Nothing says “I hate you” like a hangup while you’re on hold

No single act of spite can come close to disconnecting a customer service phone call, particularly after a long wait. Call center employees blame it on glitchy equipment or software, but we all know better: They don’t want to deal with a problem customer, so they sever the connection.

So when Crystal Anthony contacted me recently while still on “hold” with Hotwire, I could have told her what would happen next. Anthony was trying to reach Hotwire’s fraud department. Seems her account had been flagged by the fraud department and deactivated, forcing the cancellation of a trip to Puerto Rico without any notification.

“They flat-out refuse to talk to me but still have my money,” she says. “As l type this email, I have been on hold for 48 minutes. I have tried email and calling corporate headquarters to no avail. This is maddening!”

But not as maddening as what happened next.

I immediately sent Anthony a list of executive contacts at Hotwire, which includes phone numbers. (In circumstances like these, a phone call is generally less effective than an email, but the company should still respond promptly and politely.)

Anthony chose to remain on the phone, hoping to reach someone who could help.

“After keeping me on hold for more than an hour, they hung up on me when I asked for a supervisor,” she says.

Oh, well.

Hotwire isn’t alone, of course. There are other companies who hang up on their customers, although I couldn’t find any surveys reporting the number who do. I noted that 69 percent of customers hang up when they reach a recording, which is a different kind of annoyance. I think it probably goes both ways. We hit an obstacle, we hang up; they hit an obstacle, they hang up.

A hangup, of course, is a completely human instinct. There’s no point in saying anything further because I can’t help you. Disconnecting the call says there’s no reason to continue this conversation.

But in the context of a customer service interaction, it says so much more. It says: We don’t care.

Hotwire might have reasons for not caring. Maybe Anthony’s account was flagged for good reason and perhaps there’s more to the story than she’s giving me. This could be a matter for her lawyer to take up with Hotwire. Maybe she’s trying to pull a fast one and the call center is just tired of hearing from her.

But that’s when being polite is more important than ever. A call center employee needs to explain, in as much detail as possible, how Anthony’s account was compromised and what she needs to do in order to fix it. If that representative can’t do that, then he or she needs to transfer the call to a supervisor who can.

It’s possible, of course, that Anthony’s hang-up was an “accident,” but she and I don’t believe it was, and I don’t think you do, either.

In the end, Anthony finally got Hotwire’s attention. All it took was leaving messages on all of its social media channels, an email and another call.

“They called and apologized and will refund the difference of what I paid for a room I booked while in Puerto Rico with Priceline,” she says. “Finally, they took me off the risk management list. I am happy.”

Me? Not so much.

Hangups are always interpreted by customers in the same way. We read the confessional blog posts by call center employees who admit to disconnecting the call, and we interpret the hangup as follows:

  • We don’t want to help you.
  • We don’t care what you think.
  • We hate our own customers.

A little extreme? Perhaps. But while companies can control a lot of things, including the unfair contracts we have to sign and the high prices we’re sometimes forced to pay, they still can’t control how we think. And companies like Hotwire that hang up on us — well, I don’t have to tell you what we think of them. You already know.

Companies that hang up on customer service calls:

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