Sunday, July 11, 2010

Death by a Thousand Cuts

I work in a call center. I live in South Carolina. That is in the USA, just for reference.

This job sucks. It used to be awesome, with a great boss, great morale, speedy work being done cheerfully. Sure, we complained back then, too, but we sure didn’t know what we were getting into.

Let me lay it out for you. I was doe-eyed, getting a new job through a temp agency, something I had never done before. I didn’t even realize that temp agencies usually just get you a short term job and then another, and then another. I figured it was just a job sourcing assistance. They would help me find a permanent job.

Actually, the way it went down, I called about an ad in the newspaper. No idea that it was for a temp agency, I just called, faxed my resume, and went in. I though it was for a job at a company. But then I arrived and saw that it was a temp agency. I went inside and did their tests and whatnot. I figured I would never hear from them again.

But then they called and said that they found a possible match. I was asked to interview (again!) at a company. The job was in a call center which sounded… okay. I figured it would last a few years while I finished up my bachelor’s degree. Little did I know that there were no jobs for somebody with a Bachelor’s in psychology.

I interviewed with a woman at the company. I didn’t know at that time that I was her first interviewee. She was just recently promoted to be a supervisor. She has since stepped down from that position, although she still holds an hourly administrative position. She said that she was scared to interview me but that I seemed to be a good fit. She said that I seemed to be intelligent and could likely be a good fit for the company.

I went through a few weeks of training with an awesome trainer. He has since left the company (good thing, since he would have been pushed out, unless he actually was pushed out, which is another story) but was probably the most brilliant mind in the call center. He developed many of the tools that the call center used to monitor our progress, using Access and Excel rather than the commercial products available for call centers. He probably saved the company millions of dollars in the call center’s early beginnings. Since then, the call center has purchased all of the commercial products… but still uses his solutions for backups since the commercial solutions don’t provide some of the visibility that his Excel spreadsheets were able to perform.

Anyway, the training was fun, informative, and intense. I learned a ton about a whole new field that I didn’t even know existed. The call center works in a very specific space so I won’t disclose the type of products we support but suffice it to say, there was very specific knowledge that was imparted as part of a relatively informal training process. Since his departure, training has fallen from a supervisor level position to an hourly support position, with hourly representatives developing a comprehensive but boring two week training program.

We had been hiring temps from the same temp agency until the powers that be decided that we were overstaffed for the approximately 2500 calls that we take. When we were hiring, though, we would train approximately 6 to 10 new representatives at a time. By the completion of training, we were lucky if we would have 3 new representatives who remained through the training. This was not because we had the great model that they use at Zappos where they will buy out your contract, paying you a certain amount to quit right there. This was because the job sucks now and there are no freedoms allowed.

(I just took a call from a customer who had a radio on in the background. Sigh. That’s the only music I’ll hear all day.)

So, let me document the decline. When I started, the phones were on handsets and they rang. The phone rang and you answered it and then you talked to the customer. Since then, the phones were converted to just beep in your ear. Now the representatives are chained to a desk on a 6 foot cord. No more walking around the office, waiting for the phone to ring at your desk. No more mad dashes to answer the phone on the first ring. I miss those days.

We used to be measured on our time to answer a call. We have strived to keep this time under (wait for it…)… Actually, guess, before you keep reading. The last time you called about your phone service or your cable service or anything like that.. How long did you wait before somebody actually answered the phone? 5 minutes? 10?

We have strived to keep our hold time to less than… 10 SECONDS. 10 seconds! Imagine calling your bank and getting answered virtually as soon as the phone started ringing! What an accomplishment!

We have had situations where our hold time has been as long as 10 minutes. These are very limited and few in number but they have happened. But, the norm is approximately 10 seconds. This is ridiculous! How do we answer the phone within 10 seconds from a ring? Why don’t we get praised for this? The phone rings, a person answers. Just like that.

