Sometimes, when turning it off and turning it back on again doesn’t work (which is always), I find myself dialing the dreaded 1-800 number for customer service and crossing my fingers that the guy from Slumdog Millionaire answers the call. While chatting with a customer service representative on the phone, you’ve probably had to participate in the annoying exercise of spelling out your name letter by letter using words since the person on the other end can’t understand you. While I’m lucky in that I don’t have very many sound alike letters in my name, like “m” and “n” or “c” and “e,” I’ve noticed that I actually judge people based on the words they use to spell their name when I overhear them on the phone with customer service.

Some people’s word choices expose them as a psychopath on the brink of snapping. For example, here’s secretly murderous Hank spelling his name,

“H as in HANGING,
A as in ASSASSINATION,
N as in NECROSIS
K as in KILLING.”

Image source: someecards
Image source: someecards

This person is the reason why you hear that message, “This call may be monitored for quality assurance.” …Sure. This call is being monitored to identify people who may or may not have human body parts in their freezer in the near future. You have to commend these customer service people; I don’t care what my job is—if I had someone on the other line spelling their name using the word “necrosis,” I’m hanging up immediately.

Then you get people that clearly didn’t eat breakfast that day. Poor Patricia should’ve grabbed that bagel on the way out the door…

“P as in PORK,
A as in APPLESAUCE
T as in TIRAMISU
R as in RAISINS
I as in ICE CREAM
C as in CHOCOLATE
I as in ICE CREAM
A as in APPLESAUCE”

What also bothers me about the word-spellings practice is that people repeat the same words they used before if they have a duplicate letter in their name–like ice cream above. We have a whole dictionary full of words, can’t we come up with anything else? Is the caller actually worried the employee on the other end is going to say, “Wait a second, just a few letters ago you said T as in Turnip, now you’re switching to T as in Time? What’s it gonna be?”

Then there are those individuals that want to use this customer service call as an opportunity to demonstrate how many bizarre names they know right off the top of their head. Let’s take the last name Smith, for example,

“S as in SIOBHAN
M as in MATILDA
I as in ICHABOD
T as in TALLULAH
H as in HYACINTH”

Your prowess for knowing several less common, “unique” names will not impress whoever’s on the phone with you. It’s much more likely they’ll just think you’re a professional celebrity baby name scout.

Last but not least, there’s a small subset of the population who want to impress people by their knowledge of obscure countries. Take Dave, here…

“D as in DJIBOUTI
A as in AZERBAIJAN
V as in VANUATU
E as in EQUATORIAL GUINEA”

I seriously have to question anyone who thinks of the country Djibouti ahead of Denmark when the letter “d” comes up. No customer service associate cares that you know Equatorial Guinea exists. …And more generally, most people probably don’t even care it exists at all. (No offense Equatorial Guinea, but really. All we know is that you’re near the equator, and there are guinea pigs running freely in your countryside.)

For the peace of mind of all customer service representatives everywhere, and coming from someone who has two loved ones working as customer service reps, I think we all need to get back to basics: colors, common nouns, animals, and favorite one-hit-wonder boy bands of the 90s. …Well, that’s the topic I’ll be trying to incorporate on my next customer service phone call.

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

35 thoughts on “Customer Service Spelling Shenanigans

  1. I would prefer the secretly murderous Hank to crazy Dave. At least he knows his stuff! I used to freeze up and forget all the words, “What’s a word with B?!”

  2. I think you’re being very unfair to Hank. He was just giving the service rep a friendly warning about what will happen if his problem isn’t fixed quickly. I can completely sympathise with him.

  3. Hi, my name is Ben. B as in bitter. E as in everytime I talk to you, I want to pull my hair out and lose my tongue so I never have to talk again. N as nag, as in you remind me of my math teacher when I was failing my math class and he kept telling me to do my homework and I learned to hate math and life because of it. Can you tell anything about me from that?

      1. It’s very suspicious that only my comment was deleted. I guess that means I need to wait about 1 minute to 8 hours later before I make any comments.

  4. Damn, I need to up my game. I always say K (as in Karen) A (as in Alpha), T (as in Tom), E (as in Elephant), L (as in Level), Y (as in You), and N (as in Nancy). I was taking an insurance card number from a police officer last week and he was like “Delta Zulu Alpha Victor Yankee” (I made a mental note to never piss of that guy).

    I think I’ll convert to the military phonetic alphabet. Standard, yet scary.

    1. KAREN. That’s a good one. Whenever I have to spell out my name I end up with K as in Kite. There aren’t that many k words, and when I think of “k” names I always think of my own first, because I’m apparently very vain about my name.

      I have a pretty good vocabulary, I think, but when I have to think of words like that on the spot, I clam up.

  5. I always get my name mistaken for Gail (shudder!) so I have to say – no with a ‘D’ it’s Daile. And then the only word I can think of that starts with a ‘D’ is dog and i feel like I am offending myself

    1. Oh gosh, what are you, a failed 1970s actress?

      If anyone confuses “Katherine” for something other than what it is, I just assume they’re hard of hearing. There really aren’t that many names that rhyme with Katherine.

  6. My biggest problem is not being able to get one word out of my head. For Dan, if I manage to get past D is for Dick and get to A is for Ass I generally hang up out of embarrassment and just give up on using that service. I could do with getting my gas back soon though.

    1. HA! I never have to spell my name. Well, sometimes I have to quickly spell out Katherine, because there’s so many variants, but I’ve never really had to do the whole, K as in Kafka, A as in Amphibian, etc.

  7. I have a kinky friend who always uses the word Dom (as in dominant) when asked for a word example for the letter D. She gets a real kick out of it too! So you’re totally right, you can tell a lot from the words people use!

    Rohan.

  8. I tend to use the phonetic alphabet. One time I used it and there was a long silence on the other end of the phone. Then came the question “you’re not a police officer, are you?” No, I’m not, but I’ve managed to progress beyond using the ‘baby alphabet’ (c is for cat, d is for dog) when having to spell things!

    1. HA!! I really clam up when I actually have to do that, because my name is pretty easy to hear when you spell it, that when I actually have to do it, words escape me.

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