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Thursday, November 10, 2005

I wish the real world would just stop hasslin' me

9 November 2005 08:20 EST Posted by Highlander

My birthday is coming up. SuperGirlfriend is scheming... something... I don't know what, although I've deduced, and she has confirmed, that part of it is an orchestrated email blitz of birthday greetings from everyone I know that she can get an email address for. But there's something else... something she hopes I will find "sweet and thoughtful" but is afraid will actually "cross the line" and make me angry... and I have no idea what that is. I guess I'll find out. But SuperGirlfriend rarely makes me angry, and when she does, it's usually because I'm being a jerk, so I imagine I'll enjoy whatever it is.

I think I could be very very happy at this point in my life, if not for, you know, my stupid job. My personal life is about as close to perfect as anything human is going to get... SG and I are getting along fine, the SuperKids are all well and happy (going through various individual crises, but, well, they're kids, that happens), I'm running my RPG again if only sporadically, I have some indications that more people are finding this blog now (so far, only a few unpleasant people desperately in need of attention have made themselves known to me, but hopefully more will come along behind them, some of whom may actually be civil and interesting human beings, if not potential friends)...

...This goddam keyboard has a left shift key that sticks, which aggravates the crap out of me, but never mind that, keyboards are easily replaced.... It's just the new job. And it's not that the new job is really that bad... as I've noted previously, it's better than mopping floors at a supermarket... I get to sit down while I work, there's more money, I'm not dealing with anyone named Bobo... but, well, working in a call center is never any fun.

Being chained to your desk for the vast majority of your shift just sucks, as does remote monitoring. In fact, the monitoring may be the most pervasively unpleasant part of call center work... I don't know any other adult with any other kind of job who would be happy with the knowledge that their bosses were secretly watching everything they did at least part of every day, and could be watching them at any time.

It's nerve wracking, and aggravating, and never more so than when I reflect that, like the idiot at the front desk who makes me walk all the way around to the back door just because "that's where the temps come in", it's all completely unnecessary.

Everything that Quality monitors for is something that can be checked some other way. At my current call center, the two big procedural matters they look for are (a) call documentation and (b) offering customers the survey at the end of every call. Both could be handled without actually listening to calls. A quick check of stats will show how many calls an agent took in a given day, and how many surveys they got during that day, too; if the percentages get too far out of whack, then you go to the agent and say "Are you offering the survey?" The same procedure will work for call documentation. If an agent takes 45 calls, but only docs 43, well, you can go ask why. Nobody needs to actually listen to the calls. Monitoring is for more than that, of course... they are also checking to see if you are giving the customers correct information, and generally checking on the quality of the service you are providing... or that's what they will tell you. But, again, if you're giving out bad info, it's not going to stay secret very long... everybody that calls me these days is obviously writing down my name, and if I tell someone "yeah, you can be reimbursed for your breast implants" and then their claim gets rejected, the first thing they are going to scream is "well, HIGHLANDER told me they were eligible!"

And it's the same for everything else in relation to customer service... if you're making customers unhappy, they are going to let your supervisor know. And at that point, sure, pull the call and listen to it and see what's going on.

Which is my point: monitoring is unnecessary until you have a customer complaint in hand. If I'm hitting my various goals in terms of talk time, schedule adherance, hold time, etc, if I'm getting an amount of surveys in proportion to the calls I'm taking that indicates I'm offering it, and if my call documentation numbers are up, then in my opinion, you should have a customer complaint in your hand before you start listening to my calls.

Yeah, yeah, I know, I know... I'm whining because I don't like it when other people eavesdrop on how I do my work. To which I say a couple of things: you'd hate it too, if it was happening to you, and at least if we did it my way, there would be an objective standard that had to be met before I had to worry about some idiot who hasn't taken an active call in years (if ever) deciding that "there is a problem with your tone".

First, no, there isn't a problem with my tone. Second, there also isn't a problem with me using my sense of humor to set a customer at ease. I've worked at many call centers; I've done this for a long time. I know what I'm doing; I have customer commendations in stacks and piles and no justified customer complaints, ever. I've had customers complain about me, and I've had those calls pulled and gone over with me, and I have never been written up for anything a customer complained about, much less disciplined or fired.

