Call Center Purgatory <$BlogRSDURL$>
Call Center Purgatory
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
  Inside Complex Girl

Check out Complex Girl, she is a good read with sharp sarcasm, an acid tongue, and a heart of gold. I like her.

Thanks for reading,

AC

Anonymous Cog

 
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
  Michael Brown Back in the News


I've been reading in the news that former FEMA head Michael Brown is starting a disaster preparedness consulting firm. Talk about making lemonade when life hands you lemons. This guy astounds me. I just can't imagine being the scapegoat for the tragedy in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, and then deciding to make a new career out of it.

I mean when I do something wrong or get fired from a job, I generally take stock and determine whether I should go in a different direction. Instead, this guy determines that he will profit from his failures and humiliation. I'm sorry, I don't care how much you are paying me per hour, I just could not spend all day saying, "I really screwed up, here's how you can not be like me." My self-esteem just can't take those kind of hits, but hey, that's me. If I was in his place, I would get a job where no one knew who I was, or did not care. Some people can't do that, they always have to be in the spotlight, I guess he is one of those kind of people.

Thanks for reading,

AC

Anonymous Cog

 
Monday, November 28, 2005
  Working Holidays

While we are open on weekends for limited hours, most of the important holidays, like Thanksgiving and Christmas we are not open. I know there are a lot of call centers that are open twenty-four hours a day, three hundred sixty-five days a year. I've talked to some of the agents that work at these places, they have even worse stories than some of mine, especially emergency centers, or anything where people are going to depend on you for important things.

I've had a couple jobs where I worked holidays. It's really a strange feeling. All of my life growing up, holidays were this special time that my folks never let anything interrupt. We were always together, we were always well fed and we were always happy, well most of the time.

Then I entered the real world, and ended up in a couple of jobs where I had to work on Christmas and Thanksgiving several times. It was like losing part of my childhood. I felt broken inside. I felt sad and alone. The rest of the world is celebrating and surrounded in the warmth of their families, playing games, and eating too much, and I'm here working. This might sound incredibly childish to you, but I'm ok with that. There is still part of me that is a child.

To all those people that are working through the holidays, I feel for you. I hope in some little way, you still feel the warmth of the season. More than that, I hope you know that the rest of us appreciate you taking care of us so we can enjoy these holidays.

To those people that will deal with call centers on the holidays, take the time to be pleasant and polite. Take the time to remember that the person on the other side of the phone wants to help you. Finally, if they can't help you, and your holiday is "ruined", you miss your flight, or can't get your present delivered on time, don't take it out on them.

This time of year is when we try to make up for all of the times we let our family down, all the mean things we have said to those that love us the most, and all of the times we stayed at work when we could have been at home. An expensive gift, or making it home for one day and then ignoring the people who love you for the rest of the year won't make up for that. Go beyond gifts and trips and parties and truly give your heart to those people around you, including the people on the other end of the phone that are trying to help you.

Thanks for reading,

Happy Holidays,

AC

Anonymous Cog

 
Monday, November 21, 2005
  Green Eggs and Spam

Check out Green Eggs and Spam.

Thanks for reading,

AC

Anonymous Cog

 
Sunday, November 20, 2005
  You Hate Me Because I Reflect What You Are...

Most of the events that really get my attention are little things. Anyone can write about big events, people getting fired, corporate stupidity, and crazy bosses. But I think that the small exchanges between people have much more to say. Small kindnesses, small offenses, make up our world and define who we are more than big events.

I say this to introduce something I did to one of my co-workers. It certainly was really a small thing, but it was not a good thing. I've never got along with Therese. We just never seemed to click. She came across as pompous and conniving one day, and I caused her to lose face in front of three or four people. Since then, we've just had an understanding, we don't speak unless there is a real reason for it.

I thought we had been getting along better since so much time had passed since the offense, but that soon changed. Since my change of heart after my last meeting with my boss,(read "Everything Changes"), I understand that producing a large number of trades is more important than anything else. That is what directs my day, and my actions. There are people that can handle customer service and inquiries, my job is to take the trades as quick as I can and process them.