The other thing that we have been so proud of forever and a day has been no machines. When you call our 1-800 phone number, you get a person. Every time. No “press 1 for this, press 2 for this.”

Guess what recently happened? They installed a machine for after hours. It’s worse than “press 1 for this” when you will eventually be given to a person. It’s an answering machine! Between the hours of midnight and 8 AM, callers are driven to a voicemail where they can leave information about “non-urgent” issues. We have never, NEVER allowed there to be a machine put on the 1-800 number for our customers. Talk about horrible customer service.

The final straw came yesterday. One of the salaried supervisors came in and raised Cain because there were some lights off in the call center. When I work, I am essentially an hourly supervisor with no power. When I come into the call center, I don’t care if some lights are off. Some representatives claim that the florescent lights hurt their eyes. Fine, let the lights be off. The customers are being helped, everything is going fine. Who cares if the lights are on or off?

We also have become a place of fear. No cell phones are allowed. No personal laptops. No radios. No noise. Don’t talk too loud. Don’t wear perfumes or colognes. Do ridiculous anti-repetitive strain exercises. Document these exercises. Get nasty emails when you don’t document these exercises. Don’t use the internet. Get spoken to for tardies of more than 1 minute. Clock in on a time clock… and a phone… and a computer. Get spoken to for ridiculous monitoring requirements such as repeating EVERYTHING somebody tells you.

This last one really makes me angry. I reported back that not repeating everything back was desirable. Repeating things back makes us a robot, playing the information back that you just stated. If you have the information, you have the information. The caller’s name is Bob. Really? I have to say, “Bob? Common spelling?” REALLY? That is good customer service? Seriously? That is being a robot. No personality. No life. No spark. Just a recording or worse, a representative in a foreign country who doesn’t understand the names used in this country.

I get marked down on the monitoring skills because I don’t robotically repeat back the information requested. There is no information provided that indicates that I was unhelpful to the caller. The caller would likely indicate that they were happy not to hear all of their information repeated back to them. But there is no consideration for that aspect. Nobody cares how the caller perceives the company. All they care about are the checkboxes.

Until the time that they call customers and ask them how they feel about the company. “Were you satisfied with the help you received?” “Was the agent friendly?” Then they get low marks in those areas and they can’t figure out what went wrong.

Another part of the terror campaign is the no internet policy. We sit in front of computers for hours and hours on end. We work overtime, some of us up to 60 hours per week. And we can’t use the internet? We can’t check email? We can’t look up information that we need, such as addresses of companies with which we work? Ridiculous!

Some people resorted to bringing their own personal laptops so that big brother couldn’t spy on them for using the internet while still being tethered to the desk on a 6 foot long cord. The supervisor freaked out about this as well. No laptops allowed! Well, if you weren’t so Machiavellian and strict with the ridiculous rules, people would be happier, work would be done faster and generally the company would be better as a whole.

The internet is filtered, regardless. It’s not like we can sit on Facebook all day (or post to our blogs, ahem) while we’re at work. The filter is in place to ensure that we follow the ridiculous rules and are productive at work.

This is the final straw. I’ve essentially been demoted. The supervisor calls it “increasing my opportunities for variety.” I’m being fired, slowly but surely. They are monitoring my phone calls for which I have not been successful in the past. This is after a 6 year lull in not monitoring my phone calls for robotic repetition. Yesterday, I was set up to not have sufficient staff in place. They remotely monitored the computer systems which were purchased to document agent performance and noted that there were calls waiting to be answered (no more than one minute wait times but with the ridiculous 10 second wait time requirement, that was unacceptable) and agents were apparently not taking calls. However, the reality on the ground was that I was unable to babysit the agents who were not taking calls. I was taking supervisor level calls myself. I had IT help desk agents calling and updating me on the status of applications which were taken off-line. I had tasked other agents with the job of re-entering information from one computer system to another (this is a ridiculous requirement which I will document at a later time) so they were unable to take additional live calls at that time. I had not called a supervisor at a distant location which was closed (unbeknownst to me ahead of time) to inform them that there were issues with the system shutdown and restart (the IT person did not inform them but informed me, a lowly salaried worker who has specifically been told that it is not my role to be a supervisor). However, it all fell on me.

