Strange Officefellows

“You can’t choose your family,” they say. We can choose our friends. We can even choose those that we decide to be around on a regular basis, even if they are not our friends. We can’t choose our family members, however, and we can’t choose co-workers. Those of us who have been a part of a large, multi-national corporation, on a long-term basis, have found that the lines between family and co-workers often become blurred.

“There are times when we may find ourselves closer to our co-workers than our family, and the simple reason for this is that we’re around them more often,” a boss of mine once said. In the course of our tenure, we will sit next to a wide variety of office workers who will reveal their eccentricities to us over time. We will find that the office contains just as many black sheep as our family does, if not more. When a person works in the service industry, on the overnight shift, they will encounter a Star Wars Cantina of black sheep on a nightly basis, and the attempts to overlook eccentricities will become a part-time job. My advice is to attempt to tightrope the line between being as inclusive as possible while maintaining a sense of exclusivity. Hedge too far into your ideas of your own exclusivity, and the hours spent at the company will be excruciating, as you will have no one to talk to, and you may not have many friends. Become too sympathetic to their plight, to the point that you begin to believe that they’re all a victim a circumstance, may lead you to becoming one of them. The difficulty of maintaining objectivity is made all the more difficult by the players involved, and their apparent desire to top the most extreme eccentricity the normal person believes they’ve ever heard. If the person manages to escape this exercise untainted, they will walk away from the experience mumbling you can’t choose your co-workers.

The Office Party

A Case of Mistaken Identity

Rhonda told my girlfriend at the time, that she saw me at a bar that was well-known in our city for being a low-rent meat market. When my girlfriend confronted me with this, I informed her that I had never been to that particular bar. The next day, my girlfriend informed me that Rhonda stated that it wasn’t just that saw me there, she stated that the two of us engaged in an extended conversation. I reiterated the fact that I’d never been to that particular bar. When Rhonda later found out that there was another person working at our company that had the same name as me, she conceded that it may have been a case of mistaken identity. I accepted this at face value, at first, until I chewed on it for a second.

“Didn’t she say she had something of an extended conversation with me that night?” I asked. “How can one have an extended conversation with another and believe it’s someone else, based on their name?” 

It’s important to note, here, that my relationship with Rhonda went beyond a name basis. The two of us spent three months working across the aisle from one another in the company. And … and those three months were her first three months with the company, and she had tons of questions, and I was the senior agent on that team whose primary duty it was to answer those questions. In these two respective roles, the two of us had over 100 exchanges in those three months.

“It’s not a case of mistaken identity,” I said. “She’s out to get me. She wants to break us up, or something.”

“She doesn’t think that way,” my girlfriend at the time stated. “It’s just Rhonda. She’s kind of a ditz. I’m embarrassed that I ever believed her over you. Forgive me?”

Of course I forgave her. How could I hold her responsible for another person’s fables? I didn’t forgive Rhonda however. I knew Rhonda was a bit of a ditz, but I wasn’t buying the “It’s just Rhonda,” line regarding the accusation she leveled against me, and I thought less of my girlfriend for believing her. I thought Rhonda was out to get me, and I carried that particular grudge against her for months, until I ran into Dan.

“It is just Rhonda,” Dan said to confirm my girlfriend’s characterization. “I can tell you all you need to know about Rhonda in one brief, little story. Rhonda found out that $600.00 was missing from her checking account, and that she could not explain that missing money. She knew that she didn’t do it, and her daughter said that she didn’t withdraw the money either. Rhonda was so convinced that something nefarious was going on that she took her complaint up the corporate chain to the bank’s vice-president (VP). Once in that seat of power, Rhonda proceeded to berate this woman for her bank’s apparent lack of security. ‘You just let anyone walk into your bank and withdraw money from other people’s accounts?’ Rhonda told the VP. Rhonda then stated that she informed the VP that the bank would be pulling all of the bank’s security tapes, and that it had become her mission in life to get her $600.00 back if it killed her, because she knew knew that she didn’t do it. She stated that she would’ve remembered withdrawing $600.00, because $600.00 was all she had in that account, and her $500.00 rent was coming due, and she wouldn’t just withdraw her rent money for reasons she couldn’t remember. She informed the bank VP that she had nothing to show for that $600.00 withdrawal, and if she had been the one to withdraw the money she “sure as hell” would have had something to show for it.