Someone put a call into the queue for new transactions by mistake and it rang into me. I already had some transactions to complete, but I want to increase my numbers so I took it. It was one of Therese's customers, who had set up a pending transaction. That means, they will call back and give us more information to put the trade through. I explained to the person that they would have to talk to Therese and put them back on hold.

"Therese, you've got a pending transaction on line 632!"
"Can't you handle it? All the info is in the file, you just have to update it!"
"Sorry, I can't help right now. I've got my own transactions to handle."

Therese was pissed. I could hear her above the hum of voices,
"I'm so sorry you had to be on hold, I thought someone else would help you, but I guess they couldn't be bothered..."

For days after that, she did not pass up any chance to question my trades, or make snide comments about my work.

On one hand, I feel bad about it, I used to go out of my way to help the other workers. On the other hand, I don't really care. I know that we will never be friends. Besides that, going out of my way to help customers and fellow workers is not rewarded here, it's punished. If I'm not busy, I'll help my fellow workers, otherwise, it's every man for himself, since they don't reward us or even critique us for being team players.

What I find so interesting about this is Therese. After she cleared training, she did the same thing she yelled at me about: she never helped other people out. She would put every call on hold and make everybody handle their own calls, no matter how trivial.

The hypocrisy of human nature, whether my own, or anyone else continues to amaze me. How often do we complain about people doing the same thing to us that we have done to them? Nobody's perfect, we need to drop the righteous indignation when someone does not live up to our expectations.

Of course, its always ok to use that righteous indignation in a blog when I'm really mad at other people. I mean, as long as we have that straight in my wacked-out little world...

Thanks for reading,

AC

Anonymous Cog

 
Saturday, November 19, 2005
  Say My Name-Just Not All The Time!

To say that we have become a casual culture here in the United States is putting it mildly. Most business is always done on a first name basis. Its become very rare to hear people referred to as Mr. or Ms. anymore.

There's really nothing wrong with a little distance between people. I still think we should not have to act like everyone is our best friend. Some of us like a little privacy. Some of us don't want to know your hopes and dreams and the name of your pet Chinchilla, thank you very much! I like addressing my customers as Sir or ma'am. I like saying Mr. or Mrs. I think people still like that. There should be some arenas in life where people don't try to act like your equal, where they treat you with a little deference. I'll just say it plainly, everyone should get their ass kissed just a little now and then! Not over the top, but just enough to put a little swagger back in their step.

Somewhere along the line, some positive-motivation-Dale-Carnegie-wannabe has put it into some people's heads that if you want to get good customer service, you need to repeat the first name of the person you are dealing with several times. Now that's a good practice in theory, but there are always those socially inept putzes that will take it too far.

This week I had a guy call me who repeated my first name once, sometimes twice in every sentence! I am not making this up! It was the telephone equivalent of a close talker that asked you personal questions about your love life.

It just felt creepy. Like he was some kind of stalker.

Here's a good rule of thumb, if you have a long conversation with someone on the phone, say their name twice, not more than three times. It's good that people remember you, but don't make them shudder after they hang up the phone!

Thanks for reading,

AC

Anonymous Cog

 
Friday, November 18, 2005
  Maybe its time to...


Sometimes I really get the impression that the people running our country do not have a clue what they are doing. The Senate and the House are both cutting social programs and student loans while at the same time they are cutting taxes. Now I know there is more to it than that, I'm not an idiot. Nothing is rarely as clear as the sound bites portrays it. Some of the tax cuts are designed to help spur growth specifically in the Gulf Coast, and some of the cuts in the social programs are really just scaling back yearly increases-not decreasing the benefits. The real news is always somewhere in the middle.

That said, we are at war with troops in more than one country. We have just survived natural disasters that have destroyed cities and displaced many of our poorest citizens. There is this ostrich-like feel that we can handle all of these financial disasters without any type of real sacrifice, without any loss of profits.