Any job where you deal with thousands of customers, some of them are going to be mean, stupid, and unpleasant, and decide that if you won't comp their thousand dollar international calls to Belize, or process their six hundred dollar claim for "a medically necessary prosthesis" (that somehow or other they still cannot get any doctor to write them a letter of medical necessity regarding) they are going to get you in trouble with your supe. But those guys are idiots. My real customers love me. They always love me, at every customer service job I have. And I show up for work on time and I hit my stats.

And to me, all that should be the bottom line. So when some half senile maundering bitter obviously desperately lonely old wannabe grandmother listens to one of my calls and decides that my TONE was a problem (although the customer did not complain), and calls my supervisor up about it, and they listen to six more of my calls (monitored during a period when we had about a dozen people constantly in queue for several hours straight and I was just doing my best to process them all as quickly as possible so the center's stats wouldn't suck) and find out "hey, he isn't offering the survey or documenting all his calls"... that kind of thing just aggravates me. If my stats are good, and you don't have a customer complaint fluttering in your hand, you shouldn't be listening to my calls. Period.

I understand that people who monitor other people are, for the most part, petty and unpleasant, they've generally failed at every other job they've tried to do in the call center, and the whole Quality Control niche is essentially just a control thing... it's not enough to be able to look at a board and see who is on the phones and who isn't, and what the people on the phones are doing, and why the people off the phones aren't on right now, and to check stats and take escalations... no, management wants to actually LISTEN to what you are doing, because that puts a little more fear into you and keeps you straight. If you never know when Big Brother is watching, well, you never dare to scratch yourself. I understand all that.

I'm just really tired of Big Brother.

And I think a call center in which people were not monitored until a customer complained about them would be a more relaxed place to work, where employee morale would be much higher.

Supposedly, employee morale is regarded as a good thing, although in all honesty, I've never worked at a call center where management was willing to do anything that might actually make a significant difference to it. Set aside a thousand bucks a month for idiotic sales prizes, sure. Get rid of a completely unnecessary dress code so your people can relax and do their job a little better? Oh no, can't do that, then the suits might actually be envious of the people making a tenth of their salary. And ditch monitoring unless there is a specific, objective reason to do it to a particular rep? Oh noooooooo. Random monitoring is an essential supervisory tool; a modern call center would descend into primordial chaos if a bunch of tiny minded bureaucratic assholes weren't listening in on everyone's calls all the time.

Crap. People just like being snoopy, and take any justifiable opportunity to do it.

Now let's talk about security. The building where I work has security guards at the front and back doors, and the full time employees have electronic badges that let them in and out of the doors. Now, keeping the doors locked and making everyone use their badge to get in and out makes sense to me. It's scurrilous, petulant, bullying sense; management wants to track people as much as they possibly can, and electronic badges combined with internal check points is another fine tool for those who are already emotionally inclined to implement police state tactics whenever and wherever possible.

Other than providing a computerized roster of who went in and out when, though, it's not good for much. It does free your managers up from the need to do attendance, I guess... but in call centers, at least, people get paid by their call logs, anyway, so it seems very futile to me. It is, again, essentially a control issue... just another way for The Man to intrude a little tentacle into your sphere of privacy at work. "No, no, you don't come and go as you please here, buddy," this says. "We track you everywhere you go."

All this is stupid, and I imagine it's not inexpensive stupidity, either... the people who install these security systems and who do maintenance on them must be making a fortune, but the companies that use them are most likely shelling out hundreds of thousands of dollars and getting very little in return. Does it help narrow down a suspects list when one of the spare computers from a long empty carrel disappears one night? Maybe... I guess... but in all honesty, all you have to do is prop one door open (like maintenance people do all the time so they can get outside to smoke) and then you can come and go whenever you like. It's kind of pointless... and it won't stop petty theft of office supplies (people carry that stuff out in pockets and bookbags and purses) and that's the kind of thing that costs corporations big money (supposedly).

