Call Me (Not), Part II

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ashtray.jpg— Hi…
— Good morning, bonjour!
— Yeah, I’m calling about my French classes… I’m supposed to start soon and — can you believe it — no one called me back!
— Okay… let me see. What’s your name?
— Jenny Smiths, S-M-I-T-H-S.
— And who assessed you?
— A woman.
— Whose name was…?
— Don’t know.
— Who do you work for?
— Patty Jonhson.
— Er… I mean, which ministry?
— Oh, well, you should have precised! Service Canada.
— And was it for group classes or private classes?
— I’m not sure now…
— Okay, how about I put you on hold for a minute and I’ll find the right person you can talk to?
— Listen: I’m tired of being patient! I want my classes NOW!
— Hold the line please…

I swear that’s the last time I fill in for the receptionist. I’m a bloody French teacher. NOT a receptionist. And it’s Friday morning and I haven’t had a chance to eat my muffin yet (lemon – cranberries) and if the woman can’t even remember if she’s supposed to be in a group or a private class I really don’t think she will do that great as a student. And.. and I hate the phone. Remember Call Me (Not), or how I became a crazy Malaysian woman’s slave in Hong Kong? I had vowed to never touch again. So far, I have only managed not to buy a cell phone.

Granted, I don’t use the phone that much as a teacher, since I’m in a classroom six hours a day. Unless I fill up for the receptionist at the last minute because my class has just been canceled. But this is the first time in my — very short — career that I’m staying away from the dreaded machine.

Flashback. Winter 2004-05. I have just gotten my first Canadian work visa and my first official job here. The future looks bright and when I showed up the next day in a office suite across the city, spirits were high — as high as they can be at 8:00 am. After a 5 minutes introduction on the job (at this point, I had no idea why I came for because the staffing agency didn’t give me much info), I understood I was to be chained to a phone + computer, answering inquiries about a point card for 8 hours a day. Sounds trivial said like that — I agree. But that’s because you haven’t enter the wonderful world of inbound call centers, and probably because you don’t realize how much fuss can be made around a point card.

I soon learned the basics. Customers could be divided in three groups:

  • 10% of genuine callers, want an info and then happily hang up, saying “thank you” (the two words least heard in a cell center)
  • 30% of lonely people living in the middle of nowhere, inventing all kind of troubles with their precious card just to hear the sound of a voice
  • 60% of genuine asshole, creating all kind of trouble are very likely to ask to speak to the supervisor and threaten to fire you/ kick your ass/ kill you (we’re still talking of a point card, remember)

Genuine inquiries were a bliss to answer to. The computer would give us all the informations we needed to know and problems were most likely solved with a new card (“yes, after ten years it normal that your card doesn’t swipe as well, sir“), commonsense (“sir, using your card to scrape the ice from your windshield certainly isn’t recommended but it didn’t make your 100 000 points vanish in the air“), or some researches (“would you wife has been to the store on earlier this week? Because I see here 100 000 points have been used up just two days ago…“).

Lonely people were a bit harder to deal with. As much as we could understand them, we just weren’t allowed to make the conversation last too long. Our stats were sent to a big computer in the middle of the room and having too much calls in the queue could mean serious troubles. Like being the last one picked up to go to lunch. Yes… because we couldn’t all leave our workstations at the same time to go for lunch break, from 11 am to 2 pm, our supervisor would walk around and randomly select a few of us: “you, lunch break, 20 min.“. The worse thing was to be in the last batch, right before 2pm… since we usually started the day between 8 and 9 am.

Genuine assholes were tough to deal with. We weren’t allowed to be rude and taught to never ever lose control. Sounds easy like that, but how do you react after having being called a “stubborn bitch” for the third times in a day? You wouldn’t believe how much fuss can be made around a point card. People breaking up and splitting the points, people cheating and denying it even though the evidence is right there on the computer, people begging for favors…

I lasted a couple months, till the contract expired. I was offered a contract extension but I refused. I was tired of speaking over the phone, tired of been literally chained to a phone, tired of the whole pointless job. I moved on…

…and found a job as a receptionist for a wholesaler, where I was working under DOS (this was 2005 by the way) because the guy was too cheap to upgrade. If you’re nice, next time I’ll tell you how I survived for that contract!

