January 16, 2013

Hey, You! With the Name on Your Shirt!

In 2012, Americans on the internet went apeshit about armies of Invisible Children.  In 2013, we have continued to ignore the invisible adults.  Sure, I could turn this into a diatribe about homelessness or some other social issue, but I’m a vain, grumpy person at times.  This is gonna partially be about me, or at least, partially about my industry.  You see, depending on who you talk to, working in call center makes you a member of “The Help” social class.  Other members include, but are not limited to the cleaning crew, the lady in the hairnet that makes your sandwiches at the sub shop, the guy who plunges the clogged toilets at work, and the FedEx guy.  On the hierarchy, I believe that the d-bags among us put this class somewhere between dog shit on your new Manolo Blahniks, and severe burn victims.  It’s an unfortunate existence.

The thing is, the world needs the Invisibles.  Who would help you regain access to your information when you’ve locked yourself out of your account because you ignored that weeks worth of “your password will expire on Tuesday” emails?  Who would restore your ability to totally wreck the work bathroom instead of your own?  Who would deliver your copy of 50 shades of Gray that you bought on company time?  Without The Help, none of that could happen.  You may believe people holding those jobs are beneath you.  You’re not alone.  A good many people do.

Hypothetical genies have been handing out the power of invisibility for centuries, but we’ve had it all along.  All you need to do is answer a phone for a living or have a job that requires you to wear your name on your shirt.  And that’s where our power is.   When people think you’re less than human, they tend to talk more freely around you.  Show up wearing a suit and people mind their p’s and q’.  Crawl under a desk to plug in a mouse that some self-important gas bag couldn’t be bothered to do and people assume you’re deaf and dumb as well as invisible.  Empty a trash can and speak another language to your peers on the job, and suddenly you can’t understand a word of English and it’s a free for all for what’s discussed in front of you.  There’s an enormous respect gap between “average” jobs and people who clean up after the messes that happen in life.

Let me tell you a story.  Just this morning, the guy that I share a cubicle wall says to me, “I just hit a new high on the gross out scale.”.  He had a customer who he’d never spoken with before rip the kind of burp that tingles the base of your skull and repressurizes your ears with the force of it while they were on the phone.  She didn’t even acknowledge it, much less apologize for her behavior.  We’ve trained ourselves that people who answer the phone have no rights, and we can’t ask you to treat us with respect, much less like we’re human.  We’re taught that the first person you speak with on a call to a toll free number is just there to keep you from getting to talk with someone who really knows what they’re doing.  So, if you’re rude long enough, you’ll get to the people with the real power.  

If that’s the way you wanna play things, great.  Just hope that’s the only time you have to put a call in to that company.  I say that because, well, we talk.  Alot.  Whether it’s a kindly heads up that goes out in an email to the entire group, an idle bitchfest between calls, or watching a fellow CSR do some pretty intensive IT Yoga at their desk, we know who the PITAs are.  Sure, we can’t overtly fuck with someone.  But, we have little wrenches that hold up the works pretty well when tossed with precision.  Call back asking for a status update 20 minutes after your original call?  Sure, I’ll get it to the guy with the ticket.  Just let me take my lunch break before I update your request.  Agree that you’re asking for something that we aren’t able to assist you with just to get me off the phone so you can call back and talk to someone else?  Ok, well, let me know how that works for you when everyone has been advised of what you’ve been told and to also deny your sneaky attempt to circumvent one of us.  Most of us are just going to laugh at the sack it takes to do that sort of thing.

I think though, one of the shining examples of how to burn a bridge with a call center forever came from the story of Twerp.  Twerp is obviously not his real name, but it’s about the kindest noun I can think of for this guy.  He’d ordered a replacement cell phone for his personal use and rather than having it shipped to his home address, he had it shipped to work.  Well, when our receiving dock signed for the package, they saw that it was from the cellular provider that we did all of our business with.  They were under orders to deliver any and all orders from them to the IT department.  So, it ended up at our call center since we were a point of contact in the same building.  It was then on us to inform the voice team that they had a delivery and someone would get them the package.  This had worked flawlessly countless other times.  However, this time, the package got lost in the shuffle.  We had records that it had been signed for and delivered to us, but that’s where it went missing.  

