“Customer service was outsourced to people who couldn’t speak English.”

27. November 2012: Angelia Swanson was a Customer Service Representative working on retentions at the T-Mobile call center in Nashville, Tennessee, between June 2005 and June 2012. When she started work at T-Mobile, the positive workplace atmosphere, the acknowledgement she received for good work, and the camaraderie among co-workers made her enjoy going to work every day. Her job later took a turn for the worse as workplace stress increased and expectations became unrealistic.

“It was the best job I ever had. Working conditions started to change when even more plans came out. They started to put things on us like callback for lost and stolen phones and troubleshooting, and other things that we weren’t originally responsible for. And then they started to require you to sell. If we didn’t try to sell something, then that would knock your scores down, your quality score.”

“I didn’t feel comfortable as a salesman. I’ve never been a salesman. They hired me for a customer service position. But when it came to adding things on, such as in-depth troubleshooting of data products and try to sell an 87-year-old woman a $30 Internet package, you know, I just didn’t have it in me to try to do that to anyone.”

While Angelia’s “save” rate – the rate at which she prevented customers from cancelling service - never dropped, her call quality - which depended on offering Internet service - fell. “At first, we didn’t have to offer the customer Internet; we offered the customers what would fix their problems. But now you’re telling me I need to upsell because sales are the most important thing. It didn’t slide with me because I know that not everyone can afford Internet service.

Other workers might put unauthorized charges on accounts in order to meet their performance standards. “I would get callbacks all the time – callbacks where a customer wanted to cancel because a month before they’d called in to check on their bill, and then they get their bill this month and it’s hundreds of dollars more.”

Angelia describes an instance where she knew that a customer who called in had items on her account she had not authorized: “She was 65; her husband was around the same age.” Three other family members were also on the account, all with older flip phones. “There were five Internet packages added to their account the month before. And I said, ‘the reason your bill is so much higher this month is because you called in last month to add Internet.’ And she said, ‘what is – what is Internet? When I called last month, I called because of a 411 call that I had not made.’”

Workers also faced difficulties saving accounts when faced with increasingly frustrated customers. “By the time customers get to us, they’re already upset. Either the last representative has denied them something they feel that they deserve, or they’ve already made up their minds. Some of them just call in and say, transfer me to cancellations.”

Outsourcing further frustrated many customers who were transferred to the United States from call centers abroad. “Pretty much every call I had to deal with people telling us about customer service being outsourced to people they couldn’t understand. Before I could even deal with the original issue of the customer, I had to deal with that. Every customer I talked to said that if they tried to call in, they got someone from the Philippines who didn’t understand English and didn’t speak English well.”