Call Center Purgatory <$BlogRSDURL$>
Call Center Purgatory
Friday, January 20, 2006
  Cog on the Run...

Dear Readers,

I have some personal business I must attend to. I will be unable to blog for two weeks. I will check my mail and leave the occasional witty response to your mountain of comments,(tongue firmly implanted in cheek there, dontcha know?). I promise to be back before my two-year bloggiversary,
February 13th. In the meantime, share some love with the links below, and give them a click while you pine for my return, or the fjords, or whatever it is you pine for, maybe I don't want to know...

Essential Connections
A very well written blog about business and communications.

We Interrupt This Broadcast
Hard to define-lots of posts on many subjects-worth checking out...

The Jake Files
Smart, opinionated writing with a great look to the page.

The New Jazz Thing
Another jazz fan like me.

Thanks for reading,

AC

Anonymous Cog

 
Thursday, January 19, 2006
  "But You've Got to Help Me! I'm Pathetic, Don't You See?"

I've decided that there is a large group of people in America that have made it their life's work to become the most incredibly pathetic wusses on the planet.

Let me give you an example...

Because my company provides financial services for some credit card companies and many different kinds of businesses, I frequently take calls from very confused people, who think I can do everything. Some companies provide free road service to their customers, such as a jump start, or changing a tire or unlocking a car.

One of the confused lost souls called me today.

"Anonymous Investments, This is AC, how can I help you?"
"Oh...I needed someone to unlock my car, Is this the right number?"
"Do you have the Platinum Card through Bank of Offshore Investments?"
"Yes, Yes I do."
"Yeah, I'm afraid you dialed the wrong number, here, left me give you their main number..."
"You're going to make me call another number? I'm in a really dangerous part of town. Can't you help me?"
"I'm an investment counselor. I don't know anything about locksmiths."
"I'm going to be late for my appointment, and I'm lost, can't you help me? This is the second call center I have called and I've been on hold for a long time"
"Alright, I'm not supposed to do this. What city are you in?"
"I'm in Detroit."
I typed in "locksmith" and "Detroit,Mi" into Superpages, and found a locksmith.
"Here, write this phone number down and give them a call."
"I don't have pen or paper!"
Was there no end to the whining and crying?
"Oh, I figured out how to put in into my phone."
"Ok, call Tony's locksmith at 317-555-1212."
"That will be free, right?"
"Only if you call the other call center. I am an investment counselor. I can't pay them with mutual funds..."
"But...I have no money...."
"YOU'VE GOT A PLATINUM CREDIT CARD! That's how you called me!"
"But..Well...it's maxed out!"
"ma'am, I suggest at this point that you call 911. Have a nice day."
[CLICK!]
What I really wanted to say was, "Are you too dumb to breathe? Is your aunt your mom? What are you doing in a city like Detroit with no money, no keys, no friends, no functioning credit card, and not a functioning brain? Did your Mom put lead paint chips in your oatmeal? What the F--- is your problem!?!"
But once again, terminal niceness and the fine socializing work of my Mother holds true against the prevailing storm of stupid that continues to blow upon my tender psyche. It's people like this that destroy what little kindness I have. You break the rules for them, you go the extra mile, and it's never enough. "I need, I want, I can't, I don't know how, blah, blah, blah..."

We have become a society that can't be responsible for our own lives, unable to help ourselves do anything. Self-sufficiency is as foreign a concept to many North Americans as cultural relativism is to the Taliban. We are a society of consumers. We demand everything be done for us, no matter if we are wrong or not. Grown people attain the ripe age of 30 and can't come to grips with the mental complexities of something being their own fault, and sucking it up and fixing it themselves. I just want to reach through the phone and shake them like a trailer park in a tornado.

OK......

I feel better now.

Just have had a week full of whiners, and needed to rant some.

I'm better now.

Thanks for reading,

AC

Anonymous Cog

 
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
  The Year of Coffee

Click on the link above for someone even more obsessed with coffee than I am.
Good read.