Needless to say, this really angered the guy who had ordered the phone.  He started with phone calls.  He would call in an verbally assault the person who’d answer.  He wanted to know what we were going to do about losing his phone, and why the hell we had it in the first place.  Anyone who knows anything about working first contact phone work knows that we’re the first to get blamed and the last to know anything.  We didn’t have an answer for him.  His idea was that we had lost it since we were the voices for the department.  Never mind that we hadn’t been the ones to take it to the other area where the voice team worked.  We’d only made it known that there was something ready to be delivered over there.  Oh, and did I mention that the person who’d signed for the delivery was out that day?  In Twerp’s mind, that was a sure sign of guilt.  

When calls to us didn’t cause a new phone to magically materialize for him, he began harassing our boss by phone.  And then when that didn’t get results fast enough, he started calling the director.  Over the course of two days, I think he made two dozen angry attempts to get someone to “snap to”, treat him like some sort of superior being and get him his heart’s desire.  Eventually, he started to come down to our office and stand at the front of the call center, berating the employees.  He fired accusations at us all the while we were supposed to be on calls.  The choice we had was to take one of us out of queue and pay attention to him, or continue to ignore him to meet the needs of the customers contacting us the correct way.  Either way, his yelling and bad behavior could be heard by everyone, even the people on the other end of the phone.  Eventually, the supervisor came out to calm things down.  And here’s where it gets interesting.  As a man, I adored the sup.  However, this was the day that I think I lost all respect for him as an authority figure.  

Rather than take this man who was about three sentences from foaming at the mouth into another room where he couldn't make as much of a scene, he stayed right where he was.  And where he was located was right in front of the entire call center, desktop tech, and customer facing managers in the department, throwing an absolute tantrum.  The words that came out of Twerp’s mouth that day still ring in my ears, “I don’t know if you’re incompetent, or just thieves, but one of you lost my damn phone!”.  To which the person I reported to directly looked at him and replied “Well, maybe we are, but. . . “

And that’s when I quit listening.  The perfect storm of insults was roaring on in front of me, and all I could do was pick my mouth up off the ground.  I just had a manager insult the integrity of his team right in front of them in an effort to soothe an irrational beast.  And that beast is one that we can’t please without a new upgraded phone, and probably a blowjob from one of our severed heads.  I understand that sometimes you have to apologize for someone else’s bad behavior.  I do it every day.  What you don’t do is use that tactic to make your underlings feel like they really are that dog shit on your new $500 shoes.  And that’s exactly the message both of them sent that day.  

The thing is, there are people I would completely bend over backwards so far that I could lick my ankles to help.  And they’re not all the most technical or the smartest.  They’re the ones who treat me with respect.

I also know who to talk to if you want to take a hot knife to all the lard of corporate doublespeak.  If you want to know the real dirt, talk to the maintenance guys.  If you've ever doubted that the walls have ears, then you’ve not worked in a large company before.  They do.  And often those ears are attached to people with their name on their shirt.  I know growing up, I heard a comedian talk about how if that was how you described your job, congrats, you failed at life.  Then again, if you've ever watched a spy genre show, you know that the best intel can be gained by wearing a uniform and looking like you know what you’re doing.  Wanna know if you’re being outsourced?  Talk to the guy with the drill.  Wanna know the real reason so and so got fired?  Talk to the guy running cable through the ceiling.  Do you just have to know if those two you suspect of boinking in the unisex bathroom really are?  Hunt down the kid with the spare mouse and instructions to replace one that works perfectly fine but just “clicks weird”.  If someone didn't tell them directly, they overheard it two cube rows down while they were doing their invisible job.  

You can badmouth those of us who work the unseen jobs, or the ones that are less than savory to you.  You can’t deny that you need us.  We serve a real purpose, even if you think it’s lowly and simple.  Once you've gotten past the idea that a person’s worth is based on what they do to pay the bills, you might learn a few things.  Get to know us.  Say hello.  Realize we’re humans with friends and family just like you.  Understand that “If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?”.   Forget about a job as a measure of judgement or worth.  Hell, take into account that, in the days of Obamaphones and handouts to anyone with a sob story, we are working.  All I think any of us asks for is respect.  Meet us in the middle and we can both do the jobs we’re supposed to and nobody leaves at the end of the day with bile in the back of their throats.  In the end, we all win.  

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