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

20 Comments

  1. In college NO ONE would hire me. So i had to take a call center job or my mom and I would starve. (she was raising me and my sister) It’s not a matter of integrity of the human race, but rather a choice between starving and dying or making ends meet.

  2. I had a laugh reading this one. I liked your typology of callers; I didn’t realize that only 10% were legit calls! Being from the Philippines, I know quite a few friends who would work for call centers outsourced in Manila. They would work graveyard shifts to match the timezone here in North America. Then, they would get used to some regular phrases, like “for a while, sir”. What the heck is a “for a while”?

    I usually don’t use the phone a lot too; I have a pre-paid account, I figured it’s cheaper than having a monthly bill. And speaking of call centers, I recently had experience with them, both good and bad. The good one was for my hotel reservation; I wanted to clarify something before I hit “BUY” so I called, and that was good. The bad one was when I wanted to cancel a service for something I didn’t mean in signing up, and this person was insisting of the “grand benefits” of not canceling the account!

  3. I’ve done call center work bunches of times. I hated it bunches of times, too. 😀 Only once did I like it, when I was conducting consumer surveys over the phone. No sales, no pressure, and how did you like your vacuum, ma’am? LOL!

  4. Though I’ve never had a job answering direct calls, I’ve had enough jobs where people called in to know about your 60%. No fun.

    I like to think I’m mostly in the 10%, but I do change to the 60% every time I call Rogers. I’d like to explain why, but it would take at least six paragraphs. Let’s just say I’m sure you were much nicer than they are.

  5. Haven’t been around here for a while! Sorry about that.

    Replying to your last comment on my blog, I’m not sure what’s the prob with my blog Feed. It’s down and I don’t know how to fix it. 🙁

  6. Your assessment of the three types of phone customers is quite accurate in my experience. Unfortunately, by the time, I’m on the phone with them, that 60 percent has usually grown to 100 percent 😉

  7. Hello Zhu,

    LOL Ok, you officially are not lucky when playing the role of receptionist LOL! First Hong Kong, then there at the call centre; and now at the French school (it is a school, right?)!

    I don’t want to seem a smug, but I must confess that I belong to the first 10%. I do my inquiry, I make sure I understood everything that has just been told, “Thank you” and I am over and out! I don’t understand those who stay on the line forever and always end up by aggravating the person on the other end *nodding*. This being said, I agree with you: the 60% are assholes *nodding*.

    WHAT? 2005 and still working under DOS? LOL LOL LOL…I can’t believe it *nodding* LOL LOL! I need to know how you survived it: don’t take long to tell us LOL :)!

    This was an amazing read; merci, Zhu :D!

    Cheers

  8. Silverneurotic: oh, being a teacher makes you question it as well 😉

    Sir Jorge: I can’t think of one person doing call centers just for fun or as a choice. When I worked there, we were all newcomers to Canada.

    Linguist-In-Waiting: I’d love to hear your friends stories. I mean, I only worked there for a couple of months, but I’m sure you can hear some crazy stuffs over the time. I like to believe I’m a pretty nice caller myself because I understand their point at the end of the line. I never yell or complain but ask to speak to the supervisor just to speed up thinks once in a while… nothing personal with the call center agent, it’s just that I know his/ her limits and want to do something about my problem. Usually works fine and no hard feelings.

    Ghosty: I did the survey thing too, but most people can’t be bothered. I understand them…

    Johnada: can’t blame you, I had troubles with Rogers (and Bell… don’t get me started on Bell…) as well. Rogers wouldn’t deserve a Horton rating if you ask me.

    Keshi: nah, I’m sure you’d be great! 😆

    Anegele: no problem! I’ll try to have a look at your feed, let you know if I can find it.

