"AC, Check out this trade and tell me what you see.", my new boss asked me. I brought up the file and started reading through it. It was one of my corporate customers that demand such exact work and such painstaking research before they will pay.
The trade I was looking at was a masterpiece of mediocrity. Every "t" had been dotted and every "i" had been crossed. Nothing was authorized by the proper people, none of the required fields had been filled out, and there was no confirmation by email, fax or voicemail. It had been called in by someone that I had never spoke to before, there wasn't even a contact phone number for the customer-nothing at all.
As I read through, I knew we would not get paid, and would be lucky if we didn't get stuck with paying for something that was not authorized.
"Well...It's pretty bad. I..I can't believe how utterly messed up it is."
"I know. I don't know what was going through Suzie's mind when she did this. Look AC, Suzy just started working on these corporate customers, and she knows better. I want you to clean up the mess, and I want you to send the GM a report explaining what happened. I know this puts you in a strange situation, but with your new promotion we are expecting more out of you."
Things have become so strange lately. How did I go from being the whipping boy to the enforcer? As I started trying to piece together the aftermath of this call it became clear that Suzy did things in such a way we would not get our fee for this trade and we might even come out losing money. What was going through her head? She had been here a little longer than me, and she knew better!
After about 2 hours on the phone, sending emails and faxes, I finally got it all worked out, but we didn't get our fee. Now I had to send a report to the GM to explain the loss. There is part of me that feels like a traitor to be involved in management. I'm not one of them. But the other part of me knows that she was so wrong to do what she did. Whether I personally agree with management, people that go out of their way to lose the company money have to be stopped.
Then I realized why sending this report is the right thing to do. All of my time here, I have wished that management would make people responsible for quality and accuracy instead of just emphasizing high numbers. I said when I became part of lower management that I could be that positive change I wanted to see. Well, here it is: real change in management; making people accountable for their mistakes instead of just yelling or throwing vague memos at them.
Thanks for reading,
I've got to take off for two weeks. I've got too much to do and not enough time or intellectual energy to do it all-so CCP will have to suffer. I've got some interesting posts in the works, one called "The Hatchet Man", so check back in two weeks.
In the meantime, here are a couple of links to check out.
This,That and Frog Hair
The Evangelical Church Blues
Thanks for reading,
Hey! Stop what you're doing right now! Does your mother know that you do that? Stop feeling irrational guilt long enough to click the link above and go to a place you can get some help for the mountain of neurosis that you refuse to acknowledge that you are.
Go to the forum at Call Center Slave and tell your story of call center abuse, degradation, and even alienation, but hold back on the naughty bits-they have moderators on duty.
Seriously, this is a great site and I really think we need to support it.
Thanks for reading,
Click the link to read a series of posts I wrote about alienation. We always think of it as bad thing, which it is, but there is another side to it. First, some definitions:
Google Web Definitions
If I were to give my own definition of alienation, I would say something like:
Alienation: The state of being separated or excluded from the dominant group, or society in general. This state can results in feelings of isolation, guilt, or depression. Many times it is a result of not fulfilling, or rejecting the societal demands of the dominant group,Feelings of alienation lead people to not only believe that they are separated from the world around them, but it makes them believe they are intrinsically different from everyone else around them. Of course, many alienated people feel like they are losers, just don't fit in,don't measure up, etc. etc.
What about the other side? I believe alienated people also start to develop the belief that they are better than the world that rejects them. "The whole world is nuts-I'm the only sane one!" is a natural thought of alienated people.
Actually, our mind will probably pick one of these two responses to feeling alienation. It either decides that society is right, and that they are failures that need to submit to society's demands in order to be accepted, or the mind decides that everyone around them is wrong, and they are the only sane one in a world gone mad.