So, unless you're running a place with a lot of cash or easily pawned and portable valuables lying around unsecured, I don't think locked doors and security badges get you much. A spurious sense of safety, maybe... one that you're paying through the nose for. But I guess most managers are insecure enough to find the warm feeling of control they get when they walk by such a checkpoint is enough.

What really strikes me as crazy, though, is having security guards at the doors where I work. I mean, look, I work at a CALL CENTER. We don't have big Scrooge McDuck type money bins in the building, nor do we have sacks of jewels lying around, nor are they any classified documents or national defense secrets lying in dossiers on anyone's desk. No one who isn't being paid to show up is going to ever want to enter the building where I work, not for any reason. And we have locked doors with electronic entry badges, although they don't give electronic badges to us temps (or 'seasonals', as they so coyly call us) so I can see where they would need some kind of workaround for us (although most other places I've worked at with this situation just issue electronic badges to the temps, because you can deprogram those things with the push of a button, and generally telling a temp "you need to turn in your badge or we deduct $60 from your final paycheck" is enough to get us to, you know, turn in our badge).

So I don't believe that the security guards at my building are just there to make sure us temps sign in when we walk into the building. Security guards are expensive, giving several hundred temps badges would have to be cheaper, I'd imagine. Nonetheless, we have security guards. And I'm bitching about this now because last week, after going in the front door just like a real person for six weeks (I'm not doing it just to be contrary, the bus drops me off out front and it's a loooooong walk around the building to the back, as I discovered on my first day), I got told by some Frank Burns type I'd never seen before that seasonals had to go in the back door, which was where the sign in books were kept, and we had to sign in.

He was very firm. The fact that the guards normally stationed at the desk had been letting me in with a smile and a wave and a "have a nice day" whenever I knocked on the glass for six weeks didn't back him up a step, and he wasn't troubled at all by the notion that, hey, I WORK HERE, DIPSHIT, I wouldn't bother showing up in this dump 5 days a week otherwise, either. He was going to talk to his staff and make sure they understood the rules, and I was going to enter and exit by the prescribed access point and sign in and out as I was required to do from this point on, regardless of the inconvenience to me, and that was that.

Fucker.

So, I've been trying to figure out exactly why my job, or maybe the people who own the building and rent it out to my job, are shelling out so much money on live security guards. It seems unlikely that it's just to harass seasonals who want to come in by the closest door to the bus stop -- I mean, management would do that if it didn't cost much, sure, but they must be paying these guards a bundle.

So... why are they there? Why does a complex that already has locks on the doors that you need a key card to get past need live security guards on the doors? All I can think of is that they're afraid someone who is pissed off because we wouldn't pay his claim is going to show up with an axe or a gun.

Now, this is a common fear at call centers... there isn't a customer service center in the world where you don't have to say 'no' to customers once in a while (or, you know, if you're David Spade, constantly) and some of them do take it amiss, yes, they do. But driving to River City with a gun to take revenge strikes me as... well, it's just crazier than anyone with a flex spending account is likely to be, anyway.

I suppose they could be there as a measure against, you know, a whacked out employee, or disgruntled ex employee, coming in and taking hostages and shooting up the management staff. But... well... a whacked out employee will still have his badge, and if he (or she, I guess) wants to kill the Boss, or that person who really really annoys them sitting in the next cubicle, chances are they're going to smile as they go by the guard with the gun in their coat pockets. A disgruntled ex employee shouldn't have his badge active anymore, and if he does, well, same thing... the guard isn't going to see the gun when this guy or girl goes by him.

Yet, suppose for a second that the guard at the door does see someone with a weapon coming in. What do they do? These guys aren't armed. If someone with a gun comes up to their desk, their choice is simple... do nothing and hope they live, or do something and become the first hostage/victim of the Call Center Shooting Spree.

I honestly can't see the grim spectre of Call Center Violence as being something that is likely enough to justify paying a staff of unarmed security guards who can't prevent it anyway. I mean, if you're really worried about it, get some off duty cops up there with .45s on their hips.
If you're not... then... why bother?

I guess it's all just to make me walk around the damn building, after all.

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