Thanks for reading,

AC

Anonymous Cog

 
Monday, January 16, 2006
  Listening to Myself Rant

Right after Christmas, there were a couple real slow days at the call center. I remember on Wednesday, it got so slow we actually stood up and started gossiping over the cubicles when Larry left the floor.

It was nuts. Everyone was complaining about everyone else, they were complaining about management, human resources, no raises, lousy benefits, everything.

"Can you believe the memo?"
"Why can't I get a raise?"
"I felt so belittled..."
"It can't all be our fault..."
"Why can't they treat us right?"
"I hate my job!"
"Then George made me finish his work, just because he wanted a cup of coffee!"
"He keeps transferring calls straight to me! He refuses to even try to help!"
"Where do they find these trainees?"


Now I know what you are thinking, "This guy has pages and pages of rants and complaints about this call center, and now he's complaining about other people whining?" Yeah, I saw the irony too, it was about a mile wide painted fluorescent orange, the same shade as that skinny silk tie I owned during the 80's.

But for some reason, hearing the non-stop gripe session kind of made me feel sick inside. I thought about it awhile, I think I understand why.
I'm finished...

No, I'm not finished with the blog. I can't promise I won't whine again, that would be silly. But I am finished with believing that something will change magically, or that whining really does anyone any lasting good. Yeah, the emotional release is ok for a while, and getting the words out there makes the world make more sense.

But that only works for so long. Extended sessions of crying and kvetching just start to tie you up in knots after while. After awhile you have to decide if you are going to go on with your life. I've made that decision to go beyond simply complaining about work everytime something goes wrong,(at least most of the time). I don't like it, but it was the right thing to do.

I hate to admit, but that decision has made a real difference. When I see something unfair, or wrong going on in the call center, I try to ignore it and keep my mind on doing the job right so I can hit the clock, get the paycheck, and go home. Every day puts me one day closer to leaving this place.

Thanks for reading,

AC

Anonymous Cog

 
Sunday, January 15, 2006
  "Indian Call Center Staff Quit Over Abuse on the Line"


Click the link above to read an interesting article from the British newspaper The Guardian about the sort of abuse that Indian call center workers are experiencing.

I have never spoke much about how I feel about outsourcing. I have mixed feelings about it, and I know there is no one right answer. I have had a couple of difficult experiences with overseas call centers, but I certainly can see it from their point of view. People complain that the outsourcing takes jobs away from Americans, I would be quick to tell them this is not the sort of job that you should cry about losing.

The horrible thing is that no matter who is right or wrong, there is a person, a real live person on the other end of the phone. They did not take this job because they answered an ad in the paper that said,

"Operators needed: Take jobs from arrogant Americans and prevent them from figuring out how to install printer drivers on their new computers. Dental benefits included!"
No, there is a person who is doing everything they can to pay the rent, keep groceries in their pantry and just make it through the day like the rest of us. If you don't like outsourcing, fine, make sure to not do business with companies that use overseas call centers, but for the sake of all that is human and decent in our shared hearts that beat the same way with the same blood coursing through our veins, don't abuse someone who is just trying to make a living, it's not their fault!

Working in any call center has days where it really sucks, but to know that you are calling people that are going to call you racist names, make fun of the way you speak, and degrade your culture, well, that's just beyond call center purgatory, that my friends, would be call center hell.

Thanks for reading,

AC
Anonymous Cog

 
Friday, January 13, 2006
  "The Impressive Guy"



"I remember during my time in the Navy, we handled twice this much traffic in our Com Center. You know, our computers were set up much better than these, and the network was configured in such a way that we were almost never down."

It did not matter what the subject was, what the task was, Jack was quick to tell you he had either done it, mastered it, or had complete knowledge of it. It got real old, real quick.

Even more than the know-it-all attitude, Jack would not be taught. The nuances of how you relate and speak to customers, the verbal and written language we all have developed, he ignores all of that, and runs around like a bull in a china shop. Jack has been with us for about three months. He just finished an undergraduate degree in economics last year. I'm looking forward to life in the call center knocking him down a couple of notches.