“Well, the bank VP, being a good VP, responded to Rhonda’s complaints, and she called Rhonda in a couple days later to watch the tape and show her that it was, indeed, Rhonda withdrawing those funds.

“Now,” Dan continued. “I’m sure that that bank VP accused Rhonda of all the same ulterior motives that you just did two minutes ago, but the one thing neither of you account for is her stupidity, an inexplicable, almost unprecedented, embarrassing amount of utter stupidity that is just Rhonda.”

A Reaction

I strolled into work one day to find Bill and Jim riding around on a sit down scooter in the back office of the front desk of a hotel. This scooter was motorized and very similar to that which can now be found at a neighborhood Wal-Mart. Jim rode around on this motorized scooter, like a little kid with a new toy: laughing, beeping the little horn, and hooting, and hollering, and waving his pretend hat around like a cowboy in a rodeo.

“That’s hilarious,” I said watching Jim go crazy.

“Yeah,” Bill said. “Too bad there’s a limit to the fun … It’s an old lady’s cart, and it’s limited in how fast it can go.”

“Whaddya mean?” I asked Bill, as Jim began his dismount. “These things are universal. There isn’t an old lady’s model.” 

It was my turn on the scooter, and as I mounted it, I turned the accelerator switch from turtle to rabbit. Just before I went on my first ride, I saw Bill and Jim’s imagination light up. I took one run through the back office to gain a little comfort with the scooter, and its new speed, and in my second run, I began yelling, “How do you stop this thing?  I’m out of control.” I then crashed into one of the telephone operators that had been sitting in her chair.

The telephone operator’s initial alarm could not be faked, but as she read my face, her alarm softened. “Jack ass!” she said with the remnants of a smile lifting the corner of her mouth.

Bill and Jim were out of control with laughter. I thought of making a couple more runs. It was, indeed, a blast. The performer in me couldn’t see how I could top that first run, however, so I dismounted.

Bill replicated my run by screaming the exact same words, and he ended up crashing into the exact same operator’s chair in the exact same manner.

“Look,” someone that just entered the back office area said when Bill was in the midst of his run. “Bill figured out how to make the scooter go faster.” The person that said this just happened to be the most attractive female in the hotel, and I had spent weeks trying to impress her. When Bill crashed into the very same operator’s chair as I had, she laughed hard and said, “Bill, you are hilarious!”

“I did that,” I told Bill in a manner that I hoped would affect this girl’s impression of me. Bill stopped right in front of me, looked up and grinned. “I figured out that switch,” I said. “I made it go faster. I — you even ran into ran into the same operator’s chair in the exact same manner I did.” Bill just sat there and grinned at me. I knew that declaring propriety of a joke was a fool’s errand, and as a result I didn’t do it often. This impressed girl was so good looking, and she laughed so hard that I couldn’t help but ask Bill for my proprietary interest back. He just sat there and smiled at me.

I got credit from the schlubs at the front desk, but when the best looking girl at the hotel stepped in the back office, she only saw Bill doing it. “You know I did that first,” I said like a five-year-old trying to reclaim a good boy deed. I hoped that this girl would hear this and know that I was the funny one here, and that Bill had just copied a run that led her to laughter. I wanted that laughter.

Bill’s smile increased, until he was beaming at me. At one point, his beam increased to the point that he was starting to turn red. My competitive urges began to grow, until I began disliking this man named Bill. I didn’t enjoy his company him before, but this display was just beyond the pale. He was the beneficiary of excellent timing though, and he knew it. When he continued to smile at me, and beam, and go red with glory, I considered the fact that I had underestimated how loathsome a creature I had on my hands, soaking up more than his share of glory. I was getting fired up, trying my hardest to look away. I was fighting the urge to call him a dirty name, at this point, and I was imagining that this altercation might progress into the physical, when a third party stepped in to interrupt us:

“Okay Bill, settle down.” The third party then said in a very soothing voice, “You know you need to refrain from getting too excited.”