I’m on my way out. I’ve worked here for 10 years (I got a $50 cordless drill for my 10 year anniversary present… thanks!) and I’m being unceremoniously dumped. But, that’s okay. I’m ready to move on. My bank account will take a hit, of course, and I don’t have enough savings to really take the hit in the pocketbook but I have a second job and I can likely get a third job lined up, once this job goes away.

I’m not really sad, honestly. It’s a nice time to go. This place has been falling apart for years and I’m just standing in the way of letting it go. The construction equipment is in place and I’m standing there, chained to the oak tree. The steamroller will just roll over me.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Switch pitcher promoted

The title is the link. This is really cool - I got to see him in one of his last performances with the Charleston Riverdogs on Father's Day. He has an amazing delivery and was used very interestingly as a closer. He would pitch the same hand to the same handed batter. So he would pitch right handed to a right handed batter and left handed to a lefty. It was something to behold.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


I will clean this up when I find the time but I’m trying out Infix’s PDF editor from I recommend it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Most recent inanity from an outdated tech guy

The national organization that I am a member of – National Association of School Psychologists, or NASP, has an article called “Tech Corner.” It is written by a past president of the organization, Bill Pfohl, NCSP, who is probably an outstanding school psychologist. However, he is less well equipped to be a technical journalist. Here is his June 2009 article. I will be going through some of his older articles as I go through the backlog of information I have sitting in my office as I prepare for next year.


Are We Too Connected?

As the school year closes, it has caused me to look back on

technology over the year. What I am most struck by is a philosophical

query. Are we becoming too connected? This year

saw headlines of viruses “that will shut down the Internet on

April 1” (Conficker). Young teens were criminally charged for

“sexting” by sending nude self-photos to others on cell phones.

A teen female recently committed suicide after her boyfriend

re-sent her nude pictures to others on his cell phone. A recent

survey on teen Internet use of Facebook yielded that teens reveal

a great deal of risky personal behavior about themselves:

41% on substance abuse, 24% on sex, and 14% on violence.


Well, I was going to cite the study but I just learned that there are a list of banned search terms here at work, including “Facebook” and “sex.” Awesome. The proxy service that I use is also blocked here, by blocking all https traffic. W00t.


Ninety percent of teens have access to the Internet either at

home or school. Cyberbullying is near epidemic as it can replace

hallway confrontations. Facebook wants to sell information

about its members. Members’ protests stopped them.

Colleges and employers are now checking Facebook pages for

clues about admissions/employability. It is amazing what is

found there on Facebook.


Yeah. Amazing. Also, totally cool. And the future of the internet.


Some people are so hooked to their e-mails that a delayed

response brings a tirade (I saw that somewhere) from the

sender that makes me wonder if we are too connected. Our

new President has been a “crackberry addict” (those using

Blackberry devices) for most of his professional life. He protested

loudly when the Secret Service tried to silence him due

to national security. In numerous settings, I have observed

two or more devices sitting in front of an individual, while

they write and wait for the next e-mail, even on airplanes.

New data suggests multitasking is not all it is said to be, as

all tasks get done “less well.” The average person takes up to

20 minutes to refocus after answering an e-mail.


Interesting data. Based on what information?


Apparently this is a “fact.” I found a little information regarding it here. The article itself is:


Rubenstein, J. S., Meyer, D. E., Evans, J. E. (2001) Executive Control of Cognitive Processes in Task Switching. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 27 (4). Retreived June 16, 2009, from


Okay, I get that. But still. That’s what we do now.


Students and clients now Google their professor/therapist

before registering for class or seeing them. Is this a balanced

or fair evaluation of a professor/therapist?