Maybe, just maybe, it might be time to start considering cutting back on the tax breaks...

Maybe, just maybe, this is not the time to decrease the money spent on social programs.

Maybe, just maybe, we could raise the minimum wage instead of continuing to promise that someday when the economy gets better wages will get better on their own.

I don't care what sort of degree in economics you have, I don't care how many books you have written. I don't care if you can show me four kinds of bar graphs and pie graphs explaining how cutting taxes helps the economy. Cutting taxes is not the answer to every economic problem. Cutting taxes will not guarantee that life will get better for the poor.

Maybe, just maybe, we could stop saying and doing the same things and expecting different results.

Thanks for reading,

AC

Anonymous Cog

 
Thursday, November 17, 2005
  My Worst Customer Service Call Contest

While we are on the subject of horrible callers, here's some good news. Tim Stay over at Call Center Script is having a contest to see who has had the WORST customer service call of all time.

The prize is an IPOD Shuffle in time for Christmas!

Here's how you enter, click on the link above to go to Tim's blog, leave a comment on the contest post. Tim and a panel of judges, (I'm one of them) will decide by December 15th who is the winner.
Good Luck!

AC

Anonymous Cog

 
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
  The Shields Finally Buckle!

I've always been known for being fairly mild mannered and calm. I rarely raise my voice. I don't yell on a whim. I have only been in one or two real fights. The only time I actually kicked someone's ass was when they actually spit in my face and then laughed at me. I slammed his head into a metal locker and he slid to the ground, crying. I actually felt bad about it afterward (a little). The point is I was raised to be terminally nice. My father is the same way. He rarely raised his voice, he was always gentle and soft spoken, so if he raised his voice, it was obvious we had gone too far.

The bad thing about being raised to be terminally nice is this; when you finally are pushed beyond that point of no return, your anger is not as controllable as someone who lets their anger flair up often.

Last Wednesday I was taken to that place of no return. It started when a customer with an Eastern European accent called demanding free background information on a new series of bonds that would be on the market soon.
"I'll be glad to help you sir. What's your card number and offer number?"
"I did not need that last time, you will not be worrying about it. Just give me information."
"Sorry, I can't help you without the offer number or card number."
"You will send me the pdf file now, I don't have time for this."
"Let me be clear with you sir, my company will not receive any payment without those numbers. If you can't give them to me, we are done talking."
"But those numbers are in my briefcase in the Lexus, I don't have time for this sheeeht."
"You'll have to get the numbers or I can't help you."
"Fuck!"
-Click- and this little ray of Soviet sunshine was gone.

He finally swallowed his pride and called back, but not without pushing some more of my buttons. I could feel my "customer service shield" weakening, like some Scottish engineer in my ego engineering department calling up to my bridge,
"Captain, she canna take much more of this, she'll be blowing apart anny' minnute now, I'm warnin' ye!! She'll blow apart like last weeks Haggis'!"
"I..told you..Mr. Scott...we've got five more hours to go...on this shift and those shields...have got to last...my customers are...depending on it!"
(It's hard to do a good William Shatner impression)
"I'm tellin' ye captain, she's in bad shape...We need to get out of danger now!"

Then it suddenly uncloaked and appeared on the viewscreen, the Romulan Bird of Prey of Call Center Customers...

The self-important penny-ante investor calling in with a hot tip he just got from his Exclusive Wall Street Newsletter,(also known as spam).

"Anonymous Investments, This is AC, How can I help you?"
"This is Mr. Bird, I'm calling to check on a trade I set up an hour ago, my confirmation number is 693546."
"Hold on Sir, I will check on that...Ok, here it is...I'm afraid you have exceeded your escrow account and we are waiting on your bank to provide us with an increase in your supplemental credit line. I am sorry it has not gone through yet. We will keep trying and call you back as soon as possible."

It went way downhill from this point.

