Should I Ever Hang Up on a Customer?

Contact center agent speaking with a difficult customer

“The customer is always right” is a timeless phrase. But if your
customer is being unreasonable, or worse, abusive, should you
simply hang up?

Contact center agents are on the frontline of customer interactions, representing the face—or rather, the voice—of a company. Their role requires patience, empathy, and exceptional communication skills, particularly because they often deal with frustrated or disgruntled callers.

But is there a scenario where it’s acceptable for an agent to end a call by hanging up on a customer? Here we explore this complex issue.

The Ethos of Customer Service

Customer service professionals understand that maintain a positive relationship with customers is essential. Their primary goal is to resolve issues and provide a satisfying outcome while keeping the customer’s loyalty intact. To achieve this, the protocol in most customer service environments is clear: the agent should not terminate the call unless they have exhausted all other options.

Training and Boundaries

Training for call center agents often includes how to manage difficult conversations and de-escalate conflicts. Role-playing exercises and scripts can guide them through a variety of tough scenarios. However, the training also emphasizes setting boundaries. If a customer becomes abusive, threatening, or violates policies repeatedly, an agent may need to take action to protect themselves and uphold the company’s standards.

Exceptional Circumstances

There are, indeed, circumstances under which an agent might be justified in hanging up on a customer:

  1. Abusive Language or Threats: If a customer uses hate speech, threats of violence, or pervasive abusive language, it is within an agent’s right—and is often a company policy—for the call to be ended to protect the dignity and safety of the employee.
  1. Harassment: Repeated harassment, whether sexual or otherwise, is grounds for ending a call. Many companies have zero-tolerance policies in this regard.
  2. No Progress Situations: In scenarios where a customer is repetitively uncooperative or refuses to follow necessary procedures, an agent may conclude the call after giving fair warning.

In these situations, the standard procedure involves a warning from the agent, letting the customer know that the behavior is unacceptable and if it continues, the agent will have no choice but to terminate the call.

Protocol for Hanging Up

Should an agent reach the point where ending the call becomes necessary, protocol is key:

  • Warn the Customer: Inform the customer calmly and professionally that their behavior is inappropriate and that the call will end if it continues.
  • Stay Professional: Maintain a professional demeanor and use a script if available to ensure the message is conveyed correctly.
  • Escalate if Needed: Instead of hanging up, the agent should try to escalate the call to a supervisor.
  • Document the Call: Notate the customer’s account with details of the incident and actions taken.
  • Seek Support: Debrief with a supervisor or team leader after the call.

The Impact on Agents

While an agent may have the right to hang up on a customer, doing so can have psychological effects on the agent. They may feel guilty for not resolving the issue or worry about potential consequences. It’s crucial that companies support their staff in these instances and provide adequate counseling services or stress management resources.

The Bottom Line

Hanging up on a customer is a last resort and a measure that no call center agent takes lightly. Sufficient training, clear protocols, and support systems must be in place to guide agents through these challenging situations. For customer service professionals, understanding when and how they can draw the line is part of maintaining the integrity of the service they provide and their own well-being.

About the Author

Ian Miller, CSMIan Miller is Editor of Customer Service Manager Magazine – the leading resource and community for customer service professionals.

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