No. But that’s the point. We all have opinions based on what we know of anybody or anything. You get personal recommendations, you get advice, assistance, etc. Information that is collected is based on opinions of others. It’s what we do.


Will this new information potentially damage or negatively influence

their decision?


No more so than any other opinion which “potentially damages or negatively influences their decision.”


Are university training programs supposed

to monitor graduate students’ Facebook or other social networking

pages to see if they are “professional” or represent

the program/university appropriately?




What are the limits?


Do you stop students from talking? I mean, is this even a serious question? The internet is no different from real life. The only change could be anonymity. However, Facebook is not burdened by this limitation.


Do I really need to know how drunk they were at the end

of the semester?


No. If that bothers you, de-friend them. Why are you your student’s friends on Facebook anyway? That seems like a limitation in your choice of friending.


And finally, I have observed—in the men’s

restroom—cell phone use as we do what is supposed to be

private. Females too? I hear: yes.


Okay, I agree with you there. That just needs to stop.


Are you a “tweeter”—using Twitter to keep everyone up

on your every move? Do you follow your favorite celebrity?

Ashton Kucher is the most followed. Do you really care?


Sometimes (I’m not as good as I should be with it… mainly because, like Facebook, it’s blocked everywhere I go.) Kind of. My tech celebrity. And do a degree, yes. But of course, this is not something I obsess about. Or write articles about for newspapers.


As I write this, Time magazine is conducting their annual

Internet survey on who is the most influential person in the

world. Ever hear of “moot” aka Christopher Poole of 4chan

.org? He had over 16 million votes, far outdistancing anyone

else. He is a 21-year-old blogger college student. I had not.


Me either. But, I know what 4chan is and it represents the ability of people to speak out en masse and anonymously against horrible atrocities, such as the Church of Scientology.


A parent recently told me of a cell phone bill for her 14-yearold

son for the month: $560—all texting his friends and girlfriend.

(Now on the unlimited plan.)


Two problems here. Lack of communication to the child (you know that texting costs 20 cents a pop, right? And lack of utilizing the unlimited plan. I’ll let ride the question about the necessity of a cell phone at 14.


He was upset that the parents wanted him to work it off or help pay it.


Yup. The parents didn’t put him on the unlimited plan or have a conversation about it ahead of time.


I see students in college bring laptops to class, not for notes, but to

check Facebook pages or respond to e-mail.


Multi-tasking. Get used to it.


Texting is totally out of control on a college campus. Twitter or texting is used

for cheating too: helping others with exam or quiz questions!




When will the first GRE or LSAT scandal happen?


After they stop letting you take electronic devices into the room. I’m pretty sure that’s a rule. I had to leave my cell phone in the car. And this was about 10 years ago when it was just a phone.


Why, yes, that is correct. Here is the information about what you cannot take into a testing center:


Personal items other than identification documents are not allowed in the testing room. This includes cell phones, PDAs, BlackBerry® devices and any other electronic or photographic devices. You will not have access to your personal items during the test or during breaks. Before the test, you will receive instructions from test center staff regarding where you must deposit personal items. You will be required to follow the procedures set by the test center for storage of your cell phone or any electronic or photographic device you bring to the test center. If you take personal items into the test room, they will be collected by the test center staff. Personal items such as hats, scarves, jackets and outerwear that are taken into the test room are subject to inspection by the test center staff before being admitted to the test room. Failure to comply may result in dismissal from the test and/or cancellation of scores. If you fail to follow the directions of the test center staff, you will not be permitted to take the test. Any violation of this procedure during the test or breaks may result in cancellation of your scores, dismissal from the test center staff or banning from future testing. Test centers and ETS assume no responsibility for personal items or devices that you choose to bring into the test center.


Parents now text their child to come to dinner. I was

“called” to dinner.


It’s a method of communication. I call my children to dinner. It’s hard. They say they can’t hear me. I get a ton of “WHAT?” back in response. If I could text them, I might.


Two 9-year-old friends were texting in

the back seat of the same car … to each other.