“What?” I asked the third party person. “What’s going on?”

“He’s having a seizure.”

The Mess

Standing behind the front desk of a hotel, a woman named Jenny asked a porter to clean up some of the mess she saw in the foyer of the hotel. 

“Jenny I think it’s poop,” Jack said leaning down to look at a small particle on the floor that was at the bottom of the ballroom announcement board.

“It’s not poop Jack,” Jenny replied. “Just clean it up.”

Jack went overboard. He insisted on it. He went into the back and grabbed a tissue. Jenny was somewhat frustrated by this, but she did not say a word as Jack collected the particle in front of the announcement board with a tissue.

Minutes later, the front desk housekeeper began bending down to make quick dabs and wipes with a washcloth on the floor in front of the front desk area, and she proceeded to do this down the hall. “What are you doing?” I asked her.

“Someone spilled coffee on their way down the hall,” she said cleaning a trail of brown dots. “Happens all the time.”

Minutes later, a gift shop employee approached me saying, “I need you to accompany me out to a car.” What? “Just come on!” she said. “I’ll tell you outside.” At the car, she informed me that a guest knocked on the stall of the bathroom, asking the gift shop employee if she worked for the hotel. When the gift shop employee told her that she did, the guest informed her that she had had an accident. The guest asked the gift shop employee to go to her car and retrieve a coat for her. Fearing a lawsuit, or that this was some kind of ruse, the gift shop employee asked me to witness her going into the guest’s car for the guest’s coat.

Unbeknownst to me at the time, the customer also asked the gift shop employee to also retrieve a to-go shopping bag for her. Once the guest had her London Fog, knee-length coat on, sans the underwear and pants the guest now had in the to-go bag, the gift shop employee informed me, the guest decided to stop, en route to the exit. The guest proceeded to shop in the gift shop for a full fifteen minutes, “Like nothing happened,” the gift shop employee informed me. She was wearing a London Fog length coat that stretched to her knees, but she had nothing else on below the waist, due to the mess she was purported to have made in her undergarments and on her pants.

“She must be used to it,” the gift shop employee surmised.

The Obnoxious Email

One of my fellow email employees quit the job that required her to answer emails from customers, because she couldn’t handle the swearing she encountered via the confrontational emails that she received.

“It’s an email,” I told her on numerous occasions. “Prior to this job,” I informed her, “I’ve experienced face to face confrontations with angry, swearing customers, and I’ve even had some of them throw things at me.” I informed her of some of the abusive phone calls I’ve taken over the years in which I’ve had my life threatened. “And these are just emails.” I told her that some customers will do everything they can to get under your skin and rattle you. “It’s the nature of the customer service industry,” I said. “Compared to a person trying to dress you down, face-to-face, and an irate customer that won’t let you get a word in with their less personal phone calls, an abusive emailer is nothing. It’s impersonal, and they know it. The anonymity allows them to think they can write anything, and it has no reflection on them. Just ignore it, and don’t take it personal.” I said the latter in a dismissive manner that suggested that once you get over this hump, you’ll be looking back on all of this with laughter.

“I can’t ignore it,” she said. “And to be quite honest, I don’t know how you all can?”

“Just laugh at their feeble attempts to prove that they’re mad,” I said the latter in a mocking tone that mocked their attempts to appear emotional via email. In my attempts to lead her into dismissing these silly people that get emotional in emails, I was informed that I was acting in a manner that she considered dismissive of her complaint. “It’s a mindset that you have to have in the customer service industry. Always remember that they don’t know who you are. They’re angry people that want to have something to be mad about. You’re just the unlucky person that happens to be on the other end of their rage. You’re an anonymous worker for the company. Their grievances aren’t with you, or even company. Their complaints are with the life fate has dealt them. In the end, be happy that you don’t have to live with them, or in them, and that it’s just an email. Most of us have experienced a lot worse.”