I always had this assumption that people that were in the military knew how to get along with others, they understood team dynamics and all that. But then,idiots seem to flourish everywhere, growing in a heavily fertilized soil of cluelessness, watered by self-deception, enjoying the steady sun-shine of...oh, never mind, you know what I mean.

I never understood this kind of thinking. You're in a new job, trying to learn new things and make new friends, so of course, going out of your way to explain why you are better than everyone else must be the right way to go. Yep, when they see how impressive you are, they will be just falling all over themselves to change how they do things and just freakin' beg to be your new best friend.

It just all screams insecurity. I know he must not have any luck with real women, he's just trying way too hard.

What's kind of interesting is how management and the veterans are giving him such a rough time. Anything he does that's even a little bit off, they nail him for it.

I know what it is really, he refuses to show that he wants to learn from us, or even respect our way of doing things. He wants to be a part of our group, but only on his terms.

Every group of people, classroom, business, whatever develop their own symbols and practices to define acceptable behavior. Part of that is allowing the group to teach you these symbols, and showing respect for the group.

Even though we are a lousy call center with lousy management, there is a group of us that all get along. This includes the veterans and part of the management, and people like me who haven't been here as long as the lifers. We know each other, the private jokes, the histories and what is acceptable and what is not. It's like he's a spotted zebra in the herd, and we've decided to push him to the edges so the lions can get him first. Mutations may be part of the theory of evolution, but most of the time they are the first to be eaten in the survival of the fittest.


Thanks for reading,

AC

Anonymous Cog

 
Thursday, January 12, 2006
  Shouldn't Something Be Happening About Now?


I wish I could write about bad things that are going on at the call center, but there really isn't anything happening. Sure, there are good and bad days, but since Christmas, there has been less and less bad things happening.

Larry came back the day after Christmas yelling and screaming when the phones backed up, but after a couple of days he quieted down, way down. I mean, almost not a peep out of him. I tried to get George to moon him, but he wouldn't have it. Some people just aren't team players...

You just ever have this feeling like something big is about to happen, but you don't know what? I've got that now. With the new general manager, and the abrupt change in Larry's behavior from caustic to kindness has really got me scratching my head and looking over my shoulder.

I guess this is the two-fold curse of call center purgatory, moments of extreme panic interspersed with hours of complete panic.

Thanks for reading,

AC

Anonymous Cog

 
Monday, January 09, 2006
  "Spreading the Gospel and Getting the Sack"

This is part VI in a series I started a while ago called "Self-Examination". It's kind of a biography of bad jobs, and my own blunders. It will make more sense if you start from the beginning.

Click here to read part I


After leaving the retail job I had grown to love, I started looking for something different. Through some various contacts I had developed through church, I found out about a Christian publishing house that needed a shipping clerk.

I applied and was hired quickly. It seemed like the perfect job. I was sending out Christian literature all over the country, being part of what seemed like a great family of people and doing something to make the world a better place.

My boss was an older man who was a pastor on the weekends and had been a missionary to China in his earlier days. The president of the company was an elder in another church. I think there were less than thirty people in the whole company, and everybody knew everybody. We got Chinese carry-out every Friday, and also had chapel once a week. I thought I had finally found my home, somewhere I could retire from.

The first inkling that everything was not as it seemed was when I discovered that I came from a very different mind set than my coworkers. They all went to one specific denomination, and I went to a different one. My specific doctrinal beliefs about some subjects were very different than theirs. It should not have been important, we still believed the same about those subjects that mattered the most. I wasn't trying to convert anybody to my way of thinking. But I found my boss would want to talk to me more and more and try to "explain" things. I soon discovered what I thought was common ground in religion and politics was a deep chasm. We were completely opposed on so many things. He would bait me some times, I think he wanted me to agree he was right because he was an older missionary, but I was still young and brash enough that I told him I didn't agree.

