On February 13th of 2004, I posted for the first time here, with the name of "AC", which stood for "Anonymous Cog" as a way to talk about my experiences working in an inbound call center. I got the idea from when my sociology professor talked about Max Weber's idea that people are cogs in the machine of society, thus removing any individuality. I had also recently read George Orwell's book "1984" and felt like the main character, Winston Smith, as he wrote how he really felt about his world in his secret note book with the cream colored pages that he hid behind the loose brick in his apartment.
Writing an anonymous blog and not getting caught is hard. Everything must be disguised, people's names changed. It's been close to 20 years, and I've changed jobs several times, and the call center is closed, but the company still remains in another form. I still have contact with some folks, even one of the managers that was good to me.
My name is John Homan. I live in Northern Indiana. I work in a Middle School as an ESL paraprofessional. That means I go with students to classes to help them and teach small English classes, and do tutoring after school. I got the job because I'm bilingual, so I get to translate for the school too. It's one of the best jobs I have ever had.
You can find out more about me at Twitter. My handle is @john_homan. It's the one with the picture of Winston Smith in the 1984 movie,(some things never change).
If you want to email me, use this address: email@example.com, it forwards to my personal email.
In revealing who I am after so many years, I hope anyone who reads this blog understands some caveats about this work. Because it was anonymous, so I could keep my job while going to college, the stories and conversations had to be changed enough to make them not easily recognizeable. This is not fiction, but there were changes made to keep it secret. There's also the fact that writing anonymously makes your voice much more free than regular writing when people know who you are. If you met me in real life, I would be slightly more boring than AC. That said, I'm proud of this blog, and it connected me with a lot of people, and they helped me, and sometimes, I helped them.
Lastly, a big shout out to my freind Tom Vanderwell. Tom is the CEO and President of a company that helps call centers improve their performance. We met early on in my blog, and besides my wife, he was the only outsider who knew who I was. It was awesome, because we should have been enemies, but in the end, we both wanted call centers to not suck.
And as always, thanks for reading,
I have not posted for a long time, and I felt I should give you an update, if there are any of you still reading this blog. I have missed blogging, especially anonymously. That's especially freeing as you can imagine. No filters, no worry about the consequences of your words as long as you keep things undercover. I was probably never as disciplined about anything else in my life as I was about staying out of sight. There's only one person outside of my wife who knew my identity and they kept the secret well.
Well, let's get to an update of my life, shall we? Due to COVID19, and just waiting way too long to make a change, I lost my job and found myself looking for work again. I landed in a totally different job making much less money, but I'm finally doing something that matters to the world. I'm finally getting paid to make a difference in lives, and I'm not a cog in a capitalistic machine. I work in a school now, and spend my day surrounded by kids. I'm finding myself becoming very fond of the little buggers, and as I'm in my 50's now, it's got a grandfatherly vibe. It's not a bad way to end your career.
It's still very stressful, but it's totally different in a challenging way. Not gonna lie, I miss the money, but not the cold alienation that is part of corporate life. But a word about that, while my previous job sent me on my way unceremoneously with that awful icky feeling that is a part of so many separations, they treated me right during the quarantine, and I had a paycheck from them until I started my new job. They did more than they were required to as a business, so this cog left mostly intact.
I'm not sure how I feel about revisiting my writing on this blog, in my present situation, it's not necessary. I'm tempted to leave it alone because there have been call center workers that found it helpful in their times of need. You know, being the "voice crying in the wilderness", even though almost 15 years later I'd see things differently. But the heat of the moment*, writing purely to make sense of a world and emotions that were weighing you down has value, even if later on you could pick things apart. Without writing those blog posts and without the readers feedback I received, I may not have made it to where I am now, and that's worth something. I don't think I'd be the writer I am now without Call Center Purgatory. I found the voice I had kept hidden for a long time here, and it helps me everyday.
So there's your update. Hope it had all the appropriate "feels". Speaking of feels...feel free to drop me a line at anonymous.cog at gmail.com (hows that for a lame segueway?).
Oh, and Lisa who keeps emailing me, if you are not simply a spam-bot why don't you write more than just telling me you're "from Lancaster" and not saying anything else? Also, remember there are Lancasters all over the English speaking world, so narrow it down a bit, hmmm? Write a real email if you want to know something or talk, otherwise I'll have to add you to the Everest that is my Spam filter.
