or setting boundaries for what the business will provide? Big Boss should be instructing OP on how to handle this situation.

  20. LizzyB*

    Although we do have some affiliations with this other company, they are a separate company with an office on the other side of the country from us, and we cannot see their orders.
    I’m certainly not defending Beth screaming at reps, but I wonder how clear is the division of businesses. I recently purchased an appliance online from SearOutlet. Tons of problems getting anyone to respond to emails and phone calls about when and *if* the appliance would actually be delivered. This went on for several weeks. When I could not get an answer from SearOutlet I tried to go through Sears. As a customer who wasn’t getting the answers from the outlet, having someone at the retail business office tell me “Oh, that’s not us” was infuriating.

    1. Observer*

      What exactly was the rep supposed to do, though? They are separate entities. Are you sure that SearOutlet is even part of Sears at ANY level?

    2. Sunshine*

      I can see why you’d be frustrated, but I bet you didn’t take it out on the Sears rep with abuse. If the companies are not connected, then they’re not connected.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I had to return something with a gas engine. Sears told me to bring it to Kmart because they could not take gas engines back. (They have a service department which should be a safe area for items with gas engines, but what do I know.)
      I went to Kmart and they said “Oh, Sears always tells people that and no, we don’t take gas engines here.” Again, Kmart also has an area where they work on cars, items with gas engines could probably go there for safety concerns.

      I ping-ponged back and forth a few times, then I put my foot down. Clearly there was some type of turf war going on between the two companies and I happened to be their pawn. I decided not to play that game.

  21. Miles*

    Calling Beth’s supervisor may not be the right call, but I definitely think calling the company to let them know that you’re blacklisting her, if it comes to that, could be useful. Especially if you let them know that it’s a problem with her specifically and that you’ll continue to work with the company as usual.

    Then again, it may count as a mark against you if it turns out she’s one of their high performers… stranger thigns have happened.

  22. Anon Accountant*

    Exactly. No one should have to tolerate this. Beth either needs to be professional or cordial and stop being so rude and screaming.

    OP thank you so much for thinking of your reps! It really means a lot to employees to know their boss has their back.

    We used to have a client who would call me, scream and swear at me. My boss yelled at me for telling her we needed to talk another time when things were calmer. I tried sympathizing about why yes her bookkeeping issues could be frustrating but we would work through those, etc. When something didn’t go her way she would scream she was going to sue us. I pleaded with him to intervene and he wouldn’t. He said he didn’t want to deal with her.

    She left to go to another service provider and he was mad that she left us. She rarely paid our bill and “there went his chance that get paid”.

    Having an employee’s back means a lot to them.

  23. Cassie*

    I don’t see a problem with contacting Beth’s supervisor or someone else at Beth’s company to let them know. I see it like if you go to a store and the cashier is rude and abusive. Do you just walk out of the store and never return or do you ask to speak to a manager? Or send a letter to corporate?

  24. Not So NewReader*

    ” she is short with the representatives, not paying attention to questions asked, forcing representatives to wait while she emails her customers or makes extensive notes, screams at the reps, and tells them that they have no idea how to do their job. ”

    This is where your employees need your help. Set standards/policies. Give the employees permission to end a phone call if the customer is abusive. State what you want to happen. Perhaps you decide that an employee should state a warning, “I cannot continue this call if you are going to swear at me or berate me.” If the customer does not change her tune, authorize the employee to hang up. Screaming should be an automatic hang up.

    Set time limits that they are allowed to wait for a customer to do whatever it is the customer does. “I am sorry ma’am/sir, but I cannot stay on hold for a period of time. Other customers are trying to call us and I need to be available for them. I must hang up now in fairness to others. ”

    Set limits over all. If a customer is abusive/wasting time/whatever, how many instances of that should the employee endure before bumping the customer to you? I think that anything more than three times is too much. But you may decide that two instances is enough for your purposes
    to have the employee bump the call to you.

    Yes, we do tend to train our customers. By agreeing to coach the employee you are training your customer that she can come to you with whatever complaint she has and it’s okay, her expectations are totally reasonable and she should continue doing what she is doing. You could point out, “My people are not talking to you in the tone you are using. I have informed them that anyone who is swearing, berating them, yelling at them or taking up inordinate amounts of their time, they may disconnect from that call. And that is what I expect them to do.”

    1. Emma Bichon*

      I work in a call center for a large corporation. We are 100% allowed to hang up on someone for being abusive and/or swearing after 3 warnings (I’ve heard 2 now though). I have only had to do it once in 16 years. “I’m sorry sir I understand that you are upset but that language is not ok, if you’re going to continue to speak to me in this manner I will have to disconnect the line”. All call center reps should have that option. It can be very hard on people to be yelled and sworn at. In addition to that you’re not going to get anywhere with a customer in that state. They do mostly calm down after the warning. Most don’t even need a second.

      As far as the waiting on hold. I’m not sure how busy the call center is. We would vary. If we weren’t too busy we could wait a couple minutes for the other rep to confirm something.

      A few companies would always want us to wait while they tracked down there customer to provide the update and see about the next step, or another group was classic was calling us knowing their customer needs a new dispatch or further information from the customer (rep would say it to us before we pulled the account) but wouldn’t have the customer on the other line, and hasn’t spoken to the customer since yesterday or someone else did. Those callers were always told to call back when they’ve spoken to the customer and have the information needed or availability for dispatch.
      “We need that information before we can proceed, just call us back once you have/have spoken to the customer and we will be able to assist you then. We’re open until 6p tonight and reopen at 8am tomorrow if you aren’t able to get the information by then. Thank you”

    2. Anon Accountant*

      These are great guidelines and lines for reps to use. These should be included at a training session and reps permitted to disconnect from abusive callers.