I remember that we would all take turns giving the devotional in the chapel meeting. Everyone would generally read something from a devotional book and then add their thoughts to it. When it came my turn, I read about seven verses from the bible and spoke for about five minutes about what the verse meant to me. I went out of my way to pick a non-controversial subject, I was speaking about the unconditional love of God. While I was doing it I could sense I was making some sort of blunder. They had this look on their faces and tense body language that seemed to be communicating that they thought I was some sort of liberal heretic.

Sometime after this, I started experiencing problems with my boss and management. Now, to their credit, I was not the perfect employee. I made some real mistakes, and I was not shipping things out as fast as I should have. I want to make that clear. First it started with little comments here and there, the women who handled the billing and the salespeople, then my supervisor would make other comments. The bad thing is, I reacted all wrong. I started getting so nervous that I made more mistakes. Finally, my supervisor gave me a written warning, and said if I did not improve my performance in two weeks I would have to leave.

I put everything I could into it. I tried harder than I had ever tried before. Finally, the two weeks was up and we met in his office to discuss it.

"I spent some time praying about this last night. This was a very hard decision for me to make. I have seen some improvement, but just not enough. I feel really bad about this, but I'm afraid we have to let you go. You are just too slow to do this job."
"Don, you said I've improved, my accuracy is better right?"
"Yes, your accuracy did improve, and your speed improved a little, but you are still not where we need you to be."
"Look, if you give me more time to do the job I could get more done. I don't even need overtime pay. Put me on salary, and I will come in early and stay late to get all the work done the right way."
"No...We've made up our mind. You leave at the end of the week."

I was crushed. Fired again. The week passed very painfully. There were several awkward moments where I just felt embarrassed and sad. I wished I could have just left then, but I wanted the full paycheck. We had a pizza party on Friday, and they bought me a plant as going away present. It was a peace lily, how's that for ironic? I just wanted to crawl under the table in the lunch room. Couldn't they let me go without injuring my crushed ego all the more? This wasn't them making amends, it was rubbing salt in the wounds. To their credit, they did extend unemployment benefits to me, and said I left because, "I wasn't right for the job." They also gave me as good of a recommendation as they were able to, you know, something like, "He doesn't drink or smoke on company time and he showed up everyday, but other than that he wasn't so hot..."

It took me a while to come to grips with what had happened. At first, I chose to blame myself and my "slacker ways" most of the time. I remember having lunch with my pastor, who used to be a CEO of a larger company, when I explained how it all went down, he told me that he believed they wanted me to leave because of more personal reasons. Especially because I had made improvements and was willing to do whatever it took. My wife was more to the point, she said my boss didn't like my politics or my religion and that is why he wanted me gone.

This was hard for me to come to grips with. I always thought better of fellow Christians, especially those in the ministry. But as I get older I know better. Everyone has weaknesses, no matter how spiritual they appear, no matter how much God may have used them, everyone has feet of clay and struggles with their own problems. Where my boss missed it, is that he did not even consider that his disagreements with me would color his management skill. He was so sure of his unsullied sincerity that it did not enter into his mind.

I didn't write this post to speak evil of other Christians, or ministers. I certainly played a part in losing this job. What I did want to point out was that just because a business is "Christian" doesn't exempt it from the same sort of common labor problems that "secular" workplaces have. The most important thing about this job is that it taught me a very important truth that I have seen repeated no matter where I go: if you can't get along with your boss, working hard doesn't always solve your problems. I don't consider that an excuse to slack or be a bad worker, just something to accept at some point. There are some people that we won't ever get along with, no matter how hard we try.

I don't know what the sequel to this one will be, I have to decide which job to write about next. Check back every once in a while. There is a link on the blogroll to this post under "A Series of Cogs".