And as always...
Thanks for reading,
(*Telling me what your heart meant. The heat of the moment shown in your eyes...love that song. )
It started like any other day. The sky was dark because I hit the clock at 7 am on a Friday morning. But it wasn't just another day, it was the day. For six years I had come here over and over, punched the clock, drank the bad coffee, listened to the voices in my headphone drone on and on.
This was the end of it. I had dreamed about leaving. There had been so many versions, from the dramatic Dead Poet's Society version where I stand on the desk and make a grand speech to the Chuck Norris version where I kicked someone's ass on the way out and then every version in-between.
At one point, I reconsidered the Chuck Norris verson. My boss gave me a set of multiple trades that I knew would go wrong and then he coldly told me to remember why I was leaving. I told him he didn't need to worry about me forgetting that. He didn't speak three words to me for the rest of the day. I couldn't have cared less.
I told some of my customers that it was my last day, those that I had a relationship with. One of them, one of the hard-ass demanding people I had become used to, told me that I could call him if I ever needed a personal reference.
One of the girls from accounting brought me a bag of M&M's. Someone bought me some ribs for lunch. The girls on the floor bought me a cake. Finally, it was time to pack up. One of my best friends came over and spoke to me. He had been there the same amount of time I had. He was sort of emotional, and I could see he was sad.
"I know this sounds sappy, but I'm proud of you. You went after your dream of getting a degree, and now you are leaving this place."
We hugged and he was gone.
What I never told anyone on the blog was that I went back to school to get a degree so I could leave this place. I knew I had no skills that would translate to a better job. Half of the time spent here at Call Center Purgatory was spent biding my time until I got my degree.
I carried my cardboard out the double doors to the parking lot. I stood there and looked up at the ugly building I had hated for so long. I actually felt more than a twinge of sadness. How would I survive in a new job? I had been here so long, I had friends here, Now I had to start all over.
I remembered the speech Morgan Freeman gave in Shawshank Redemption,
"These walls are funny. First you hate them, then you get used to them, until it gets to you depend on them. That's institutionalized."But I also remembered the one quote from Shawshank that was the real message, "Get busy living or get busy dying." I'd had enough of this place. A life outside of here had to be better, no matter what. If I failed, at least I failed trying. And I would give all I could. If I stayed here, I'd always wonder what could have been, what might have been. There had to be a better world somewhere outside of this place.
I took one last look around, incredibly, it started to rain. I have made up details in my writing to keep you off my trail, but not this time. This really happened. I finally loaded up my car, and rolled up to the security gate. It rolled open on a chain and I drove through.
I turned on the CD player and found a song by Tom Petty that made the day complete...
"It was a beautiful day, the sun beat down
I had the radio on, I was driving.
Trees flew by, me and Del were singing,
Little Runaway, I was sublime.
Yeah running down a dream,
That never would come to me.
Working on a mystery,
Going wherever it leads.
Running down a dream..."
Thanks for reading,
Here's a dusty old post that I found laying arount in the corner of drafts file about a bad customer. I thought it should come to light before I turn out the lights for good.
Today was one of those days that working in customer service makes you hate humans in most of their forms on this planet. I spent the day being abused by people as I tried to collect money to pay for their mistakes.
Its amazing that people can be so ingratiating at the start of a transaction, but then when things go wrong, how few people are able to really keep their cool. They become petty, mean, abusive and downright nasty.
A customer had a transaction that went way wrong. When I called him to explain why he had lost so much money he explained to me that he cancelled that transaction and should not have to pay for it. When I asked him for a confirmation number, a time, a name of a person he spoke to, he had none of that. I reminded him that our calls are recorded and ever entry is time stamped as notes are put in the computer and there was nothing to back up his claim.
He would have to pay.
If he refused willing payment, his escrow would be emptied and he would be banned from any further transactions with us. He explained that he did so much business with our company that would never happen. He was going to call the vice president of operations and I would be sorry.
"Fine. I don't care who you call. I called the vice president and HIS boss before calling you. No one in this company is going to change this."
"We'll see!" was followed by a loud click and the asshole was gone.
I felt very tired, very sad, and very ready to hit the door. It's not grumpiness that really gets me mad, I can handle that. It is the continual dealing with these, "people" that think customer service means I am in a lower caste than them. That it means I want to be abused by them, and the money they possess entitles them to act any way they want.
