"Take my payment or I’ll make you cry like I did the last girl

More years ago than I care to think about, I worked for a fairly well known car and home insurer in the UK, with a pink motif and an Australian theme to its branding. If you live in the UK and remember the era when insurers bothered to advertise, you’ve heard of them.

This company had a few unofficial “tiers” of call centre staff. You’d join the company working solely on Car insurance, and if you lasted long enough (usually about 6 months) you’d be trained to deal with Accounts calls. If you made it another 6-12 months after that, you moved into the broad sunlit uplands of Home insurance, where there were fewer calls and they were generally more interesting and nicer customers. Since there were relatively few agents who made the 6 month mark, if you were trained into these specialties they tended to be the only calls you got. This story happens late in the “Accounts” stage of my career.

It all kicked off when a junior agent on my team, normally a tough old boot, suddenly ended a call and hurried off, obviously hiding tears. That was pretty rare in this call centre but especially surprising for this agent. Whoever they’d spoken to must have been really vicious. The team leader hurried off to check she was all right, and I took my next call.

The fellow was fairly amiable, I asked how I could help and he politely explained he’d just missed a payment and needed to make the payment now. No problem, happens all the time, this kind of call is about as routine as my life gets. I pull the file up and as I’m doing the security questions I’m reading the notes. Immediately I notice the last call and timestamp was a few minutes ago, and it was to the girl who had just run off crying. I felt my heart solidify, any sympathy for this person’s financial difficulties went straight out the window.

Security finished I asked him to confirm he was just looking to pay the missed payment. Totally casual about that. By now I’d reviewed the account. Our standard procedure was if you missed 1 payment in a year, you’d get a chance to repay it and carry on. If you missed a second one that same year, you’d be required to pay the full balance of your policy to keep the cover. Sometimes we’d make exceptions, this decision was left in the hands of Accounts people like myself but more than 3 or 4 failures in 12 months were very unusual.

This guy had had the cover for 8 months and missed 7 payments. Every time, he’d been told to pay in full, had complained, and been given a “final chance”. He fully understood that he was being asked to pay in full and was trying to blag me by pretending everything was fine. Clearly he’d broken my colleague when she tried to call him on full payment.

At that moment I decided my stats could go hang, I was going to make this guy suffer.

85 minutes, this man screamed at me for. He called me every name under the sun. He was throwing racial slurs at me despite me being the whiter than a mayonnaise sandwich. He questioned my competence, my honesty, my mental state. His rage washed over me like water upon rock, and I stood firm. I enjoyed it. I normally have some sympathy for someone complaining, my difficulty comes from having to defend the company even when they’re wrong. Being able to feel 100% morally justified felt great. For the first time in my career, I told somebody directly that they couldn’t afford the payments and we weren’t going to give him credit any longer. He blew up even further at that and I just did not care.

It finally went to my manager. I warned the caller that my manager was new and didn’t have the authority to override me. He insisted upon it anyway. Ironically, if the caller had been willing to wait 24 hours for a callback from the Complaints department, he’d probably have gotten his way. Instead he got to scream ineffectually at my manager for 20 more minutes, then got another 30 minutes in at the Head of Customer Service. At the end, the Head came over and congratulated me for sticking to my guns. At the end of the call we’d told the customer his policy was being cancelled with 7 days notice, we would send him a final bill, and not to contact us again. I made a point to check up on the account occasionally, and he never did pay up and we ultimately sent it to collections. I hope the debt collectors had as much fun with him as I did.

My colleague who this guy broke (and no disrespect to her, I think any reasonable person would have, I fended it off by being angry about it) stayed for a few months longer but ultimately moved on to a better job, and more power to her, she was wasted in that place. For my part, I moved on to Home insurance (where I picked up some other fun stories I may share) and eventually escaped Call Centres into the glamorous world of IT. The memory of professionally calling this guy a deadbeat though remains my favourite story.

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