“I couldn’t do it,” she said greeting me months later, after numerous counseling sessions. She was quitting the company. “I couldn’t ignore it,” she added. I couldn’t help but think less of her, as she told me how much my efforts to console her meant to her, and she said all that with tears in her eyes. To say that I was shocked does not do it justice.

From that point forward I took what I considered inconsequential complaints from fellow employees more serious, and I realized that we’re all different, and we all have different thresholds, and some of us define Darwin’s theories on natural selection and survival of the fittest better than others.

The Identifiable Characteristics inherent in the Penis

Working in the intangible world, employees are often required to require that some customers send the company a form of identification to prove their identity if customers hope to continue to do business with the company. In one of the replies to such a requirement, a customer sent an image of his penis. Next to the picture were the words, “This is me!” and an arrow pointing to the image. I’m not sure if this customer was sending a rebellious statement in regards to our company’s policies and procedures, or if he believed that this would fulfill our company’s requirement for identification.

Putting Down the Dog

Sitting next to a person for forty hours a week, can lead one to think that they know their co-workers. Some are tempted to believe that they know that person better than that person’s family and friends do, but most of us know that this is a silly conceit, as it is impossible to know a person in such limited constraints. In the day-to-day interactions we have with them, however, we hear intimate details we believe they will not share with family and friends, and this can lead us to the temptation that we think we know them better.

The friend that led me to know the limits of my powers of observation, informed me that she had to put the family dog put down over the course of the prior weekend. In the midst of my sympathetic response, she said:

“It’s a dog. You men get so attached to dogs. You’re all so ridiculous.” 

I agreed, and I made a joke about the inherent loyalty men have for a dog versus what they may have for a spouse. Unbeknownst to me, at the time, this otherwise meaningless joke changed the dynamics of our conversation. I only gained the full breadth of this change in hindsight, after her full confession was out. She laughed a little at that joke. She presumably considered that joke a statement of solidarity she and I shared on the issue. She opened up after that joke. 

“My husband’s so upset,” she said. “He thinks I did it, because the dog was messing all over the place.” 

“Well,” I said. “That’s grief. Maybe that’s how he’s dealing with it, by blaming you.” 

“No, he’s right,” she said, “but it wasn’t just one mess here and there. The dog was going all over the place. Every time I came home and opened my door, I smelled urine. Our whole house smelled like dog urine, and I couldn’t handle it anymore.” The look on my face affected hers. “I told him and told him to take care of it. I told him to train the dog better,” she expounded. “I told him that maybe he should race home, during his lunch hour, to let the dog out one more time, but he didn’t do it.”

A lengthy answer of this type requires repetition. Even if the listener heard everything the speaker said, they need the speaker to pull quote the answer. 

“Wait a second,” I said. “You said he was right. What was he right about?”

“I did put the dog down,” she said. She then put a hand up to caution me against proceeding before she could answer in full. “But it was not an impulsive decision. This dog had been having trouble with its urinary tract for months. I told my husband to take care of it. He said he would, but he either wouldn’t or he didn’t, so I did.”

“Who are you?” I asked. When I asked this question, it was framed in the comedic rhythm that many sitcoms use to condemn another in a soft fashion and allows the target of the accusation an easy exit. She flinched in a manner that informed me that she might have never heard the joke delivered that way before. “What did you say to your husband’s accusations?” I asked her. 

“I told him that the vet said the dog suffered from some debilitating disease,” she said. “I can’t even remember what I said that disease was. I made something up.” She then laughed. 

Again, I heard everything she said, but in order to process this information my processing center required repetition. “What did the vet say the disease was?”

“There was no disease,” she said. “The dog wasn’t suffering from any disease, and it did not have infections in the urinary tract. It was just old, and it couldn’t control its bladder anymore.”