If you are grumpy and having a bad day, I can understand that. If you explain to me in direct tones why you think this is unfair and speak to me as an equal, I may even go out of my way to help you. But when you speak down to me and explain how the rules never have to apply to you and that you are probably the single most important and valuable customer that ever pried a dollar out of that titanium tight wallet of yours, well, I think less than charitable thoughts about you.
But the thing that gets me every time is that these same people think there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
I imagine some fat-cat, robber-baron type in a charcoal pin-stripe suit with a Trump-wanna-be haircut appearing in vapor before me to explain why its ok...
"Because it's simply the way business is done. Its simply the bottom line, don't you understand that son? Maybe if you took business as seriously as I do you would not be a call center employee, and instead be a captain of industry like me, feared by men and adored by women, even if I do have a sloppy combover."
He grins slyly and disappears into nothingness...
Being a good man or woman of business does not negate being a good person. If you are a liar and cheat who refuses to keep their promises, you still suck ass as a human being no matter how much money you have.
Thanks for reading,
Extra sweet ending-four months after writing this post, after the company actually stood up to this schmuck and refused to do any more business with him, his assistant called me and sheepishly paid all the penalties and we reinstated their account after they agreed to abide by our practices. It was a good day.
Scene: The large office of a CEO at a major worldwide distributor of anonymous widgets somewhere in the Midwest. He was tall and had shiny shoes, pressed slacks, a warm tone and a kindly face. I, on the other hand, was nervous as Hell.
"AC, we've looked at your resume, and your qualifications. I believe you will be a great addition to our team. Welcome aboard!"
He stood up and shook my hand firmly and grinned. I tried to look smug and casual, but I knew I probably just looked shocked. At least I wasn't drooling. He led me to the Human Resources Office where we negotiated a salary and benefits.
"We want you to be excited about working here, AC. That's why we are offering you this amount as a starting salary."
He slid a piece of paper across the desk with a number that represented a 23% raise to what I was making now. It was more than I had asked for! Who does that? Who gives you more than you ask for? Tell me this!
He explained a set of generous benefits including dental, life, vision, everything! It was like a dream. They wanted me, and I was going to not have to work overtime or weekends or stay over or even eat at my desk! There was a freakin' lunch hour! There was voicemail and email-no damn ACD reports, or green strobe light going off for calls missed! I finally had the chance to work for someone that wanted me to do the job right, not just half-ass. It was all too good to be true.
When I got home, Mrs. Cog and I put on our best clothes and went out for Chinese food. She had the Empress Shrimp, I had the Garlic Chicken. We had Hot and Sour Soup, Egg-Rolls, Shrimp Toast, Potstickers and Strawberry Ice Cream for dessert.
It had been one of the best days ever.
More to come later...
Thanks for reading,
I would like to take this opportunity to wish all of my readers a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Click this link to read a Christmas post on my other blog:
"Poverty, Politics and Faith"
Here's some other past Christmas posts from the archive of this blog, if you want something to read. Click the link above for a public domain copy of "A Christmas Carol" by Charles Dickens-my gift to you.
"Interfering for Good"
"The Christmas Program"
"A Ripe Little Mouth..."
"A Grinchy Cog"
"Quotes From A Christmas Carol"
Thanks for reading,
655 posts, 2 years, 7 months, 3 days-I've had enough...
If you might not have gathered from reading the end of "The Malfunction", I am not going to blog anymore about the call center. I'm not deleting the blog, there's too much of my heart and soul in this place. There will be bad call centers, bad bosses, and certainly bad customers, around long after I leave my call center, so someone may enjoy reading it. I will still answer emails and comments,(not so quickly though). I'm leaving the blogroll up for now, and I will be glad to link to anyone who links to me. If you liked Call Center Purgatory, I've created a Cafe Press Store, click the post title link above to get to the store.
I'm ready to live life, and there's no room for Call Center Purgatory anymore. It takes too much time, and has become counter productive. Check back from time to time, or keep an eye out on Technorati. I will let you know when I finally leave the call center, and I may give you some actual details about who I am and where I worked.
There are so many of you that have been very kind and gracious to me. I could not begin to name all of the wonderful people who have commented, emailed or linked to me. I care for many of you like dear friends who I have known for years.
Thanks for reading,
I really mean that.
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