Call Center Purgatory
I know what I am doing....(really)
I have never been in management. I don't think I have missed anything, and I have no desire to ever be in management.
Wait, I remember the first job I had in college, I was a manager. I started working for a phone solicitation company trying to sell tickets for some country and western benefit show for the fraternal order of police. The place was located in this boiler room of a shack on what looked like a vacant lot. I was barely 18, but was very serious and looked mature. Long story short, really hated the job, my boss was a weasel. I had mostly idiots for employees. Three weeks into it, I quit and went to work at Wendy's. Then I was questioned by an investigative TV reporter soon afterward about a police report of possible fraud by my former employer.
When I was a manager, I thought you had to know what you were doing in order to be charge, and since I did not, I felt I could not be a manager.
As I grew older, I started noticing all around me that all of the bosses did not meet the qualifications I thought that managers had to have. They did not always know what they were doing, they always made bad decisions, would'nt listen to anybody, and were as dumb as a box of rocks. Then it hit me, most people in charge of things don't know what they are doing. Most people bullshit their way through work and are pleasantly surprised when things go right, and try to find excuses or someone else to blame when things don't go right. There are alot of Dilbert's "PHB" (pointy haired bosses) out there.
This may sound like extreme cynicism to you, but this was the first paradigm that finally made the working world make sense to me. Work is not always about working hard and doing your best, it's about faking your way through the day, acting like you know what your are doing and getting along with your boss and coworkers. Sure, you need to produce an acceptable amount of actual work, but getting along with people and acting like you know what you are doing is more important in the end.
Storm Clouds on the Horizon....
There are some things going on around work that are pretty disturbing. Call volume and sales are down, and there are rumours of layoffs and all sort of other changes. Even on the best days, it's not that great of a place to work, but now everyone is very nervous and looking over their shoulder. They are straining to hear any gossip, any news. People are watching every move that management makes. Why are they having this meeting? What is that on his desk? What does this memo really mean?
What's always so interesting with things like this is how quick everyone starts comparing who's the valuable employee and who's the shirker. Who really has the company's best interests at heart and is the good worker, and who's just dead wood.
I remember what Carl Marx said about separation (no, I am not a Marxist). Marx said that the capitalist system causes a feelings of separation. It separates people from the things they produce and from other people through competition. Sometimes when we are all working together and helping each other, or having a get together, I feel like these people are my friends. But in the exact same day, I hear them start talking about someone in the same room like they were dirt. I've caught myself doing this same thing, it feels really bad inside.
I really hate how so many places I have worked it ends up feeling like you are losing the part of you that is good and human there at work because you are surrounded by selfishness and pettyness, but you just keep soaking it up like some shitty sponge.
That's why this weblog means a lot to me, I can work out all of this garbage inside, without having to just overwhelm another human by going on and on. It's really cleansing and therapeutic. If someone does actually read this, Thanks.....
There came a time when my employer started hiring more and more people through the temp agency. One of the reasons for this is because there are times when call volume goes up and down this business has a real need to raise and lower staffing levels. It makes good business sense I guess. I mean, you dont have to pay benefits, and you can truly try before you buy, and if you personally don't like someone, you have no problem firing them whenever you like.
But I feel that the use of temporary employees is part of a shift in American management to value the individual workers less. The idea of people as human "resources" as opposed to part of a larger team, or even a loose knit family is more and more foreign. People will quickly say, "but business is all about the bottom line, making money". I used to believe that. I used to believe that capitalism will end up giving everybody a higher standard of living as a result of a successful market economy. I don't anymore.
The bottom line mentality only thinks about profit, and companies will only pay employees the bare minimum they can get away with. If the job market is tight and the employees arent able to find employment elsewhere, the employers have no reason to pay their employees more. A market driven economy only benefits workers like me if our employers have a desire to benefit their employees. If they dont see as purely a human resource.
Look, I'm not a communist. But I don't see this country really looking out for the workers. Housing is too expensive, health care is a joke, and if you are on the low end, you are just stuck. I wish I knew what the answer was.
How to get what you want...
There are times this isn't too bad of a "gig". I actually like talking to people. I also am very interested in how language affects how people relate to each other. There are some employees who do very well with certain customers, and others that just butt heads. Since the customers can't see us, it has to be the way that we speak to them, and not just the words we use. One of our people that has a real Jersey accent, has problems dealing with people from the Midwest, but our people that sound like they are from the south deal really well with the people from the Midwest.
I've tried a little experiment, and it worked surprisingly well. When I am talking to someone from Mass. or Long Island, I start talking very fast and act a little gruffer a little more short, and the customers respond really well to that, and they are actually more friendly. Then, when I am talking to someone from the south, I slow way down, use "Sir" and "ma'am", and be sure to always use more pleasantries, and they respond equally well. But the secret is not to use too much regional slang, or they will think you are mocking them. You never say "Youse guys" in Jersey, or try to drawl out a "How y'all doin' today?", because they will catch you as a fake.