Some writer’s discretion was involved here, as I did not include the blank stares I offered this woman, as she detailed her weekend activities, and I characterize her action as she did. I considered her act so heartless that I couldn’t comprehend it, but I didn’t want to bore the reader with the innumerable blank stares I offered. The next question I’m sure a reader might ask is why didn’t I call her out or condemn her action further. All I can say is that I thought I was the product of the ‘awful to the extreme’ joke. I am quite sure that everyone has fallen for this joke. I know I have, and it has happened so many times that my guard was up here. I’ve condemned people for actions so completely that when they say, ‘I didn’t really put my dog down. I was joking. I cannot believe you would think that I would do something that awful … You can be so naïve some of the times’ I felt like a fool for overreacting in such a manner. 

Another element that drove the stupor that prevented me from questioning her further was that I am constantly confronting the exaggerations of human empathy. I am amazed at the irrational compassion some people direct to alleged victims they’ve never met in life to the point that they believe some outrageous claims based on some form of emotional allegiance. My friend who put down her dog was so lacking in empathy that it was another hill for me to climb to understand how lacking in empathy some people are, and I didn’t do that well in the time and place.

I was so curious about the variations in human empathy she displayed that I would ask her about it numerous times. I didn’t recognize how persistent I was to have her confirm the details of it, and assure me that she was not joking, that it affected our relationship. I didn’t even know that she was avoiding me, until she confronted me and informed me that I needed to “Get past the whole dog issue.”

Stressed Out, but Working, in Omaha

Omaha is one of the top telemarketing markets in America.  I’ve heard that this is due to the fact that we are one of the most plain spoken people in America today.  Me thinks it also has something to do with the fact that the cost of living is low in Omaha, and as a result so are the wages.

Working in Omaha is the same as working in any state in any region of the country.  If you have a nice degree or valuable knowledge in a particular craft or trade, you’re probably going to land yourself a pretty good job.  If not, you’re probably going to land in telemarketing, the service industry, or the unemployment line.  If something is going right in America, it’s usually going right in Omaha, likewise if times are getting tough.  Telemarketing and restaurant jobs are all over America, so I know that my plight in the workforce is no different than any other unqualified worker in any part of America, but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to hold back.  I know I’m lucky to have a job, but I’m over that.  I usually get over it about two weeks in when the reality of what I have to do slides down on me.

A rule of thumb I had until the last year was that the more they pay you, the worse they treat you. Until recently, I believed that the less they pay you, the more enjoyable the job.  Sure, they treat you like a grunt and they may force you stand in a certain area for hours at a time, they don’t want you to talk to your neighbors, and they discourage smiling in a roundabout way, but most of these bad jobs are largely stress free.  They know you feel lucky to have a job, and they take advantage of that, but they usually don’t treat you like a dog when you’re making peanuts.

The telemarketing jobs that are in Omaha usually go this way.  They send you in for a week’s worth of training, and they cover some of the basics of what it is you’re going to be doing, but that aspect of the job soon becomes irrelevant when they start in on the second week of training: the sales training week.  The entry level customer service positions of these companies do not generate revenue for the company anymore, so they’ve brought in think tank types to try to generate some sort of revenue out of these positions. As a result of this, customer service is not the goal of these positions anymore.  This is why, when you call a company to get your cable fixed, the agent you’re speaking with probably knows little-to-nothing about your cable box.  They’ll hit the reset button and ask you to watch the box, they’ll diagram your problem with you and ask you to do some stuff from your home, but the reality is that they know little-to-nothing about your actual problem.  If your problem is outside their sphere of knowledge, and most of yuor questions are, they’ll transfer you to a “specialist”.  The specialist does know a bit more about your problems than the front line grunts, but their knowledge is still limited, and you’ll usually get a $40.00 an hour specialist sent to your home.  The point is that as you work your way through the chain, usually from the bottom up, you’ll get hit with little sales pitches along the way.  You may even find some of them to be rude, or ill-equipped to handle your phone call in a number of ways you find surprising.  The reason for this is that they’re usually poorly trained in customer service skills, but proficiently trained in sales pitches.  They won’t get in trouble for this either, because they’ve hit all of their bullet points, and they’ve delivered their sales pitch in a manner that allows them to pass their quality reviews, even though you didn’t get anything fixed for you.