  25. Emma Bichon*

    I work in a call center for a very large corporation. We deal with a lot of other providers and the outside companies who are contract to handle some of our, formally, core operations. It can be a challenge. Most of the reps are pretty good but too many sound like Beth. Our reps have tried to explain to the “Beth’s” the correct processes, why policies are in place, behavior that is considered rude etc. Our supervisors have even done the same with no luck. The biggest change I saw is when one company found out we wouldn’t be renewing their contract with us because of their reps behavior (not just rude and demanding but they got some of our people to provide them with protected information that their company wasn’t contracted to have access to, trying up our center by chat bombing us and closing unless they got one of the few rep who would do the stuff they weren’t supposed) The other time was a manager of ours would call their manager when a rep was crossing the line. We would get professional behavior from that rep again.

    Sorry that was so long. Basically I think you should have a little chat with her manager. Yes back your reps up too! But a little “Hi Bob this is Mary over at Travel World. Your travel agent Beth works with us frequently. There seems to be some confusion between Beth and the phone reps about the extent of our services. For the time being I will personally handle Beth’s calls. This is my direct line, I will be providing it to Beth as well. She can call me with all your transportation needs until we can get some clear guidelines in place”

  26. Tara R.*

    When I was 16, I was working at… let’s say… Teapot Consulting Industries in a small town. We frequently dealt with Company A Accountant, who was not actually on any paperwork and was unable to view the account or any details since she was not a signatory. She mostly just dropped things off. Everyone knew her, we saw her every day.

    One day, she comes to me. She asks me to get her a new Teapot Measurements Recording Manual, and charge the cost to the company account. Of course I say no, because she has NO authority over the account at all, let alone making charges to it!

    She flips, yells that all the other Consulting Assistants do this for her, insults me based on my age and intelligence, and demands to see my manager.

    My manager says “NO WE ABSOLUTELY DO NOT DO THAT”, and promptly lectures all the other Assistants afterwords for repeatedly doing it, making a big fuss about making sure that it never ever happens again. I like to tell this as a cautionary tale, because if she had just said “oh okay” and sucked it up that one time, she could have just gone to other Assistants in the future and gotten her manual, but instead she had to make a special trip to get cash from the owners when she needed a new one. Revenge is petty. :)

  27. jaxon*

    I am on the fence about whether or not I agree that contacting this woman’s manager wouldn’t be appropriate or a good idea. I have had a couple of past situations (not where I was dealing with a client, per se, but still) where I ended up contacting someone’s supervisor because I was so unnerved by their behavior on the phone.

  28. featherwitch*

    I work in an industry where it is very common if you don’t like the behavior of an employee, you reach out to their manager, director, or vice president, even if it’s at a vendor or other affiliated business. It’s a small community, and everyone has worked with everyone else at some point or another.
    As a manager, if my employee was being rude or abusive on the phone, I would want to know and please, I would love a transcript or recording of the call(s). It would give me great evidence if I needed to alert the employee to the problem and provide more supervision, start or continue a performance improvement plan or comment in a written review, or provide documentation to terminate.

  29. Milla*

    This would depend on whether Beth is the client, or her company.

    If Beth is the client, then no, you can’t ask to speak with her manager to tattle on her. This would be similar to two other letters on here: one where retail workers want to complain about a nasty customer from the neighboring store to that customer’s boss, and one the one where a worker was fired after a total stranger took a screen shot of the worker’s phone during their commute home on the bus, and then sent it to the worker’s manager. Of course, you can fire Beth as a customer, tell her so, and block her number, but tattling to her boss, comes across as petty, vindictive, and as if you are seeking for her to be fired. She’ll have enough punishment after she has to explain to her boss herself why she’s banned from your services.

    If Beth’s company is your client, you have some more leeway. Formal contracts between the companies gives the most pushback power, and the greater the amount of work performed for the company, the greater amount of push you’ll have to give back on this. Presumably, there will be a channel of back and forth communication between the companies and this might open the opportunity to suggest to the other company that it would be best if their reps had this, this, and that ready when they call in requests to make the process smoother and do things like ‘promote synergy’. If that yields no results, a generalized “We’ve noticed a disturbing trend in the behavior of your reps and have received multiple notices on our end of unprofessional behavior. Please provide additional training so we can continue our mutually beneficial relationship” may work. But, as above, if things become untenable you can fire Beth personally from contacting your company, and then follow up with the company if they make inquiries into why this happened afterwards.

  30. Indianacat*

    I kinda disagree with AAM about contacting the other company about Beth’s behavior. It’s possible that she’s been getting by with being rude on her calls because of the kind of quality assurance in place with her company, which sounds non – existent. It’s one thing for managers to handle customers of their own company that are being rude/vulgar, it’s another to deal repeatedly with a third party rep being rude/vulgar and not something that a company should tolerate from any client, third party or otherwise.

    I do think the OP should bring the problem to her manager’s attention, and that manager should be the one to contact the third party company, and even play some of the recordings of Beth’s behavior. After spending over 30 years in call centers, I would appreciate knowing my managers had my back in this manner, especially since reps like Beth give all of us a bad name.

  31. Granny K*

    This manager needs to put a candy bar under glass with a sign on it that says ‘In case of Beth, break glass’.

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