Answering calls for the Postal Service: The lunatics run the asylum.

On mobile, so I’ll try to format as best as I can. English is my first language. I’m going off of memories that are more than a decade old, so there won’t be a lot of dialogue. This is a long one, so strap in and enjoy the ride.

So back in 2004, I worked for an outsourcing call center company that had a contract for the USPS’s (United States Postal Service) 800 toll-free customer service line. This job wasn’t one where we handled any sort of financials or money transactions, it was just minor services like putting your mail on hold, or forwarding information to the local post office on behalf of the customer.

I’ve worked other kinds of call center jobs since, but the USPS holds the undisputed title of the weirdest customers I’ve ever dealt with. I’ll have stories from the following four categories with some explanation: the jerks, the idiots, the crazies and the perverts.

The Jerks:

One of our functions was filing complaints about the mail carriers on behalf of mail recipients. Some of these were actually pretty valid, such as the guy who maced someone’s toy dog through a six foot chain link fence (there was no way they could justify self defense as there was no way a toy poodle was going to jump a six foot fence) or the carrier who would just throw whatever mail a person was getting on their front lawn.

Other complaints were just recipients wanting some preferential way of having their mail delivered that falls outside the norm (one memorable one being a homeless person who was ENRAGED that a mail carrier would not and could not deliver mail to a refrigerator box under an overpass).

On specific instance that stood out is this: mail carriers are required to have the mail for the day delivered by end of business day, but beyond that, there’s no specific time of day mail has to be delivered to a specific location. The guy next to me got a call from a homeowner that had not received his mail yet. After checking the guys time zone and getting specifics of the complaint, the picture that formed was thus: the caller normally got his mail by 11 AM, it was 11:01 when the call came through, meaning he called to complain EXACTLY at 11. While he was on the phone, becoming more enraged at the agent who was refusing to file a complaint when no policies were broken and the situation was completely asinine, the mail was delivered at roughly 11:03. The guys wife could be heard yelling at him in the background that he was being ridiculous and to let it go, but the guy refused and escalated the call PAST a supervisor when the team lead also refused to file an official complaint against the carrier and now the agent.

One wave of jerks called in when former President Reagan died. Apparently a lot of folks weren’t happy that the Post Office would DARE fly the flag at half mast for a guy they disliked, despite the fact that he was the president. I only got one of these callers, an irate black woman who insisted that the flag also needed to be flown at half mast for Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X, and proceeded to call me a racist when I pointed out this was a federal government decision to fly the flag at half mast, and asking her what she thought I specifically could do about it. Some of my coworkers got multiple callers like this, so I feel I lucked out in this instance, only getting one.

The Idiots:

Lost packages were a fairly common call to get. Sometimes, to try and help locate the package, the caller would tell us what was in it, usually to establish a sense of priority. People using illegal drugs to get us to put a rush on finding a lost package is WAY more common than you think. Normally the drugs that went missing was marijuana, but I had one coworker who got a call about a lost shipment of crystal meth.

Standard procedure when we got these calls was to immediately hit the record button, alert a supervisor, and try to keep the person talking. Most callers would hang up once we started asking for contact information, but we had one coworker who, the one time she got one of these, turned up the empathy and sympathy to the max, got the caller completely convinced her only motivation was helping him find his lost box of weed, and got the guy to disclose the ship to address, the return address, his name and the best phone # to reach him at should his box be found. Naturally, ALL of this was sent to the authorities, and we had a good laugh over how dumb this guy was.

One memorable call I took was less funny, but the person who called still dug themselves into a hole by not thinking. Person calls, wondering why the letter she sent “overnight” wasn’t delivered overnight. I pull up a tracking number, and, the tracking number was for a certified letter, not overnight express. I explain to the person that the option she chose only provided legal proof you mailed the item (we recommended this option for your tax returns) but the only thing that guarantees overnight delivery was express mail, which was around $15 at the time. It was pretty clear she thought she could spend the minimum amount possible, and still have her letter be delivered overnight, since certified is the cheapest option available.

She freaks out. Between her frantic sobs, I was able to piece together that she had to send some sort of legal documents to court, that they were time sensitive and not getting them to the judge by a certain date would find her in contempt of court, and that she waited until the last possible moment to send them using the cheapest option that provided a tracking number, because she assumed that, and I quote, “anything that provided a tracking number would guarantee overnight delivery!” The best advice I could give her at the time was to contact her attorney and let him know the situation, and to actually ASK someone next time she assumed something worked a certain way without doing any prior research, especially when you could go to jail by being a cheap procrastinator.

The Crazies:

I’ve worked at other call centers for various account-based services (like cell phone service providers) and I think that having your phone number tied to a specific account is the reason I never got the parade of insanity at other places that I did for the USPS. The 800 number was toll-free, and because the number you called from wasn’t tied to any sort of account, it was that word that the cretins of the internet love: anonymous.

I’m sure in some people’s minds, they somehow formed the link of post office = government service = government hotline = the CIA/FBI will hear this phone call. Here is the Carnival of Crazy that I alone received. I can’t remember half of what my coworkers went through, and their stories of nutcases plus mine would fill novels:

Alien abduction calls. I stopped counting after my 7th one. Some of these were clearly pranks, as the person started cracking up before hanging up the phone, but there were a few who were completely genuine in their belief that they were kidnapped and experimented on by extra terrestrials.

“My next door neighbors are trying to kill me.” I spent almost 10 minutes trying to convince this guy that the postal service was unable to protect him or prosecute his neighbors. My repeated advice of call your local police was countered over and over with “I can’t, they won’t take me seriously and told me to stop calling.” Gee, I wonder why…

“President Bush’s evil twin who is part of a white-supremacy mafia lives in my apartment building and is moving hitmen into the empty units. It’s a plot by the president himself to kill me.” I honestly could not think of any response to this beyond “what would you like me to do about it?”

“Move him out, I don’t want him here.”

“That’s something you would have to take up with the landlord. I’m just a grunt operating the phones in a different time zone. What exactly made you think I could move ‘the president’s evil twin’ out of your building?”

“You were no help at all!” click

Other juicy tidbits included:

“There are subliminal messages being put into the images on stamps by the Illuminati.”

“I think my regular mail carrier might be the Zodiac Killer.”

“President Bush is having my mail opened and planting recording devices in my house.”

“There’s a plot between the CIA and my ex wife to have me locked up in a mental hospital.”

I’m sure there were more, but these are the ones I remember. It’s been almost 14 years since I worked there.

The Perverts:

I had heard of this sort of thing happening to some of my coworkers, but it only happened to me once. This was the ONLY caller I hung up on without warning. Quality control actually blind-monitored this call, and the person mentioned it, but they let it slide:

A guy called in, I gave my name and the standard USPS greeting, and the dude immediately began trying to initiate phone sex like I was one of those 900 number talk-dirty girls (I’m a guy, by the way). I FIRMLY interrupted him, told him that this was the postal service, and if there was an issue with the mail I could help him with. His response, yes, he had a concern with his mail, but he wasn’t going to address it until I told him what I was wearing and if he was making me as hard as I was making him. I hung up on him without another word.

So, yeah, there you have it: my story about working customer service for the postal service. I quit not long after this after I kept waking up in the middle of the night, dreaming that I was on the phones and I would mumble a greeting into my pillow and lie there wondering why I didn’t get a response before it finally hit me that I wasn’t at work.

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You can’t talk to me like that I want a manager …”uhhh what?”

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