Thanks for reading,

AC

Anonymous Cog

 
Thursday, January 05, 2006
  The Question

Her skin was flawless in it's coloring. A beautiful creamy brown that looked like a latte. It may have been a tired saying, but her eyes exemplified what Latinas are known for. They were dark and fierce. She was altogether pleasant and had a voice that sounded like a Miles Davis solo, lilting up and down, round and round, with complexity and beauty that never allowed you to completely understand where it was going, but you enjoyed the trip. Her hair was brown and highlighted in such a way that it was like looking at a sable coat.

Veronica was a new hire that had been with us for about three months out of training when I got to know her. There was something about her personality that made me like her right away. You meet those people, you just know they have the same ideas and concepts of what is right, what is sincere and honest in the world, and when you talk to them, it's like talking to yourself. That's what Veronica was like.

I guess she had been having problems with her boyfriend, I'm not really sure what brought about the question that she asked me. It was one of the most striking and unusual questions I have ever been asked by a woman...

"AC, you've always been honest with me...Tell me truthfully, What is it about me that's unattractive to men? I know I'm not the best looking woman around, am I really that awful?"

No man wants to be asked these sort of questions. I've been married for a long time. I knew Veronica was not trying to pull anything, nor was I tempted by her. I decided a long time ago that no women is worth leaving what I have at home.

Nevertheless, Veronica wanted a real answer. Not just some pat answer, not just blow her off. It had to be sincere, and it had to be truthful.

"You know, that's a real tough question. You know you've put me in a rough situation."
"I know."

I looked at her, and looked up and down, trying not to look lecherous, or like she was a piece of meat. She wasn't a "perfect" size, no doubt about that, she wouldn't be on any Victoria's Secret's ads, yeah, that was true. But she did have curves in the right places that a woman is supposed to have curves. She had a pretty face, and had a healthy glow. More than that she was a genuinely nice person. She had an inner beauty that would last beyond any plastic surgery or botox injections. Any man that had the fortune to have her as partner would probably not suffer. She would not be vain, and cruel, or selfish and shallow. She reminded me of a quote by Cervantes, "In the night, all cats are gray.". All too often we confuse superficial appearances with essential qualities.

I finally formulated an answer...

"Veronica, you're not perfect, no one is. You have a nice shape, a lovely face and nice skin. A mature man would realize what a catch you are."

"Thanks, AC..."
She smiled sweetly, and walked away. From the look on her face, I'm pretty sure it was the right answer.
Thanks for reading,

AC

Anonymous Cog

 
Wednesday, January 04, 2006
  The Memo

From:John Smith
Head of Accounting
To:AC
CC:All Management
RE:Job Well Done

AC,

I am writing to thank you for an excellent job done on December 23rd, 2005. You completed transaction number 639A63 for a rather large amount of money, with one of our corporate customers, ACME Investing. After the transaction was complete, the customer complained that they were given bad investment advice, and not treated fairly by our agent. The customer asked for a reimbursement for their loss. Your very clear documentation and the mp3 of the call showed without a doubt that you warned them of the risk involved and even hinted that this investment may turn out to be a bad buy at that time. Time and time again we lose money when we are faced with customer problems that we can't reconcile easily, due to bad mp3's, or no clear documentation from our agents. If we had more investment counselors like you who took the time to do things correctly, our company would enjoy more profit and less loss.

Thank you again,

John Smith



Just when I had given up on the idea of quality, courtesy and doing the job right the first time, this comes along in my inbox. A couple of slaps on the back from my buddies, and the GM even went out of his way to say "Thank you". The nature of my call center had not changed. There is still a system that rewards half-ass work. Nevertheless, to say it was not a good day would have been a lie.

Thanks for reading,

AC

Anonymous Cog

 
Monday, January 02, 2006
  Digby's Universe

Check out another blog by a call center minion named Laliari.

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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Email:anonymous.cog at gmail.com
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"One must know oneself, if this does not serve to discover truth, it at least serves as a rule of life, and there is nothing better." -Blaise Pascal
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The Cog is listening to:
"Wake Up"
By Rage Against The Machine
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