17 December 2011

Thank You For Calling

Thank you for calling This Catalog. My name is Pam. How can I help you?

For the last three weeks, I've being working as a temporary order taker at a mail order catalog company. It's a seasonal job and I started doing it at the beginning of December.  Each week has had it's own unique pace which has been interesting to observe.

It's the first time I've ever had any kind of call center job. The other day, I sat next to another temporary order taker who said that she normally does data entry and isn't used to dealing with people. I said that I normally deal with people but I'm used to doing it face to face and I'm not used to typing while I'm doing it.

Here are a few observations.

First, the vast, vast majority (98%?) of the callers are very pleasant and friendly. Now, this is a catalog where folk are calling in to buy stuff they want, so I hadn't expected to get a lot of grief. Still, I was positively surprised - given the volume of the calls we take - just how patient and pleasant most people are, even when they are calling in with a problem. A really positive experience.

Second observation. Being hostile and aggressive to get what you want is a very inefficient strategy. This is has been interesting to observe. I'm sitting at my desk taking orders, being efficient and not making any mistakes as I take people's orders. Someone calls with a complaint and they are pleasant, and I resolve the problem without too much fuss. Then someone calls and starts venting and insulting and raising their voice and my efficiency goes out the window. Magically, I can no longer even manage to type and the more I try to help, the more mistakes I make. And you'd be surprised the number of people who act aggressively from the beginning of the call in the expectation that this will make the order taker work faster.  In fact, they are very effectively making me work more slowly.

Third observation. It's really easy to tell who has ADD and who is hard of hearing. The ADD people sound like they have a 300-lb gorilla trying to get through their front door but still somehow manage to take15 minutes place an order (we're supposed to finish each order in 4 minutes or less). And, when I ask you "Can you confirm your billing address for me?" and you respond "Thank you, I want the black socks in a size large" and I'm already screaming down the phone with the out-going volume at the maximum, I know it's going to be a difficult call.

And, speaking of four minutes or less, there are the people who call in thinking that they are going to manage to order 5 items in the 30 seconds before their El Train comes who get upset about how long the call is taking when you ask them to confirm their name and address.  Then there are just the odd calls.  I actually had someone call me on Friday who got angry at me when I asked her for her name and address; she asked "Can't I just order the items without giving you my name and address?" and then hung up on me when I said I needed to know that information to send her the items.  Hello? It's a mail order catalog!

This is Pam speaking, how can I help you?


Ron Johnson said...

Pam, your impressions are of special interest to me because I, too, work in a call center. Although I have a PhD in philosophy, I was unable to obtain a tenure track position and needed a day job. Since I had worked in a call center before graduate school, that was the kind of work to which I returned. For the past 11 years I've been serving in the call center by day and teaching at night. It's not the kind of life I wanted, but I’m grateful for the lessons it has taught me.

I’ve spent my life thinking about how God can be found in people’s secular work, and I’ve learned things in this job that I never would have learned any other way. For example, I don’t think the general public realizes how regimented call centers are. We have to follow scripts. We’re given time expectations, as you mentioned. We’re penalized if we get stuck on a call and can’t take our breaks at the scheduled time. And so on.

But I have also found God in this job. I have opportunities every day to help others in concrete ways. I’ve bonded with employees in a variety of operations areas, and we’ve worked together to solve seemingly-irresolvable problems. I’ve learned what it’s like to bless those who are cursing me. It has not been my dream job, but God has been with me in it. And finding God in secular life has always been the most important thing to me.

Anyway, it's nice to see that you've joined the customer service ranks temporarily. It's interesting to read your observations about this line of work.

Allan R. Bevere said...

It's really easy to tell who has ADD and who is hard of hearing. The ADD people sound like they have a 300-lb gorilla trying to get through their front door but still somehow manage to take15 minutes place an order...

That's the best line in the entire post!

Sally said...

oh my Pam, such patience, you have made me think how I might be with call centre folk now, I am usually polite etc, but now and the... oops. My apologies...

PamBG said...

You and me both, Sally!

Like you, I always tried to be polite.

But this experience has made me try to take that extra step and visualize the person on the phone as if they were my friend or family member.

And, to be fair, I had a number of callers who thanked me for being helpful and for taking the time to help them.