In a previous life, I worked as a trainer and supervisor in a call center. While listening in on calls that were “monitored for quality purposes” I actually heard employees tell lies to customers — mostly to get them off the phone.
Having been lied to by call center representatives myself, I can share some telltale signs you’re being lied to.
1. They hang up on you when you start to ask questions.
This is the oldest trick in the book. Once a customer starts asking questions about something they have told you, the line somehow gets disconnected. A call center representative will normally lie to get you off the phone, mostly because their “handle time,” or the time they spend speaking to you, is so closely monitored by management. If they don’t want to go into a lengthy explanation, they will lie. If you attempt to get a more lengthy explanation, they just disconnect the call.
2. The first person you speak to offers you an unbelievable discount.
It probably is too good to be true. Most call center representatives have a strict decision tree that they must follow, and don’t have the ability to go beyond that. Any representative that has the ability to give you more than free shipping or a 10 percent discount is most likely significantly higher up the decision tree than the front line employees. If the first person you speak to, or their immediate supervisor, offers you a huge discount or something similar, it is almost certainly a lie.
3. You are being belligerent, nasty or abusive.
Honey really does draw more flies than vinegar. If you are angry, and taking that out on the representative on the phone, two things will happen: they will try to get you off the phone and they will say almost anything to do it. Unfortunately, this often leads to them promising you the moon just to get you to stop yelling. And you are actually less likely to end up receiving what they promised you than someone who wasn’t cursing. A supervisor that can follow through on a promise tends to not view abusive, nasty customers too kindly and is much more likely to tell you it isn’t going to happen. If a customer is particularly abusive, it will be noted and viewed by all subsequent representatives.
4. They are talking a whole lot, and it doesn’t sound like a script.
Trust me, call center employees hate scripts as much, if not more, than customers do. But they will lose their jobs if they don’t follow them. So if you have a call center representative who’s been talking for a few minutes and it doesn’t sound like a single piece of script reading, you are either talking to a very high-level supervisor or being lied to. Unless you’re talking to the fifth of sixth person after being escalated, watch out for a representative who doesn’t have any scripted information to give you. This probably means they aren’t telling you the truth.
5. Several other representatives have promised the same thing, and it isn’t being delivered.
I had an argument with a cable company years ago about a bill credit I was supposed to receive. Despite being told no less than a dozen times that I would receive the credit, it never showed up. I dutifully subtracted the promised credit amount and sent in my payment each month. Eventually, the cable company shut off my service for a $45 past due balance that had been sitting on my account for nearly six months. I ended up canceling the service and haven’t had cable since. It took another three months of protracted emails, because I had given up on phone calls by this time, to actually have the $45 removed from my bill. Over and over, representatives promised me that I would receive a credit. If they promised this often and this much, it is obvious that they were lying when it was never actually delivered. So if you have repeatedly been told something will happen, and it just doesn’t, you can be relatively confident that the representative is lying when they tell you the same thing you have been told many times before.
The best way to prevent lying by customer service representatives is to either email or use the chat feature. A company is much more likely to be strict with what is said, and an employee is therefore that much less likely to lie when the customer has a written record of the conversation.
Phone calls are recorded and easily retrievable by all major corporations, but that doesn’t mean they will go back and listen to a representative lying to you, much less admit that it happened. Whenever possible, even if it requires a little more effort to find an email, it’s better to communicate in writing with a business.
Then, if a representative does lie, you have proof.
Rebecca O’Shaughnessy is a consumer advocate based in Downers Grove, Ill.