To train you in these sales strategies, these companies send in inspirational coaches to pump you up and make you think that you’re the bee’s knees.  They ask you what your dreams are, and they’ll get you all dream-oriented, then they’ll ask you how you can apply these dreams to your work.  The latter point will not be something they say outwardly, but they’ll quickly bring you back to the sales training after talking about your dreams to get you associating the two together.  Their goal is to get you focused on sales, their goal is to have you finesse the customer away from the problem they called in about and onto other products the company offers, and their goal is to get all of their agents whooping and hollering whenever an agent does this successfully.

This whole psychological game reminds me of detentions in grade school.  Detentions in grade school were an hour after school.  No big deal right?  Well, it was among the grunts.  We grunts talked among ourselves and said: “Gretchen just got a detention!” and we’d laugh behind our hands at her.  We’d all ask her the specifics of it, and she would either plead her innocence or say she didn’t care about detentions.  We all knew she did.  We knew we did when we were on the other end of this conversation.  The tale of her wrongdoing would spread like Grecian Fire throughout that day, until Gretchen was forced to walk around with a proverbial, scarlet letter ‘D’ on her head.  She was ostracized, talked about, and made fun of.  She was the subject of scuttlebutt among those of us who needed something to talk about for a day.  We generated this hype, we did this to ourselves, and we made something that was largely no big deal the event of the day.  The psychology of this is obvious.  Detentions would’ve been no big deal to me if they were the equivalent of a severe frown from a teacher directed at my behavior.  They were an hour after school.  Who cares?  When my began peers began to speak about the detentions I was getting, I was embarrassed.  When the girls that I liked began asking me what I did to warrant a detention, I was crushed.  I was so crushed that I still feel the need to justify my behavior.  A teacher could not have corrected my behavior near as well as peer-pressure did, and they knew that.  The point in including this is a company can set sales quotas, and institute fear for those that fail to meet the mark, but none of those rewards and punishments will be half as effective as that which a peer can inflict, if the company can get the employee’s peers to believe in what you’re selling.

To implore these tactics of group mentality that I first saw in grade school, the company posts your sales before all.  This is to leave you feeling proud or humiliated on a relative basis.  It’s to get you motivated.  Then the big boss, we’ll call him Arnie, steps out of his office, and he walks near you, and he occasionally graces you with a smile, but he never pets you for that would make you feel like a dog.  “How are you doing?” he may ask you if you’re a top performer.  “How are the sales numbers?” he will ask you.  He may then talk about how many sales Joanie made for the day, and he says that within earshot of Joanie, and Joanie smiles and blushes and tries to think of something to say, but her throat is dry.  She is overwhelmed, and she will probably go home and cry to her husband, and she may say it’s her greatest day ever without knowing exactly why.

If you’re near the bottom of this sales ladder, you get the proverbial scarlet letter attached to you.  You get talked about, and people laugh behind a hand at you.  And you may be having a tough time, but at least you’re not at the bottom.  At least you’re not Jeff.  Then, when you are Jeff, you wish you could be Jeff, because at least he learned from his mistakes.  When you reach the point that you join Jeff in mocking the new bottom Joanie, you’re in.  They got you by the short ones.  You’re their marionette from that point forward.

To get the marionettes amped and ready to run through walls, one of these firms hired an attractive female to train us on the sales portion of the job.  The lead trainer, the one who trained us on the boring, general minutiae of the job, was homely and mousy.  When we were first introduced to this mousy and homely lead trainer, I wondered why the company made her a trainer.  Sure, she knew her stuff backwards and forward, and she had enough hands on experience that she could flip out an answer on a dime without having to look it up, but her looks were such that she wouldn’t be able to inspire us to do anything beyond that which we were capable.  The answer to my quandary stepped forward a couple of days later in the form of the attractive female they chose to train us on the sales portion of the job.  She was thin, attractive, and cute.  She was everything we wanted to be.  She was the combination of cute and thin and attractive that for centuries men have walked through fire to save just to see her smile.