"This is just the sort of sad service I have come to expect from you people. Other investors have told me about this kind of shoddy service from you guys, and I guess it was just a matter of time until I received the same. Let me tell you something boy, I'm just the sort of man to make sure that this does not happen again. I know how to get good customer service. You'll rue the day you ever delayed my trades for something as trifling as an escrow amount. I will start an on-line campaign and make sure everyone knows what a shoddy business you do!"

That was it...

I am not being abused by this kind of middle-class-comb-over-piece-of-shit. He does not even realize that I have nicely told him that he is a credit risk, that he does not have the financial accountability to invest in Chia-Pets. Even worse than that, he thinks that I will cringe and whimper like a dog when he raises up to full stature of 12 inches. The shields had finally broke...

"You know what? You're an ill-mannered jerk!"
"I'm not rude...", he seemed shocked that I would speak to him like this.
"Yes, you are! If you think I am going to help you because you have spoken to me this way, you are sadly mistaken! The truth is we won't put those trades through until your bank extends us credit, no matter what you say!"

I'm not sure what happened after that. I just lost it. When I got done ranting, I heard nothing at the end of the phone for five seconds, so I hung up. I never heard back from him again. I hope I never do. I haven't got written up either, I think I might have ashamed him, but I would not count on it.

The truth is I felt really bad after this call. Not only did I lose my cool, I stepped out of my place. When I get a customer who is abusive or has a problem with service, I am supposed to hand him off to a manager, period. I did not have to give him a piece of my mind. It just disappoints me that I let myself go to his level. That I yelled and screamed and acted as impolite and unmannerly as he did. I'm better than that, he's the ignorant moron, not me.

But it goes to show you, no matter how long you are in a people-oriented business, these sort of things are going to happen from time to time. The weird thing is that its never for real reasons, its never because of anything crucial or dangerous or world-changing. We always seem to lose it because of a "certain tone" someone had, or they spoke to us in "the wrong way". I don't know what the answer is for callers like this, because somehow they keep multiplying. I blame OnStar and 911 call centers. The world keeps thinking that we're all a bunch of genies and they just have to rub their phone to get anything they want.

They best answer is just to keep reminding myself to not take these people so seriously, and never think its my job to straighten them out. That should have been done by their mother, unfortunately, I think she dropped them, several time, on concrete...ok, that's enough, I'll stop.

Thanks for reading,

AC

Anonymous Cog

 
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
  Sucker Punched!!


I have a lot of customers that I know very well. Because of my work with some of the larger corporations, there are people who I speak to on a regular basis and who I am essentially their personal customer service representative.

Because they do a lot of business with us, they get treated better than other customers. I'll do research for them that other investors don't get, I even give them a lot of information for free.

There is sort of an unspoken agreement between us. I go out of my way to take care of you, and you make sure when I do work for you there is no delay in payment.

That's what I thought until today...

Her name is Natalie, she is from Louisiana. She has a Southern charm that I find very disarming, but she can be a weasel from time to time. She is very powerful in her organization. She can get any purchase order I need for anything she wants to invest in.

Today she called me up.
"AC, I'm sorry, but I can't pay you the full price for that trade."
"I don't understand Natalie, it went through fine. It was even a better deal than we thought it would be."
"Yes, that's right. The thing is, our agreement with your company states that if you don't submit a completed purchase order within thirty days, we get a 6% discount."
"But it was delayed while we waited for a purchase order number. Can't you just slide it through?"
"Not this time Darlin' I'm so sorry about that, really I am. Well, talk to ya later. Bye."


Good commerce should be based on relationships that lead to mutual trust and looking out for your customer's and supplier's best interest, not just sticking it to them any way you can. She had paid us before in a situation like that, but she had decided to teach us a lesson on a very technical point.

Which was fine. I would teach her a lesson. I have a way to bill her for every call that comes in here. Any research, any query, I can charge her a minimum fee. It's one of the things that I have as my discretion as a senior representative.

Well, my discretion has changed. Its not just because I'm mad, its not good business. I thought I could count on my customer to make sure I got paid for what I do for them. If they want to nickel and dime me, I really have no other choice but to charge them every time I pick up the phone.

