What is the hardest call you’ve ever gotten?


I’ll go first

TL;DR the voice of a caller who had lost her mom and called not knowing what to do with her moms order moved me, a seasoned and experienced rep who never takes hard calls personally, to the verge of tears.

For some context: I work in hotel and theme park reservations. While I take calls from the general public, the majority of my calls are with travel agents (TAs) and my team has special training to help TAs more meaning we know some answers for obscure questions they ask that general reps might not know. This includes their perks aka discount rate and tickets.

The call came in and she introduced herself, we’ll call her B. Her mom, we’ll call her A, was the travel agent and had used some of her perks to get tickets for them. Now while I can help with most of the TA perks, these specific ones I could not help with as it’s all through our online portal. However, I did a temp internship in the department that does help with them so I knew a thing or two that most of my call center, including my own team, might not know. I asked her what was going on and what followed was by far the hardest call I’d ever received.

B explained that her mom, A, had arranged the discount tickets under her name (which is normal, the TA has to be there to pick it up) but unfortunately her mom had passed away. She didn’t know what to do; was she able to still pick up since they have the same last name, could they transfer over to her or did they need to cancel/refund it and repurchase regular rates in her name? I have had people call up and need to cancel or modify due to a death in the family, it was common enough even before COVID and now a days I’d say it’s at least once a week I personally get those calls. They’re very sad, you can hear it in their voices and I always offer my condolences and do what I can to make it easier. I have also lost all but one of my grandparents, I’ve seen how distraught my parents were and then watched them make these types of calls (cancel services or orders, close accounts, settle estate and affairs etc.) literally the morning after their parents passed. So I do have a means to measure and experience with this situation and when I say she was not handling it well I mean she was NOT handling it well.

I’m not entirely sure how to describe it but something about her tone and how she spoke, you could tell she was barely keeping it together and was on the verge of tears. My description about why she was calling above may make it sound selfish, like “wow she only cared about her moms discount tickets” but she really didn’t care about the trip at all. You could tell this was just one of the many calls she was making to cancel services and close accounts just after she passed. In the end we couldn’t transfer the tickets, normally we’d tell the TA to go through the online portal but since A was the TA that meant B doesn’t know anything about how her mom did her job, but luckily the tickets weren’t paid for (they’re paid for when the TA claims them showing their credentials) so she just needed to purchase regular tickets on her own. I offered to assist but I could tell she was too overwhelmed and just wanted to go (likely to call the next company or agency and go through the same thing again) so she declined. I gave her some contact info if she had more questions with her moms job related to our company and I sent off an email to the right departments to loop them in so if any of A’s clients with active reservations were trying to reach her and make changes we could help.

When I say it affected me I really mean it. I’ve worked here 4.5 years, I’ve had similar calls, I’ve had callers who verbally abused me and attacked me personally, I can handle tough calls better than most. I’m very good at my job, i have specialized training that most people don’t and due to my previous temp internship there are very few people besides supervisors who have my qualifications. Despite that, this call blindsided me and I was in a mental fog. I forgot some pretty simple and basic aspects of my job that anyone who went through new hire training should know. I was on the verge of tears, my chest was tight and I was choking on my words.

Luckily my supervisor was there and reminded me of those simple basic things. She was also kind enough to get me off the phone for a few minutes to decompress (a first I’ve needed it in 4.5~ years, which proved to myself it was THE hardest call). Even after the decompression and my scheduled break I was still tight chested, choking on my words and in a head fog. I even apologized to the next caller (a TA) and said if I seem off compared to previous calls I’d helped her on (I have great rapport with this second TA) it’s because my previous call was incredibly sad and it affected me (I’ve never apologized to a caller because of how the previous call affected me). In my email to the other department, which was the department I did an internship with and have great professional relationships with their leadership, I not only advised the business related info but provided the contact info B provided asking if they’d be willing to reach out to offer more condolences or even a freebie for their trip (another thing I’ve never done before, if it’s not de-escalation or recovery I never feel the need to give freebies not even for special occasions or sob stories).

I can honestly say if I had the capability or B’s mailing address I would have sent a card or something, thats how badly you could hear the sorrow in her voice. This happened two days ago and I still feel a small amount of tightness in my chest just writing this.


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