In my own case, I have felt both of these feelings. I've felt guilty I could not be as successful as the other call center superstars. I've wished I could have received the performance plaques, and went to the pizza parties put on for the top performers. On the other hand, I have considered that I am the one who is right and they are wrong. I have seen what my call center society refuses to see: how running a business by queue times and average call length alone makes for unhappy customers. I have seen how treating people and employees well is more important than all the profits in the world. I'm sure that there are other people in my company that feel this way, it's just not something you discuss during working hours.
My point is that I am beginning the think that alienation is good for society. It is part of the evolution of a society. Without people who are on the outside of the dominant group, looking in and seeing what is wrong with that group, there is not a chance for positive change. It can be argued that alienation is almost like Darwin's theory of adaptation. Society tends toward methods and beliefs that are self-defeating and cannot always reproduce themselves forever. More clearly, the dominant ideas are like inbreeding. "We've always done it this way. There is no other way. Any change must be wrong." is the sort of thing that results when everyone is accepted and obeys the dominant paradigm.
Without people on the outside doing things differently, how will society change? Jesus Christ was alienated from the dominant religious group, but he made a great change to society. How many other people that were isolated from the dominant group eventually changed that group? People like Martin Luther, Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, I could go on and on, but I think you can see my point.
Alienation feels horrible at the time. So often It results in loneliness, isolation, depression and hopelessness. I know, I've felt that way before, but it doesn't have to end as a bad thing. It is possible for alienation to be the catalyst to a better world. I guess the outcome is up to the individual.
Thanks for reading,
If you have read this blog for any length of time, you know I hate my job. I've often talked about how this place brings out the worst in people and how I hate so many things about it, and how I am going to find a new job some day, and how I have plans to have a great life once I leave the call center.
Yada, yada, yada, yada, ad nauseum.
Recently, there were other good changes in my life outside of the call center. Before these changes I found myself saying how I was going to finally get in better shape, and I would spend more time with my wife and family, and that I would go to church more and be a better person.
It didn't happen.
Some things improved, I am doing better in a lot of respects. But my life hasn't changed as much as I thought it would. It was this realization that made me rethink how I see my relationship with the call center.
Don't get me wrong. The call center still sucks. Oh, yeah, it sucks big time! It is still the equivalent of walking blindfolded and barefoot through a feed lot filled with rabid, feral pigs that have been there for two weeks after a solid diet of sauerkraut, beer and slim-jims. I still want to leave asap. The difference is that I realized every problem in my life can't be blamed on the call center.
I'm closer to leaving than I have been in a long time. All of my plans and arrangements are closer together than ever before. But its not enough. Leaving the call center will not make me a better person. The only person that can make me a better person is me.
If I don't make real changes to my own character and behavior, I will only be changing purgatories...
Thanks for reading,
Check out some incredible photography by Margaret Stratton. Her series called "Detained in Purgatory" is a series of black and white photos that capture deep feelings of desolation, alienation and loneliness extremely well. A great deal of her photography is the sort of material that expresses reams of thought in a single image.
Read a new blog about working in a call center called Memoirs From My Call Center Experience.
Click over to read Anonymous Law Student who said he once punched a giraffe.
Those of you who have not seen this flash video need to click below. It's very funny with great music. I think the music is Korean, but you'll understand what's going on without a doubt.
If you liked "There She is", check out part 2, "Cake Dance". There are punk rabbits trying to take out the hero, and even more funny stuff.
Thanks for reading,
I've been spending some more time reading Tom Vander Well's blog lately. He has a really good post about apologizing in the call center. It got me to thinking about something that I think is one of the keys to good customer service, whether you work in a call center or not: deference.
Deference is lacking no matter where you go. Sometimes, I think it may be lacking more in the USA with our hyped-up sense of "I've got my rights" or "You're not any better than me!" mentality that is common in our country. I'm not bad mouthing America, I just think that we have developed a culture that is lacking in deference compared to others. Some people call America a Christian nation, that may be partly true as far as our dominant religious and cultural influences, but we don't exemplify every Christian ideal by a long shot.
