I am a customer service representative.
Even the way it sounds makes me shudder a bit.
When I tell people what I do I try to dress it up a bit, intentionally leaving out the exact words “customer service” and never, ever saying “call center”. Some days I’m tempted to just start telling people I work with doctors without borders because I know I’d get a better reception. Truth is though, I do what I do and I do it in a cubicle surrounded by others trapped in identical cubicles and we’re all trying not to flip out on the next person who curses and calls us stupid because, clearly, if we had other employment oppourtunities we wouldn’t be there in the first place. The economy is what it is and when I realized how many other people at my place of work had college degrees I damn near had a full fledged panic attack in the break room.
What I have learned since August though is that no matter how ridiculous and generally erroneous my job may be(because yes, a well trained child could technically do the basics) it is still rewarding to do it well because while it is not rocket science and it does not require a specialized skill set to keep the job there are quite a few things it requires to do the job well.
First off, you have to have a great sense of humor. Talking to someone named “Cleaveland Pimpton” has to make you smile, because it could easily be a South Park character and it’s best to imagine that for the entire duration of the call. Everything they say will seem funnier. I spoke to Mr. Pimpton for about twenty minutes today. It was a riot. I also like to work in other phrases for my own amusement like “I’m sorry Ms. Jackson.” with the same meter as the Outkast song or a vague reference to Game of Thrones with the ominous “Winter is coming…”. You have to keep yourself entertained without getting too ridiculous and getting fired. As far as outright funny customers, that topic deserves it’s own post because I’ve gotten some winners.
Secondly, you absolutely cannot judge people. I work for a major electric company in the south and most of the customers I speak with are having trouble making their bills and have been or are about to be disconnected. It’s a stressful situation. Sometimes it would be easy to say “Well, you haven’t paid your bill on time… ever and not at all since October so what did you expect?” but you can’t think like that. Mostly because that tone of voice will send them over the edge and who would I be to turn up my nose anyway? I live with my parents, I clearly am not financially responsible either.
Also, given how stressful the situation of being disconnected for non-pay is you have to cut people some slack. I don’t care if you curse, I do care if you call me a bitch. I’ve only had one person actually curse at me and my blood pressure sky rocketed. It’s a conversation I won’t make you read. Thankfully I have the option of transferring them to a supervisor otherwise I might have gone all office space and lost my job. The temptation to attack my computer is a daily fantasy, by the way. It’s a p.o.s from the 1990s and freezes or sends me to a different part of the system on a regular basis.
Anyway, when people are behaving like lunatics if you stay calm and helpful 95% of the time by the end of the phone call they are nice again and appear sincerely grateful. I attribute this to two things. 1) I proactively offer to send them enrollment information for Low Income which is a discount program and give them phone numbers for energy aid agencies in their area. Most people have no idea I have access to that information. I can also set them up on a fixed due date, where they choose what day their bill is due every month and thus avoid late fees. Another option no one ever knows about. I feel better knowing I helped as much as I feasibly could. Particularly the customers I like. I also try to bend the payment arrangement guidelines where I can. Don’t tell anyone that though, because that one is not something I’m ever encouraged to do and I’ve actually had to talk my supervisors into it like a hundred times. Some always do my tasks, others have caught on that my overrides are not always on the up and up. 2) I have developed a distinct customer service voice which has gotten great feedback from several of my bosses and coworkers. Also, never interrupt. Paraphrase their long-winded explanations back to them as well, it makes them feel like they’ve been listened to and that goes over well. I’ve noticed that in comparison to others I trained with I get cussed out about 1/10th as much so there must be something to it. I was told I’m good at “de-escalating situations”. Winning.
The other key thing in this kind of job is to disregard all of the nasty calls and focus on the nice people you “meet” at work. I talked to one elderly gentleman, an oldie!, about nothing in particular for at least thirty minutes once on a call that should have taken about two for all we had to do. At the end he said I “charmed the hell outta” him and asked if I got paid extra for being witty. No, but it’s certainly something to consider. Another upside is that about fifty people a day “God bless” me which makes my hippy dippy self believe there’s some positive energy being thrown my way. Gotta love our deep South customer base!
Anyway, moral of the story is even if your job is stupid and gets no respect whatsoever you can still take pride in doing it well, because I’m telling you… that is no easy task! Actually, pride isn’t the right word. I can tolerate my job because I know I do it well. I guess that should be enough.
Thanks for being a valued reader with me for the past twenty posts and I hope you have a great holiday season! ; )