I can’t defend that. Although it is quieter than a whisper.


While I have embraced technology readily, I have to ask are the “people to

people” aspects of socialization becoming out of date? Is life

now going to be virtual? I am seeing on my college campus a

push for online courses. I have heard the pros—many—but

the cons also strike me. If I were sitting next to a person at

Starbucks using the free WiFi, would I even know they are in

my class and discussing the topic in real time with me online

and we have much in common? I doubt it.


While I understand the need for “people to people” communication, there are two different places for it to happen. One is online. Another is in person. What’s the difference between knowing people online versus in person? For the most part, there is no physical contact – maybe a handshake – so that’s not it. The method of communication changes from verbal to written but not always – you could watch a Youtube video. So what if you didn’t know that the person sitting next to you was taking the same course as you were?


Also, the wifi at Starbucks is not free. You can get limited access, blah blah blah.


I have little control over these issues but do think, as many

psychologists do, that we are definitely in a new age, similar

to the Industrial Revolution. Do we recognize it? I hear

about how social networking does keep people together and

informed easier and more in real time. Certainly this has advantages.

It is the overwhelming reliance on technology without

the personal face-to-face interaction that strikes me as

the difference in our newfound connectedness. Oh, yes, I do

video Skype with my new granddaughter every Sunday. Overall

my conclusion is we are too connected by technology. I

prefer face-to-face interaction.


Fine. But understand that it is a preference. Your granddaughter – there’s a place where physical contact could be important. Depending on how new, I’m sure it would be nice to hold her or feed her or otherwise interact. But for the most part, we can communicate just fine over text and/or video.



Are all CDs the Same?

My wife bought me a new technology piece that converts LP

(yes, vinyl long play albums) and my audiocassette collections

to CD. (LPs are making a comeback.) The question came

up whether a music CD is the same as a data CD. The new

machine wanted a special music CD to copy to. After some

Internet research, I found that it really does not matter! A few

stand-alone machines may require the specially formatted

CD disks. However, all regular computer CD players (read/

write units) can use any data CD without loss of fidelity. So

you are paying extra for the music CD label but are not gaining

higher audio quality.




Windows 7

I have been consistent in my reluctance to recommend Windows

Vista in this column, as have many in magazines and

tech articles. Vista is frequently referred to as the new Windows

ME—another Microsoft snafu! Vista was bloated, not

compatible with other devices, and took a great deal of memory

to run it—if it ran at all. Microsoft said that it sold over

180 million copies and that 90% were satisfied with the Vista

product. I do wonder about the “spin” to this data. By the end

of this year, Microsoft will release its new operating system,

called Windows 7. The initial reviews are highly positive. It

has the feel and ease of use of Windows XP but can use the

new high powered 64 bit CPUs and new multicore processors.

If you are daring and knowledgeable, you can download

a Beta copy to review for Microsoft. It should be available by

December holidays. If you are thinking about a new computer,

it may be worth the wait.




1)     Alright, he’s right about Vista. 2) Any numbers are spun by anybody. On Windows Weekly (a podcast on the TWiT network that I love dearly), Paul Thurrott reviewed the numbers of PCs sold. Basically, you’ve had to purchase Vista if you’ve purchased a PC for the past year or so, since XP has not been offered recently. Just by the virtue of the number of computers sold, that many copies of Vista were sold. 3) Vista has a 64 bit capability as well. 4) This is just a style thing, but “… you can download a Beta copy to review for Microsoft. It should be available by December holidays” just doesn’t work. The beta (no capital b in beta) is available now. The final version will be available by December holidays.


Laptops, Electronic

Devices, and Travel

A new directive by the Department of Homeland Security

allows them to confiscate your computer or any other electronic

device without giving a reason at any airport boarding

area or border crossing. There is no obligation to ever give

it back. They can look at the hard drive, transfer all files to

the government’s computers for scanning, or look at stored

e-mails and messages. This is seen by many to be a civil liberty

issue, but the government sees it as a security measure

to prevent terrorism. So iPods, flash drives, cell phones, beepers,

or video or audio tapes can be confiscated at the whim

of the agent. Federal courts have upheld these new directives.