"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." It's hard to imagine any of our cultural icons saying such a thing. Can you ever dream of a rap song about the value of deference? Can you imagine Bill O'Reilly saying, "Now, I don't agree with you, but I really want to make sure that you get a chance to fully explain your position. I promise I won't interrupt until you are done, Senator Kennedy."? How about an action film based on a courteous hero that solves world problems by gentle persuasion? Gandhi would be the closest to that. I'm not saying that those people don't exist here, they do. You can find wonderful, kind, deferential people in every state-even Jersey. It just seems that the popular culture magnifies only the brashest, rudest, and most prideful people. Because of this, many people, especially young people, see deference as a character flaw, and being "disrespected" by someone else as a personal travesty.
~Philippians 2:3-4 (NIV)
Deference is not being a suck-up, crawler, or brown noser. It's not being a phony or a toady. It's something much more basic and kind. One of the definitions of deference is "a courteous regard for people's feelings". That is putting other people's needs and feelings first.
When you talk about deference to another person, there is another expression that is intrinsically linked: saving face. When I've been to other countries I've seen this is more common. I remember the times when I really made a mistake and instead of making me feel bad or embarrassing me in public, a person would go out of their way to save my "face". They would either use a euphemism or present my failure in such a way that protected my image. When I realized their kindness, that person became my hero and I vowed to return the favor.
What does this have to do with call centers? I'll tell you. Many of us realize that many call centers hire a lot of young people, fresh out of high school, or in some cases, people that have spent most of their lives in low-paying jobs. Now, I'm not being elitist or prejudical, but I was a poor, young redneck once, and the concept of deference was as foreign a concept to me as a thesarus is to the current resident of the White House. My call center is a little different in that most people have some college, but we still get some people hired in at the entry level for the billing and customer service side.
The point is that many people working at call centers today don't see the value of deference. Instead, they get angry any time a customer "disrespects" them in any way. Even worse, when they call the customer to give them bad news, like a problem with their credit or margin problems, they sound more like a collections agent, "You don't have enough credit for this!", "We can't help you, you don't qualify!". Its no wonder there are so many angry call center customers when so many agents can never stop to think outside of their own feelings to consider the person on the other end of the phone.
I've always went out of my way to point out how customers should act in such a way that they deserve good service. But its not always their fault. Its human nature to get nasty if someone makes you look bad and embarrasses you. Deference is definitely one the keys to great customer service and to surviving bad days in Call Center Purgatory.
Thanks for reading,
It always amazes me how quickly things can change in just one day. As I struggled to keep my nose clean and make an acceptable number of trades last week, all of a sudden the Human Resources guy appeared at my desk. It was like he appeared from a panel in the floor, with the red flames of his lair still flashing around him.
"AC, finish that trade and come to my office when you are done."
I couldn't read him to tell if I was in trouble or not. My nose had been clean for the last two weeks. Of course, I always think the worst. I'm a real the-glass-is-completely-empty-and-there's-a-ring-on-the-table kind of guy. I walked in and sat down in the office, ready for anything. The GM started the conversation.
"AC, we want you to be a group leader. Your eye for detail has caught our attention. Our current group of trainees is floundering. They need some guidance. You will be responsible for six people. After training class, they will sit with you in the East corner of cubicles. They are to come to you for any questions or concerns. You will still be doing your regular work, but try to guide them and check their progress."
I was in a real state of shock. Am I dreaming? Somebody pinch me.
"Of course, at this time the wages are still frozen, but we will consider this when your review comes up in October. So what do you think?"
(Ooh..I'm so shocked!)
"Uh..Sounds great. Sounds good. When do I start?"
The next day, properly caffeinated, prepared for battle with a large breakfast of steak and eggs and a whole grapefruit, I moved to Newbie Corner and met my "team": four ladies, a young guy and an older man. It was a new experience. I had forgotten what it meant to be new. All day long, listening to them, making sure I didn't hear a shipwreck. I spent the day picking up the phone to walk them through simple transactions, reading their notes, trying to put them on the right path and not hurt their feelings. I even found times I could praise them when they were doing a good job.