As far as I can tell, changing the rate of speech, level of manners(or lack thereof in some eastern states) immediately makes you appear more trustworthy, creates sympathy and goodwill. People are more apt to do what you want.
I'm still working on my Canadian and West Coast accent-they are a little more subtle, and not so easy to pull off.
There has to be an invisible sun
When work seems to be more than I can bear, I remember this song. It's not a happy tune, but it makes me feel better.
There has to be an invisible sun
It gives its heat to everyone
It has to be an invisible sun
That gives us hope when the whole day's done
It's dark all day and it glows all night -- Factory smoke and acetylene light
I face the day with my head caved in
Looking like something that the cat brought in
And they're only gonna change this place
By killing everybody in the human race
And they would kill me for the cigarette
But I don't really wanna go just yet
Lyrics from "Invisible Sun" by the Police
Big Brother is Watching You......
Sometimes I feel like the character Winston in George Orwell's book 1984. Everything he did was monitored. My employer monitors my time on the phone, time on calls,is able to listen to my calls if they desire, what I do on the internet, listens to what I speak about with my coworkers, looks at my sales of product and how many add ons I am able to make.
Winston never lets anyone know how he really feels, lives in pure orthodoxy to the culture of the party. Yells when they yell, laugh when they laugh, claps when they clap. Finally, in order to just keep his own identity maintained, he starts writing in a journal about his life, which ultimately leads to his demise when the thought police finally catch him.
Why does work have to seem like such a burden? Why can't their be a job where you like it and look forward to going to work? I know what you're thinking-"hey dumbass-Why don't you get another job?"
You're right, and I am looking, but like any other family guy, I have to take care my family and find a better job before leaving this job....being an adult sucks...
Being able to look at yourself in the mirror.
The last two posts are pretty negative. No big surprise, since I started this blog to be able to share how incredibly stupid my job gets sometimes. But I can't blame the job for everything. Sometimes I feel like other people are able to take more calls than me and handle things quicker than I can. Sometimes I believe I may have constructed this idea doing a smaller number of calls correctly since I cant seem to attain the kind of volume my co workers do. Even when I was a kid, I have never been good at multi-tasking, when the tough get going, I slow down and take a nap....
But I can see the speed of my coworkers, but its at a cost to the company and our customers. All the details and data that we have been told are so important to attain, they leave out, or dont even put them in at all.
I guess in the end, everyone decides what they do that makes them a good person. I look in the mirror and know the calls I do take everyday were done right, while my coworkers look at their calls and say they did a lot of calls. I wish someone would point out who is right...
Finding your own paradigm.
Most call centers have ways to monitor how long you are on a call, how many calls you make, and even monitor your conversations. When we finish a call here and need to finish up entering data into the computer we hit a button called "occupied". That tells the system that we cannot accept any incoming calls for awhile. We also use that if we have a sticky problem, or are getting backed up in handling customer requests. But my boss will yell out if there are too many people with phones occupied, because we have calls backing up in the holding lines. So you hurry to finish your other projects and try to put other things on hold until you can clear the calls.
But when you don't finish things completely, and leave data or names and addresses and bid amounts blank, then we lose money again. He was yelling today that people are leaving too many fields empty, and that was going to cost us money.
I don't know if this fundamental problem is indicative of all call centers, or just this one. You can't expect every call handled totally correctly, without calls backing up.
I finally gave up and made my own rule: Every call I handle will be done right, every person treated well, and then repeated as quickly as possible. It's the only way I can look at myself in the mirror-because the system is unfair.
If a system demands things that are impossible-it is not wrong to disobey, change, or otherwise skirt a faulty paradigm in order to accomplish the core objectives.
First Post-Why it's like purgatory.
My boss only screamed a little today. That was good. I didn't piss off any customers, another plus point. But my barely-there coworker came closer and closer to losing their job-at least we all keep thinking thats how its going. This person has a history of incredible clerical errors(ones that involve money and billing problems) and slow downs that would make even a license branch employee impatient (no offense-but you guys wouldn't move fast for any reason...). My co-worker has a myriad of physical and other problems that interfere with their work. They took my fellow employee in the glass walled office and had a long talk again-but the person still has their job. That was some real drama for us-because office confrontations rarely happen around here-it's almost always indirect discipline.
That's what makes this place so much like purgatory, no one ever fired, no one held accountable for their actions. We are all just waiting for something, anything, to change. We see people do really stupid things, but they never get wrote up, the results of any of your actions is a tersely worded memo to everybody, instead of, God forbid, dealing with people directly, like we actually saw today.
You see them keep track of numbers, and from time to time mention the call volume, but they never talk to you about your numbers or give any targets. Because of a corporate problems raises are frozen. But for some reason that has caused performance reviews to be frozen also. It would really be great to get feedback good or bad in a really quantified manner, not just a vague memo that you wonder if may be pointed in your directions, or the boss yelling that you are on the phone too long, but the rant ending there.
I sometimes wonder what I would have to do to get a trip to the glass torture chamber....
Note to reader: I finally did get that ill-fated trip, read about it in:
"It Finally Happened."