Idiotarians and Fellow Travellers
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Sunday, January 06, 2002
It's a jungle out there in the world of technical support
Although I love being a journalist, there have been times I was so disgusted with newspapers (as I am sure newspapers have been disgusted with me), I took jobs elsewhere.
One of these jobs was manning a telephone technical support hotline. I bet you didn't know that when you call one of those product support hotlines, many times you don't actually speak to an employee of the company that made the item you bought.
Why hire a third party to provide technical support? Because a company that is very good at making a printers or video cameras or automobiles might might be lousy at customer relations.
Naturally, these companies want to pay as little as possible for these services. The call center companies want to make as much as money as possible.
The end result is employees who are under stress from the client company to provide the best advice possible in as little time as possible, and from their employer to talk to as many callers as possible every day, even if it means not really solving their problems.
I signed a confidentiality agreement when I worked there, so I cannot reveal information about the products I supported, even its name.
But I am going to discuss it in general terms. The last time I ran this site, my former employee threatened legal action because I used their trademark. This time, I won't even mention their name.
Enjoy the following article printed below.
Imagine answering one phone after another for eight hours straight every day for months on end.
Imagine these callers are often irate.
Imagine some of these callers have purchased products with a flaw and have been told so by a qualified service center.
Imagine you are under orders to not admit to the existence of this flaw, even though you and the caller both know to exist.
Imagine you have a half-hour break for lunch and two fifteen-minute breaks.
Imagine you have to use the restroom, but you have to wait 90 minutes to your break because you cannot afford to be off the phone for the three minutes it would take.
Imagine if you are even one minute late from lunch because you have to use the restroom, a “real time monitor” will come looking for you.
Imagine there is a 1-10 chance someone is listening to your call, not only to make sure that you are following these rules, but also to ensure there is no stress in your voice and that you are friendly at all times. It might make the callers unhappy if they now exactly how overworked you are.
Imagine that answering a caller’s innocent yes-or-no question with a friendly and informative “no” will cause a 20 percent reduction in your job performance score.
NOW imagine the caller getting frustrated because he must keep asking the same yes-or-no answer question over and over because you cannot give him the correct "no" answer, just another cheerful, but misleading, euphemism for "no."
Imagine that the eavesdropper who is evaluating your performance has absolutely no experience doing your job and couldn't do it if he or she tried.
Imagine half of your job evaluation being based on whether you can solve the callers’ problems.
NOW imagine the other half depends on how fast you can get the callers off the phone without regard to whether they have been helped or not, two goals at cross purposes with each other.
Imagine doing two jobs at once for the exact same rate of pay as the guy sitting next to you who is doing only one job because he isn't as trained as you are. Of course, his evaluations will be better because he has a lower "talk time" than you because he can transfer the more difficult cases.
Imagine the person who evaluates your performance one day may not be the same person the next, and their standards differ greatly.
NOW imagine trying to decide whose standards you follow when you have no idea who will be evaluating you that day.
Imagine trying to do this job in a room during a major remodeling, with paint fumes making either you or your co-workers sick.
Imagine that during the renovation, the doors were removed the restrooms, forcing you to travel even further to use a restroom, and you have to wait in line once you get there.
Imagine being told you would receive financial incentives for convincing callers to buy products and supplies at inflated prices, then discover the clients routinely take credit for your sales.
Imagine you are expected to buy your own office supplies, like pens, pencils and paper, on your $8 an hour pay.
Imagine you have been threatened with termination because you joked about joining a union.
Imagine your employer moving your job and your friends’ jobs out of the country to where unemployment is higher and wages are lower.
Imagine your feelings as one friend after another loses his or her job and moves away.
Imagine being told that if you want to keep working at this company you have to reapply for a job for a different client that pays less money. You would still be working for the same employer, mind you.
Imagine it is two weeks after the layoffs were announced, and you are --- surprise! --- suddenly not meeting your quotas and you are terminated.
Imagine this happens during the holiday season.
Welcome to the life of a call center employee.
What is an call center survivor?
Well, it could describe someone who can put up with the stress and lousy working conditions and be happy in his or her work. But I prefer to consider it to be anyone who manages to get out with his or her sense of humor intact.