On the way home I realized something about this. I have spent two years complaining about how I hate the management here, (at least when Larry was here), and now I am part of management. I wouldn't want to run the place, but watching over six people is not that bad. I could be the sort of change I wanted to see in this call center. I could do all those things that no one ever did for me. I felt hopeful, almost giddy.
By the end of the week, most of them were doing ok. Since they are still in training, I gave each of them a mini-review and explained what they are doing right and what they need to improve on. One of the older ladies in the group said, "Thanks, you're making this job much easier."
They say you can't kid a kidder. Well, you can't suck-up to a master suck-up. I could tell she was sincere. It made my day.
Thanks for reading,
There's nothing going on at the call center I really want to talk about today. Same old, same old. But I saw something on TV last week that I have been thinking about for some time.
I saw a reporter on TV interviewing an executive from one of the oil companies. The reporter asked him about their record profits, to which he admitted that his company was were doing better than it ever had before. The reporter then asked him the question we all wanted him to ask:
"Would you lower prices temporarily since you are doing so well?"
Without missing a beat, or taking a millisecond to think about it, he said:
"Oh no, we couldn't do that. We're in the business to make money. My stockholders wouldn't stand for that."
I turned it off after that and thought about his answer. I'm not an idiot, I know he needs to make money, be profitable. Needs to stay competitive in a global marketplace. All those hackneyed phrases that I hear on MSNBC, or on Marketplace. All those phrases that business people always utter when they are making the "hard decisions". But I really don't buy the whole package any more.
How does he know his stockholders wouldn't stand for it? Maybe that's because he's a stockholder, and the board is a stock holder, and everyone he knows is a stockholder. There are some of us who would hold onto stocks if we could know that they weren't evil. There are even mutual funds set up for that purpose.
The main thing that struck me was that there is an automatic disconnect between doing things for the good of the world at large and doing things that are good for the corporation. Behind the disconnect is this feeling that being a corporation means that profit always guides decisions, and always determines what is right and wrong. Profit is always right, even if its wrong.
I know there are some of you reading that may be thinking that I'm too simplistic and don't know about the day to day pressures of surviving in the business world. That I don't realize what it took for that oil company to get to this point. You could point out how the production of oil is an incredibly complicated process, spanning so many political, international, scientific and environmental issues that I was just being foolish to break things down to such platitudes.
The world is a complicated place, but some people enjoy making things complicated so that we won't look at things clearly. The oil companies are making bigger profits than they ever have before. They are not suffering. There is more to this world than profit. Our economy may be doing well, but there are still not real increases in wages, if nothing else many people are under-employed. There has never been such a pro-business administration. Hell, it's run by two Texas oil men!
They could lower the prices.
They could take in less than obscene profits for a while.
They could do good, but they won't...
Let's look at it from a different perspective. I heard someone say that the leaders we get are a representation of the people that we are. When Bill Clinton was in office, people said that he represented the slide in moral values of America as a country. I wonder if George Bush represents the slide in our economic values.
We lament the loss of call center jobs and the loss of manufacturing jobs, but we shop at Wal-Mart and Dell computers to get the cheapest goods from China and the cheapest tech support. We, the consumers, trade local jobs, local profits for cheapest prices.
The oil companies may be obsessed with profits to the detriment of the public good, but they aren't alone.
Thanks for reading,
As I was taking my evening walk with my wife I happened upon a group of Canadian Geese. I guess they are handsome birds, but they shit all over the neighborhood like a herd of dachshunds on a strict fish oil and flax seed diet. Ever since I was a kid I have not liked Canadian Geese. They are loud and obnoxious. They are ill-tempered. How a nation of (mostly) mild-mannered and incredibly nice people like the Canadians ever claim them is beyond me. They really should be called New Jersey Geese, or maybe Long Island Geese, oh-even better, Philadelphia Geese(city of brotherly love, my ass-you haven't done business there!)
