A Lesson on Emergencies in Customer Service Interactions

Are your employees prepared to handle an emergency?


By Raquel Guarino

Sometimes the people we least expect are the ones who go above and beyond the call of duty. Such was the case for one Comcast customer service representative in August 2019.

It was a normal day for Kimberly Williams, a representative who was working out of an office in Jackson, Mississippi. She was on the phone with Dan Magennis, a 65-year-old man from West Michigan, who was calling about an issue with his cable.

When Williams replied to something Magennis had said, the customer was suddenly unable to speak. After a long 20-30 second pause, Williams could sense something was wrong. She notified her supervisor and proceeded to call every police department in Magennis' area.

Meantime, the Comcast customer had suffered a stroke. Doctors say a narrowing artery in the man's neck caused a blood clot in his brain. Magennis was home alone at the time. Without Williams' quick-thinking, the customer said he might not have survived. Just two days after the incident, Magennis was able to walk out of the hospital with only a small change in his speech and in relatively good health.

Physicians also credit Williams for the man's quick recovery. Dr. Justin Singer of Spectrum Health said, “If he didn’t get the help that he did, best case scenario is he would’ve had right side paralysis and complete inability to communicate with the outside world, and most likely he would be in a nursing home. Worst case scenario is he would’ve gotten brain swelling and died.”

While the above scenario is uncommon, customer service representatives are often on the front lines of  many different experiences. Whether it's talking to women in abusive situations, speaking to someone contemplating suicide, or handling a medical emergency like Magennis', it's imperative that company leadership acknowledges the realities of working in customer service.

While there's no way to prepare for every possible emergency, we do have some advice for customer service leaders:

  1. Develop an established protocol for employees to follow in emergency situations.
  2. Provide a list of resources based on the most common scenarios that representatives can refer to when interacting with customers.
  3. When in doubt, refer customers to 911. If that's not possible, tell representatives it's okay to call 911 on the customer's behalf.

We hope that these tips will never be needed, but in case they are, we believe it's better to err on the side of safety.


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