Thursday, February 12, 2009

Call Center Bomb Squad

I’ve never worked in a call center. I’ve temped as a receptionist here and there, but have never had the occasion to answer the phone at work for extended periods of time. Until now. At work we’re experiencing a very high call volume for a client who has mandated that all its employees attend the event that we are putting on for them. Each employee must call to make an appointment so that they may attend this event. As a result we are getting flooded with calls from this client, whose events are being held over dozens of locations. As you can imagine this is an administrative pain in the butt.

The word “mandatory” has quite rightly gone sideways up the ass of just about every employee of this client. Every morning my shift answering the phone is 8-12:30. For four and a half hours every day I am fielding calls from irritated employees who demand to know why attendance to this event is mandatory, and they are largely unsatisfied with my answer of “I cannot speak to the policies of your employer. I recommend you ask your supervisor or your human resources representative. Now, what time would you like your appointment?” I’ve had callers threatening legal action “I have contacted my attorney, you have no right to tell me that I have to go to this thing.” I wish my answer could be “Well, you go right ahead and sue my employer. What will you gain from it? An inflated invoice from your lawyer? We’re not forcing you to go your boss is, dumbass!”

My daily shifts on the phone will end on March 4th. It’s only Feb 12th now. I am getting a bit frayed around the edges. But my smiley, sing-songy voice rings through every single morning trying to perk up the callers. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

I’ve learned a thing or two about defusing these people on the phone over the last few days. “I can certainly understand your frustration. How may I help you with this right now?” is something that I’ve said over and over for the last week. Surprisingly, that’s taken the callers down a notch, and they are more agreeable after that. I had a “gentleman” chew my ear off yesterday in his disgruntlement, and I stopped the timer on his bomb with an “OK, my name is Beej. Call me later on today at this extension. I will sit here with you and find a time for you to attend that will suit your schedule, and you can take as much time as you need. Don’t worry, we’ll figure it out…” He grumpily hung up on me. I logged off the phones to go to the ladies room. On my way back I passed a co-worker’s desk. She said that the “gentleman” called back, and asked her to apologize to me for him. He said “She was very nice to me and all I did was give her a hard time. I feel bad about that. I know it wasn’t her fault.” I hope he’ll take me up on my offer now, as I feel better about helping him out. The urge to call him a jackass has subsided. Somewhat.

I am thinking back on all the times I’ve called someone working in a call center and have been inexcusably bitchy to them. I’ve bawled out the woman answering the phone at the credit card company. I’ve chewed the ear off the person answering the phone at the car insurance place or the cable company for one of their inexcusable injustices that they have committed against me.

Really, my behavior was inexcusable. The way I acted was the injustice. I am on the receiving end of inexcusable behavior right now, for 4.5 hours per day, and it is exhausting. And all I want to say is “OK, your employer sucks. I get it. But you don’t need to yell at me about it. I don’t have anything to do with your employer. I am not part of some diabolical plot to screw up your day. So shut your fricken trap and let’s get you scheduled so I can talk to one of your asshole co-workers next.” But instead I say “I am sorry you’re frustrated. But really, I am just setting up the appointments. You need to ask your boss those questions. I do not have that information.”

I’ve heard that same line when I called that toll-free number about my credit card bill, or my cable service. And I think I’ll be cooler about it next time I hear it.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

The last time I was rude to someone at a call center was in 2004, and it was Cox Communications' fault. I felt awful about it later and, partly because of the story in the second paragraph of this comment, resolved never to be That Rude Caller again. (I do feel sorry for people who work at cable companies, especially sh*tty monopolies like Cox and Comcast, because I can't imagine the abuse they get from people.)

Once I was at an airport, and a connecting flight I was supposed to be on was delayed and delayed until it was definite that I wouldn't make the flight after it. I stood in line at the counter with everyone else to get the scoop, and the woman in front of me was a COMPLETE bitch. She ranted and raved very, very loudly at the counter person about missing the flight, all the trouble it would cause her, etc. Finally she was finished and I went up to the counter. I gave the clerk a big smile and said "I just don't think I'm gonna make this flight." She smiled back, and the whole transaction went very smoothly. The bitchy woman looked at me incredulously while this was going on, like "Why aren't you being a bitch too? What's wrong with you?"

It never, ever hurts to be friendly in customer service situations. Ever.

February 12, 2009 at 8:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think I've ever been rude to someone I'm calling - hell, I've only hung up on telemarketers twice. And they both richly deserved it. I suspect that they all know their job really sucks but they have to do it anyway.

February 12, 2009 at 10:50 AM  
Blogger BJ Knapp said...

Crisitunity, yeah, you definitely get further when you're nice.

TB, I feel bad for telemarketers only in that it's probably the only job they could get. Or it's someone on a work program in a prison anyway. I am a huge fan of the do not call list.

This event is mandatory for the employees of this client. So the employees are all bitchy about it. Just this morning I got a call where the woman said "Hi, I need to make an appointment so I can attend this event against my will..." and Pretend Me wanted to say "Yeah, well I gotta listen to your bullshit against my will. Suck it up." Real Me killed her with kindness. Maybe on my last day on the job Pretend Me will have some fun. LOL.

February 12, 2009 at 1:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've learned it doesn't pay to be nasty to the person you need to help you, because miraculously when you are, they don't seem to have the authority to help. When you're nice, they'll go to the ends of the earth for you.

Of course, I was like that when I worked retail too. Be nice, and I'd bend over backwards to fix it. Act like an ass, and suddenly I was locked out of the computer with a very short inventory of whatever it was you wanted. Oops. Come back tomorrow sir. :)

February 19, 2009 at 11:57 AM  

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