    Art: n way, you look like a nice person!

    Jay Cam: with me, no one would get anything anyway 😉

    Max: as long as people are polite, I can very well understand they want their problems solved. I’m this kind of customer too to be honest. But trust me, I dealt with weird people! 😆

    Yes, DOS… I’ll write the whole story sometimes, it was a weird experience!

  9. Working in a call center is one of the worst jobs ever. I used to work giving support but over Yahoo messenger, it’s much much better since you can give yourself a minute or two before answering.

  10. You’re in Ottawa, eh? I used to live there, went to Ridgemont High on Alta Vista. It gets wicked cold there. I like the East Coast better. The people are more real, not phony.

  11. Another one of the Zhu branded adventures that your Zhuness experienced to reach the all time high that you currently live on (ok, it could be seen as an all time low as well since I am a frequent commentator here but this isnt a perfect world, lol). You chained on the phone eh? Hmmm… I thought every woman was like that, with the escalating phone bills and all, that they usually leave behind for the unfortunate male to pay….Okay, I know you totally mean it the other way around but I had to give the whole affair a surreal touch, it is what I do, heh… Not as surreal as the incoming slipper my girlfriend just unleashed upon me… Time to “outNeo”, well, “Neo” and avoid it:)

    Take care girl and keep showering our existence with your glorious posts!

  12. Thanks for stopping by RR and it’s very sweet of you to leave a comment, too.

    In my time, I’ve done a lot of temp work and tho I’ve not experienced the abuse of manning the phones in a call centre, I have worked in mental health. It’s a nightmare when a ‘lonely’ calls in, cos you tiptoe on eggshells in case you inadvertently say the wrong thing and cause an unwelcome shift in the conversational atmosphere… like they threaten to top themselves. The things we do to pay the rent, huh?

    BTW, I lurve ur blog, the design is fabulous, colourful, creative, eye-catching, ad infinitum adjectivitum… oh, and I like your posts, too. 😉

  13. I’ve never worked in a call center, but I don’t think I would last long since I really hate talking on the phone. I have worked as an English teacher and that’s no picnic either. Most of the students aren’t motivated, they’re just there because their boss/parents make them. Either that, or they see learning another language as a necessary evil, since these days you can’t get a job without it.

  14. I used to work in a call centre. An OUTGOING call centre. Which meant we had to ring people when Coronation Street was on and during other important events trying to sell them rubbish. And we weren’t really meant to hang up on THEM. Which would have made the entire procedure FAR EASIER!!

  15. Aiglee: Oh, I would have loved Messenger! Wish they would implement that in all call centers…!

    Witchypoo: thanks for visiting! Yeah, I live in Ottawa, near the Experimental Farm. I’m French originally. I like Ottawa but yeah, it’s a very politicakl city… I see what you mean by “phony people”.

    Crazy Greek/ future military leader: I’m honored by your visit… should I call you General already? No, I’m one of these women who hate the phone. Can’t miss me, we are just two and I’m the one under 80 years old. However, my muffin bill is high… see next post! 😉

    Reward Rebel: thanks for visiting too! I was stumbling upon blogs last night and yours caught my eye… I’ll be back, I subscribed. And thanks for all the nice things about my blog 😉

    Must be hard working in mental health. I totally respect that, I mean, of course mental illness aren’t a stigma but I must admit I’m not familiar with it (not as much as I can be with some physical illnesses) and as you say, I can imagine the tiptoe…

    Theresa: I see what you mean with students… I get some of those too, adults who NEED French for whatever position but hate the language. Hate these classes…

    Gledwood: Oh, outgoing is bad, bad… I did it for one night and happily quited at the end of it! 😆 I felt like hanging up on myself!

  16. Hilarious! It reminded me the time when we (me and a bunch of friends) worked at a call center. Our supervisor showed us an animation of a little squirel, who was really mean to an Indian call center employee. And the bee spelling….reminded me the frist time I’ve asked for delivery in USA…Geeeeeee

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