This is another issue to worry about as we travel within and

outside the USA.


This is all the space he gives to this subject? He spends the whole first half of the article talking about the lack of face-to-face and then he drops this in here? Really? This is huge. It’s also ancient news.


Have a great summer!


You too.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


I just followed the link from the South Carolina story. Below, it says 46 states joined the coalition.

<a href="">Here</a> it reads that 49 states signed on. Guess which state didn't.

Again, W. T. F.

WTF Governor Sanford

Seriously. WTF?

Keith Olbermann has been working on his WTF segment on Countdown (it left a few days ago after the recent abortion doctor murder) so I thought I would give it a quick shot.

I just got a notification in my Google Reader that South Carolina will informally participate with a multi-state coalition to develop national norms for English and Math standards. Sounds awesome - we, as a nation, are having difficulty keeping up with other countries in their education, so let's have national norms.

Governor Sanford is one of 4 governors who refused to co-sign the application with the State Superintendent of Schools, Jim Rex.

In fairness, Governor Sanford is a Republican, Governor Rex is a Democrat; however, this can't be the only state that has this mix and I'm sure that there are more than 4 states where a similar disparity exists.

Governor Sanford, South Carolina is one of the lowest performing states in the nation, depending on the information you solicit. Nearly half of our high school students will drop out rather than receive a high school diploma. Let me understand - you don't believe that we need to make any changes around here?

If I were you, I would be grasping at anything that would help us make our schools better. It is clear, sir, (see how I did that? Just like Keith!) that you are grandstanding for a shot at the White House. You are interfering with children and their learning. This is the wrong place to take a stand, Governor Sanford.

I'll be glad to be rid of you from the state level once you fail out at the national level.

W. T. F.

Sunday, March 15, 2009


I'm getting tired. I used to be able to come to this job and surf around and catch up with the world. For the longest time, they didn't have a filter on the internet but then they put one in. Okay, fine, block porn. I get it. Then they started blocking some other things - minor to begin with. Games. Okay, I get it. Maybe we're using a lot of productive work time playing games.

However, we work in a call center. Work comes to us. We don't call out - the calls come in. We started out with ringing phones but they changed that, too. Now we have headsets that beep when a call comes in. That means you never know when it's coming - you're sitting there, talking to your neighbor and your ear beeps. The caller hears the last 1/2 second of your conversation because the Pavlovian response isn't quite strong enough to respond within 1/2 second.

So, there is downtime, when people aren't calling in. Can you believe that they told us to use this time to study? Study what? The codes that we use everyday? That we memorize because we use them 20 times (or more) a day? What's to study?

Then they started filtering more. Image sites, for the most part - tinypic, photobucket, etc. You know, the places where most people post images for their blogs because that's what these services do. Then they started blocking more sites - more image sites - Flickr, etc. Then even more. Now they're up to Blogger and virtually every site for "Personal Backup and Storage" which is just about everything.

Facebook, Twitter - blocked. Virtually everywhere you go on the internet, you can't get to.


There is this awesome service called Circumventor which is done by the Peacefire folks at It's great. I can get just about anywhere. But it's not perfect - it's running things through a proxy so Flash games don't work and sometimes there are some quirky things. Peacefire also has a program you can install and put on your computer at home to make a local Circumventor. I had it set up at one point but it's relatively difficult to run.

Now I'm off to call people in to work because the people during the week can't schedule for the weekends. This is the 3rd? week in a row that I've had to call people in. I don't understand why they can't schedule more people to work. In fact, I just looked yesterday and found that somebody THAT THEY JUST HIRED TO WORK THE WEEKENDS WAS MOVED TO A WEEKDAY ONLY POSITION. WHAT. THE. FUCK?

Can you tell I'm angry?