We’ve all heard the studies about students outperforming their natural abilities when their teacher is attractive, but when you combine that with a cute and silly disposition that you just want to eat, you’ll have them running through walls for you.  When I write cute as opposed to attractive, I mean personable, I mean fun, and I mean the type of person that is the opposite of the aloof blonde with an incredible figure.  I’m talking about the type of person that makes you feel like you can be one of them, and that they’re one of you.

After implementing this association, this cute sales trainer let us know she was driven hard to succeed, and through implication how driven we would have to be if we, in fact, wanted to be one with her.  She asked us our dreams, and she was impressed with every one of them.  She had us write our dreams down on paper for further association, and she asked us if we’ve made any progress towards those dreams.  She was attractive and cute and she was impressed with us, and we were ready to take on the world to show her that we were one with her, until we got on the phone.

When we got on the phone, we realized how poorly trained we were.  Either that or we put so little prominence on what the mousy, lead trainer had to tell us that we didn’t retain.  In fairness to the employers, and the mousy trainer, most of the material these telemarketing companies teach is so overwhelming that you may not be able to train the employees to comprehension in six weeks.  So, they give you databases to find this information to answer customer questions.

The databases are usually poorly designed and difficult to navigate, and you usually have two to three minutes per call to properly navigate them to answer the caller’s questions.  Then, you have to take what that attractive cute, sales trainer gave you and put it into play on an individual that is already disgruntled that it took you two to three minutes to navigate the incomprehensible databases to sort of, somewhat, kind of answer their question.  They give you coaches, and if the coaches are around to answer your question, they usually don’t have a quality answer that fits the individual question the customer asked you.   They give you an Instant Message (IM) board full of tenured agents to answer your questions, and in the beginning this is great, because all of the questions are so basic.  When the questions start to become more advanced, your questions sit on the IM board and roast away while your customer impatiently waits for the sort of, somewhat, kind of answer their question.

A friend of mine said: “I’ve had fast food jobs, and I’ve never been this stressed out!”

It’s All On You

Here’s another key to their success: It’s all on you.  You get poorly trained, the availability of coaches is sporadic, the website is awful, the knowledge database is almost as bad, and the IM board is filled with people who have answers that aren’t as helpful as the coaches are, and you hang up on the call feeling like it’s your fault that you sort of, somewhat, kind of answered the customer’s question.

I don’t know if I’m unique in this aspect or not, but I live with this belief that I’m not doing it right.  That it’s all my fault.  If I’m at a restaurant, and the soda dispenser is not working properly I will probably stand there for five minutes trying to do it right, before I ask for an employee’s assistance.  If in my free time, I go to a person’s website, and I’m not able to navigate it properly, I will probably leave that website with the idea that I don’t know what I’m doing, or I’m not intelligent enough to figure out what I’m doing wrong.  I don’t know if I’m unique in this aspect or not, but it makes me the candidate that companies like these are seeking.

If I’m unable to answer that customer’s question, my default position is that I probably didn’t pay enough attention in training, I feel like a dunce for not being able to navigate the website or the database as well as I probably should be able to, and I get the feeling that I probably didn’t properly ask the customer’s question of the coach or the IM board. If you’re anything like me, you begin to think you can’t help it, you’re human, and you feel doubly flawed when you get back on the phone and the customer tells you that you didn’t answer their question.  There aren’t too many people who can survive training, go through the list of help products that I’ve provided above, and still think that it’s not their fault that the customer’s question didn’t get answered properly.  Most people think it’s on them.

