Monday, September 20, 2010

Life on the Phones: The Affects of Nearly 12 Years Working in Call Centers

I’ve been working in call centers for a long time; it’ll be 12 years in January to be exact. In that time I’ve talked to a lot of people, dealt with a lot of corporate bull-stuff, and seen a side of our society that few outside of the service industry see. One thing that I have realized recently is how much this line of work has affected me. There are things that stand out to me as glowing neon signs that others are oblivious to. There are also things that bother me to no end that wouldn’t give others a second’s pause. Some of these things are good and some…not so much. Of these things there are three that stand out as major affects/reactions to my time on the phones.

1) Niceties and Manners – I have always been a polite person but now some work related habits have become so ingrained that they have become part of my nature. Things like saying “please” and “thank you” and asking someone to hold a moment when I’m on the phone and I need to speak with someone else (this one is turning into a real pet peeve of mine, there is nothing more confusing and rude than to be talking to someone on the phone and then without warning the person on the other end leaves the phone to talk with someone else; I don’t mind waiting on the person on the other end, but some warning would be nice). I am also hammering these ideas home with my kids, making sure that they how to be and insist that they are polite, kind, and courteous. The flipside to this is taking notice to how little people practice common courtesy. It really bothers me, and honestly I’m ultra-sensitive to it, but I do my best to always treat people the way that I want to be treated and lead by example for my children.

2) Listening – One skill that is exceedingly important in any customer service position, and especially important in technical support, is listening. And not just regular listening but active listening. The one thing that I have preached over and over when coaching new agents is the need to be engaged in active listening at all times. Well this skill has apparently come home with me from the office because I have observed multiple times when I have picked up things that others have missed because I was actively listening to and observing what was going on. For example, last week in lab our professor specifically stated that she had to look at our work one last time before she signed off on our assignments (she’d been walking around and helping us throughout lab but her point was that she wasn’t going to remember any of what she saw and thus needed to see it one last time before giving the okay on the assignment). Not five later a young lady brought her paper up to have it signed and when the professor said she needed to see the slide (we were doing work with a microscope) one more time, the student said she had already disposed of it. That is a perfect example of someone who wasn’t only not actively listening but not listening in general.

3) Distrust of large corporations/organizations & belief that they are not efficient – Big companies do some great things but rarely do they run efficiently, listen to their staff and customers, or respect their employees. Being at the bottom of the barrel in three large companies has shown me that often they just don’t work. The leaders are shortsighted, the policies are misguided, and the regulations that should keep them in line are bent to the will of those with the most money. The problem with capitalism isn’t capitalism. It’s the capitalists. Our economy is run like an oligarchy bordering on feudalism that is stained with corruption and the attitude of entitlement (which is often disguised in the mask pointing the blame others inability to read and/or comprehend the fine print). The buck is passed, blame is laid, and those who suffer for it are the ones with the lowest amount of power and control—i.e. the employees and the customers. The essential problem really comes down to size. The larger an organization the less efficient it becomes. The larger an organization the less common sense it displays. The larger an organization the less its chances of successfully addressing any issues or problems becomes. In short, the larger an organization becomes the farther it gets from those it is trying to serve. This is true off all types of organizations but as always with any rule there are exceptions (many non-profits come to mind). Once something gets big its inertia wants it to get bigger and subsequently the cogs that make the parts turn (i.e. middle management, project managers, management in general) care more about their own part of the system then they do about the entire system itself.

So as I ease into my second decade of call center work I recognize how this work has taken its toll on me while at the same time taught me a great deal. Lord knows I can’t keep this up forever but I think that these are lessons that will serve me well in life. For the most part at least… :-P

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