Thanks for reading,

AC

Anonymous Cog

 
Saturday, November 05, 2005
  The Trainer

Sometimes our problems in the call center are not a result of demented leadership or crazy callers, instead, they come from the other employees we work with.

For those of you that don't know anything about call centers, new employees go to training classes and also work with a trainer to show them the ropes. Sometimes everyone is a trainer if we have a lot of people, other times only certain people are trainers.

Herb is one of the older guys who is one of management's favorites trainers. He's really a good worker, he has good numbers and works hard. He reminds me of that guy on PBS that used to have the sewing show, you know the guy with the high-sheen, clear polished nails. He's kind of a combination of Mr. Humphries from the old BBC show "Are You Being Served?" and Ricardo Montalban; smooth and fruity, but a sweet guy. I like working with him, but he has one outstanding fault; he's a gossip. He was training one of the new temps in the cubicle next to me and I could hear him going on and on about everyone. So could some other people...

"Make sure you always confirm the order in a way that the tape will pick it up, so we can clearly hear the customer agreeing that they understood the results..."

He was interrupted by one of our senior agents, Jody, dealing with an agency that we contract to help us with overflow data entry,"You have been sitting on this for three days! I am not going to call you back again! If I don't have an real answer in thirty minutes, my boss is calling your boss. We've got a *@&$#& contract that says you will provide us with forty-eight hours turn around!"
SLAM!!, she hung up.

Herb didn't miss a beat."Of course, we've got some horribly rude people here who just can't act professional. Back in the old days, her kind would have been fired..." Herb was in his element now, he started listing the faults of three or four other agents, and how he would never do what they did, and how there's just no discipline or civility. He was so caught up with himself he didn't realize that three of those agents had heard his monologue over the cubicle walls.

There were hurt feelings, but no fireworks.No management intervention, no memos, or corrections, just the gut-tightening hatred that people can transmit silently through a busy office.

Thanks for reading,

AC

Anonymous Cog

 
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
  Everything Changes-The Epilogue

Click here to read part I

Several weeks ago, I told you about my meeting with my boss Larry, and how we had a real heartfelt employee-to-weasel-talk. Things were made crystal clear, and I left that meeting understanding my world a lot better. It has been about six weeks since that happened, let me give you an update.

I took his words to heart and stopped taking every call that comes in. As much as it kills me, I pass on informational and straight customer service calls to the temps. I hate putting people back into the queue to keep holding, but I really don't have a choice. I had to accept that the system here is broke and they won't listen to me or let me handle every call that comes. What makes money for this company is new trades, period. The customer service and informational calls are only a necessary evil to them.

That said, things have really improved for me personally. My numbers have soared. There are days I am up there with the top performers. I still have my research work that takes me away from the phone. I still have days when my numbers are down because of it, but when I am on the phone my numbers are greatly improved.

Two weeks ago, I cornered Larry at his desk and asked if he was satisfied with my numbers. He told me I was doing a great job. It was unreal, I didn't know what universe I was in. No one has hassled me since then, I have not had any comments or innuendos come my way.

So there you have it. I started doing things their way, and things got better. At first I thought that writing this would make me seem like a schmuck who didn't have a clue. But it's not that way. Sure, I'm a little thick sometimes, and I want myself to look good. But I had to ask them for guidance, I had to beg for constructive criticism. I still have not received a performance review. Their training and written memos say one thing, but their behavior and comments say something else. It just took me a long time to figure out that their implicit instructions are more important than their explicit instructions. Now I know.

Understanding Management shouldn't be some mysterious guessing game. It shouldn't take a degree in sociology and psychology to figure out what your boss wants from you. It should be laid out clearly. You should receive both praise and criticism often.

Thanks for reading,

AC

Anonymous Cog

 





Exploring the mind numbing insanity and childish corporate culture of an unknown call center employee.
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Purgatory: A place of suffering and torment with an unknown duration. In Roman Catholic Theology-the place where the dead are purified from their sins.
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By Rage Against The Machine
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