In another job, I had a trainer, from New York, that was very impatient.  If we didn’t remember what he said last Tuesday, about a specific product, he would raise his voice and get impatient with us.  “I told you that last Tuesday!” he would yell.  The yelling and impatience he showed intimidated all of us against asking for verification for something we may have forgotten among the one thousand things he crammed into the week.  The only reason I mention that he was from New York is that there is something a little more intimidating in a speedy, no nonsense New York accent that makes you feel yokel when you need further clarification on things he said.  Especially when he sighs, and draws the class’s attention and says,

“I’m only going to say this one more time, so I want everyone to pay attention … “

Yikes, we said when that first cowered under the shadow of this obese man.  As I wrote earlier, attractive people can get people to play above their talent, but extremely unattractive, quadruple-chinned men can also cause people to believe they know something they don’t with the right accent and intonations.  At the end of every learning session, this greasy haired main with enough pock marks to qualify him for a decent impression of a golf ball, would ask us if we have any questions.  We would quake with anticipation for the impression it would leave on him that one of us didn’t understand what he had said.  I would love to write, right here, that I was the outlier, and I asked every damn question I wanted to. I wasn’t.  I sighed along with the rest of the group when no questions were asked, and we could all move on.

The fat slob concluded this training session by telling us about product Z.

“I’m going to be blunt,” he said, “This corporation does not care about this particular product.  It does generate some calls, but we’re not going to spend a whole lot of time on it today.” 

I don’t think I even need to write what product we received the most questions on.  I don’t think I need to tell you how difficult it was to answer those questions either.  Once we were finally ready to answer that question, it was onto the fat, New Yorker’s sales pitch on the money-making products.

In both of these jobs, the statistical measurements of the employees was almost entirely concerned with sales.  There is very little prominence placed on customer service, but of course adequate customer service leads to sales.  One plus one equals two.  A caller is more apt to purchase a product from those representatives they deem to be the most competent.  A caller feels validated when you are able to answer their question before moving onto the sales portion of the call.

The most recent job has implored a new aspect of the job I haven’t experienced thus far: The secret shopper. The secret shopper (or mystery shopper) for those not acquainted with the term, is a person who pretends to be a customer and tests the overall quality of your service skills.  The secret shopper, in this particular job, sought to push you to the limit and test your resolve, your temerity, and frustration levels.  I’m sure many of you are saying that that’s a great idea, but when it happens in call after call after call, day after day, and week after week, you get a little burned out.  They’re never rude to the point of being obscene, but they try to give you your worst call you’ve ever had in call after call after call day after day, and week after week.  They’re the impatient, but polite customer, and they’re the customer that is aghast when you cannot find an answer to their obscure question in a given time frame, a question that they’ve sat around and thought up, because it lies in interpretations of the poorly designed database or the impossible website, because you were never trained on either of them properly.  This happens on a daily basis, and it is most assuredly going to happen for the tenure of my stay at the company.  When I asked a coach about the secret shoppers she said,

“There’s a whole team of them.” She said, “The corporation that leased out this work to our company is regretting the fact that they bought the contract.”  She basically told me that the company who leased out their work services was looking for a way to break the contract without having to pay the fines for doing so.  In other words, if these secret shoppers could break a bunch of employees and get them to swear or be rude, the corporation could end their contract with the company by providing them a list of responses from these employees, and everything would look fine in the single script they present, because the secret shopper wasn’t entirely rude in that chat.  He may have been overly demanding, a little critical of the customer service agent’s skills, and on the border of rude, but that doesn’t become apparent in one chat.  So, you get your contract back, and you’ve only left one employee unemployed and a little more insane, all for an hour’s wage that is just a bit over minimum.

As I said, the job market in Omaha is probably no different than anywhere else in the world, but when you’re not qualified to do anything else you’re subjected to all of these fly-by-night companies that have incomplete ways of doing things.  Every parent who has a drifting young one that does not want to read their assignments, or go to college, or try to advance themselves beyond the call of duty should have that child read this blog, so that they will understand what happens to a person that doesn’t eat their peas, or dot their ‘I’s, and cross their ‘T’s.  Geometry may seem like a useless ball of mess at the time you’re doing it, but it’s a lot better than all this.