Back on track...
I remember as a darling and precocious child of five years old, my mother would take me to the park often to feed the ducks. I loved feeding the ducks,(stay with me on this, I'll get to my point). The mallards and the mergansers, they were all so sublime, as they made that low, happy quacking noise as I fed them white bread. They would overcome their shyness and come up and take it from my hand. I was king of the ducks and they adored me, at long as the bread held out.
Then one day, the geese came up to get some of the bread. They started kicking the ducks out of the way, I think one of them had brass knuckles. They started hissing and scaring away all the polite little ducks,
I was a little scared, but I held out a big piece of bread in the palm of my hand, expecting them to gently grab it like my friends the ducks always did.
Instead, the ungrateful Hoser chomped down on my palm and took the bread and hissed at me afterwards! It was like him and the other geese were laughing at my pain...
"Honk, Honk, Honk,"
Being very advanced and self-possessed for my tender years, I shouted at the goose, "You Feathered bastard!! You come back here right now! I'll tear your beak off and use it for a close pin! Where the Hell did you get teeth at?!"
Of course, in my rage and still developing language skills, all my Mom heard was "AAAAAHHHHHH!!!!Mommy!! The bad ole goosey bit me!!"
As she kissed my boo-boo, I swore I would never trust another Canadian Goose again.
My customers remind me of the geese lately. I can hear them holding themselves back, just waiting until they can bite me, or honk and hiss at me. The thing is, like the Canadian Goose, they can't be stealthy. You never hear of ninjas employing stealth geese. They might make good watch dogs, but they would keep you up all night. Generally, Canadian Geese have a horrible personality, dominated by both overwhelming arrogance and meanness. Nobody ever keeps them as a pet and sleeps with them or talks about how loving and peaceful they are-that's because they are evil-evil-evil.
I have a lot of customers that are like the mallards, just a joy to work with and I want to do whatever it takes to keep them happy. Then the geese call in. I can smell the anger and the distrust over the phone. They want to bite my hand so bad.
Two of them come to mind. One lady who had only invested once, and that didn't turn out so good when she lost Boardwalk, started calling and yelling at a newbie because they couldn't understand her half-ass "elite investor talk" and then when I tried to help her she yelled at me because the trade wasn't done yet. Just like a goose trying to bite my hand.
Monday, a "gentleman" called me and proceeded to yell at me because the price of a stock changed. "What are you going to do about this! I am not happy! I have lost a lot of money on margin because of this price change!". It was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard. It was about as effective as yelling at a policeman because you ran over one of those "Severe Tire Damage Will Occur" exit only ramps. All I could hear was "Honk!Honk!Honk! Hisss!"
I just wish I could play back the recording to people so they could know how stupid they sound, even how mean. When my customers honk and hiss at me, at that instance, I change back to that little kid who got his hand bit. I am not helping you anymore. You are not getting my bread, and I am going to tell my dad what you look like, come hunting season! He has a doubled-barreled, 12 gauge, loaded with #4 steel shot with your name on it! Come Sunday after next, we will sit down to a big goose dinner. Then you will be filled with all the bread you want-it's called Stove-Top-bitch!.
Ok...I feel a little better, and kind of hungry.
Thanks for reading,
Click the link above to read a blog by Tom Vander Well. Now, I will warn you, he is one of the "serious" business bloggers, but he does it with a light touch and good writing that it is still a joy to read. I especially enjoyed his post about "Jazz and the Art of Quality Assessment".
Here's a quote from his personal page.
Tom Vander Well has spent the last 12 years helping companies with their call center quality assessment (QA) and training efforts. Tom is partner and Vice-President of c wenger group, a consulting firm in Des Moines, Iowa that specializes in helping clients measure and improve customer service in their contact centers.
Show him some love and give him a click.
Thanks for reading,
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.
By Rage Against The Machine