When I was kid there was a semi-popular Nickelodeon show called Are You Afraid of the Dark? It was essentially a preteen version of The Twilight Zone. At the beginning of each episode the Midnight Society — a group of teenage kids — would meet at a secret location in the woods to share spooky tales while gathered around a campfire.
The stories were usually slightly modified versions of urban legends and fairytales that relied heavily on common tropes of the genre. I'm sure were I to rewatch the show as an adult I'd probably find it laughable. But, as a kid I thought it was terrifying. I'd cover my eyes and try to slyly turn away so as not be caught off guard by a jump scare.
Though I don't spend as much time these days worrying about the things that go bump in the night, there's still plenty that gives me the chills. Especially when it comes to work. A typo in an email or accidental "reply-all" is enough to get my heart racing the same way those episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark? did when I was a kid.
In the world of customer support, there seems to be a high-than-usual number of opportunities to make those mistakes that frighten even the bravest among us. Though there may not be any ghosts or ghouls lurking in the queue, there's still plenty to fear.
With that in mind, and an affinity for the season, we decided to share a few scary support stories you can tell in the dark (or Slack. Either works).
The email that never was
It was a normal day. Gentry had ordered themselves a fashionable pair of socks. They were spotted and speckled, with cats and cauldrons and all things creepy-crawly. However, upon receiving their socks Gentry was saddened to see that only one had made the journey to their front door.
Motivated to sort out the issue, Gentry promptly and politely reached out to the support email address provided by the company. An hour passed, then another. Then a day, and another after that. Gentry waited patiently. They didn't expect a response in under an hour – the way almost 40% of customers do – but this was getting out of hand.
Eventually, they sent a follow-up email hoping this would bump their request to the top of the queue. Again, they waited. And again, they never heard back. Gentry started to wonder if they'd even sent the email at all. How could someone not respond, even after multiple emails had been sent? What Gentry didn’t know is that as much as 14% of businesses do just that — they don’t respond to requests at all.
With the proper training, process, and tooling in place, it's possible that there would've never been a missed email in the first place. However, without those things it's very easy for things to slip through the cracks, as poor Gentry discovered firsthand.
It's said that Gentry's email is still floating somewhere in the digital ether, waiting ever patiently to be read and responded to. As for Gentry, they managed to find a new place for socks — a place where the support team always responds, and fast.
The Disappearing Agent
Once upon a time there was a hardworking customer support agent. They read messages intently and always volunteered to help their coworkers. All their responses were always thoughtful and full of empathy.
The company noticed and slowly they started asking for just a little bit more from the agent. The agent, being an agreeable person, would take on the tasks without a complaint. As they agreed to do more, the company kept on asking for more.
Though they had every good intention, there was a secret the agent kept. Each time they took on a new task, a small part of them disappeared. Given enough time outside, and ample access to bath bombs and Enya records, eventually, the pieces would come back and the agent would be whole again.
However, as the tasks started to pile up, those remedies stopped working so well. Eventually, some of the missing pieces weren't coming back. They were going to the realm of burnout. It's the place where Sisyphus pushes his rock and where people tussle and toil, only to find themselves exactly where they first started.
Little did the agent know, but the longer a piece of them stayed in the realm of burnout, the less likely it was to come back. The change was slow, but eventually unavoidable. Things that used to be easy now took twice as long, and each day the agent was more depleted than the one before.
Unfortunately, the company didn't have the proper checks in place. All they saw was the output slowing. So, the pressure for the agent grew, speeding up their demise. Eventually, almost without noticing, the agent was whittled down to just their shell. People could see them, but there wasn't anything left inside.
As the legend goes, someone asked them for one more thing and as the agent turned to say yes, they crumbled into dust. Some think they eventually reformed into the shape of a person and reappeared in a new career, but no one really knows for sure. If only the company had taken a little more care, the disappearing agent might still be there.
Dr. Empathy and Mr. Inconsistent
Have you ever heard a tale of one person who was actually two? That may not make so much sense on the surface, but such a person did exist. During the day, they were the kind Dr. Empathy. Well-mannered and well-meaning, they took all their tasks very seriously. You'd never know that lurking below was someone more sinister.
The day the "change" first happened was a long one. There'd been an outage at the telephone company where Dr. Empathy worked. The requests kept coming in an endless stream, with each customer more frustrated than the last.
As the day wore on and night crept on the horizon, the people around Dr. Empathy started to notice some differences. His responses were more curt, and he seemed less eager to help. Eventually, his responses became quite clearly agitated — telling customers that their issue was “user error,” when there was no such possibility.
Customers were rightly confused. This person who'd always been a joy was now something of a nightmare. Instead of investigating and trying to solve the issue, he pushed them off to other departments, or simply left them waiting.
Our good doctor knew that even one bad interaction was enough to send customers running away, but this new person who stood in their place simply couldn't be bothered to care. They'd become Mr. Inconsistent.
All that uncertainty made the customers weary. Even when they did interact with the true Dr. Empathy, there was now a tinge of anxiety. It's why it takes nearly 12 positive interactions with a company to make up for one negative one.
Eventually, the customers stopped sending in questions and requests, fearful they would be on the receiving end of a message from Mr. Inconsistent, and they took their business somewhere else.
It’s too bad Dr. Empathy never discovered he could keep Mr. Inconsistency under wraps with proper team staffing, training, and documentation.
A final thought
The stories above may not make the cut for an episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? but they might've been enough to get your pulse racing. To avoid creating any horror stories of your own, be sure you're paying attention to the infrastructure you have in place to serve your customers and Keep the well-being of your most important asset – your team — at top of mind.