Please Hold: The Next Representative Will Be With You Shortly

by Megan Reynolds

I find few things as frustrating as dealing with customer service representatives. Generally, I consider myself a patient person. Slow waitstaff and inefficient baristas are only a mild irritant, like seasonal allergies or when my cat knocks over a full glass of water off my bedside table. I’m effusively polite with those in the service industry, because I remember what it was like to serve demanding customers who want both soy milk and half and half in their iced coffees. I tip well, I smile. But, when it comes to customer service representatives, generally, I’m a giant asshole.

It’s never my intention. But, if something in my apartment stops working — the internet cutting out, most likely — I’m the one who calls. I’m the apartment mom, the one who cagily asks everyone around the third of month to kindly Venmo me rent and who sends out cheery “reminders” when it’s time to pay the utilities. I’m the one who breathes deeply around the 16th of every month, when Con-Ed automatically deducts the payment from my checking account. When the internet decides to stop working, one of my roommates generally wanders out of her room, phone in hand.

“Hey, is the internet working for you?” she asks. I am usually jabbing a bobby pin into the reset button on the router and huffing. There’s no need for an answer. They walk away.

Because no one else has the phone number, and because I am generally one month behind on the bill, I pick up the phone. If I’ve resorted to calling, that means that I’ve met my personal limit for how many times I can endure the question of whether or not the internet is working. The customer service line for things like the cable company, the electric company or your student loans are designed to build immense amounts of rage; waiting on hold while a recorded voice from Time Warner implores me to purchase a phone line to save $10 on my bill makes me angrier than most things. By the time I actually speak to a person, I am livid.

It’s not their fault, of course. They have a job, and they are gamely trying to do it. All I’m doing is making their life worse by adopting my customer service tone — sharp, imperious for no reason — and speaking to them as if I owned the place. (I don’t, for the record.) Usually, half of my irritation is related to the fact that I’m calling because a service that I’ll be paying for is not working, and the other half is because I know I still owe them money.

Being behind on your bills is embarrassing. When my phone rings, and it’s my student loan company, my credit card company or Time Warner’s automated voice telling me that they have a very important matter to discuss, I’m angry without any real reason. The truth is, I do owe them the money. I just don’t always have it, and I should. I’m decent enough with money, but there’s just not that much of it to go around. With each unpaid bill that gathers dust, my credit score plummets. Sometimes, when I’m feeling flush and the automated phone calls have become too much, I call them back and pay the bill.

Part of the reasons for these unwarranted negative reactions is because I hate being on the phone. I avoid calls because they ignite tiny flames of anxiety. A phone call is never good news for me, only bad: I owe money for something, or someone has broken a leg or an arm and I have to go to the hospital and help. Avoidance is everything, sometimes.

Recently, I discovered the actual, genuine joy of the live chat option. What would usually be a hellacious experience on the phone with a customer service representative is slightly more tolerable under the guise of a “the representative is typing…” status in a chat window. Cursing at someone who’s simply trying to do their job looks a lot worse when it’s written out. I can breathe easier when I’m typing in a box to someone who is trying to help me fix a problem. The angry wind is temporarily taken out of my sails.

Megan Reynolds lives in New York.

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