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.

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