Cube Farm Fever Part II: The Wild of the Call

Hi, folks! It’s great to be talking to you again (or typing to you…you know what I mean). It’s been a wild 12 months. I have faced the loss of several loved ones. I have endured the ordeal of fixing a fractured ankle. On top of all of that, I have also returned to the work force (as of about a month ago). That has been a very welcome change. It finally gave my wife the opportunity to try to reshape the large gluteal impression in our couch. Plus, if nothing else, it gets me out of the house for a few hours. To be honest, I think even the cats were getting sick of me. Apparently, those months I spent hobbling around the house with an orange cast and a walker was somehow upsetting their routine of sleeping, eating, and fighting one another.

The new job places me back into a familiar environment: the call center. This is an environment in which I have worked several times over the last 8 years or so. Once I worked as a “professional fundraiser” for a non-profit organization. It paid bills for a short while but I hated being that guy that called someone as they were having spaghetti with their kids. Fortunately, the bulk of my call center experience has been in customer support. I have supported a variety of customer types ranging from end users (your average Joe consumer) to corporate officers and system administrators. I have also have the privilege of getting to known who have done call center support for other product types than I have. I have come to discover that, no matter what the product is being supported and no matter what customer type is involved, you basically deal with the same thing – people.

Now, when you are dealing with customer support (especially in a call center), you have to develop somewhat of a thick skin. Why is that? Think about it for a moment. Remember that time you had to make a call to dispute a bill you got in the mail? What about the call you had to make to return an item you ordered over the Internet? You know what I am talking about, don’t you? That time when you made that call and you may have not been the biggest ray of sunshine to the support agent on the other end of the phone; how did you treat the agent (or his superior when you decided to take it up a notch)?

Now, imagine being on the other end of that conversation. When the customer is having a bad experience, you get labeled as anything from “YOU PEOPLE!” to things I won’t repeat here (after all, this is a family show). It’s the job of the support agent (such as myself) to turn that experience around for the caller. More often than not, my fellow call center agents and I are able to resolve the issue at hand. Still, you have to endure the beatdown to get to that point and, sometimes, even when you resolve the issue, the customer still hates you because you are the focal point of their stress. Getting a few of those over the course of a shift can be stressful especially when the calls come one right after the other (and they typically do).

The good news is that there IS another extreme. There is also a significant number of callers who think you are a hero. You have seemingly made their day. These customers not only thank you for your work. They praise you to the ceiling (and sometimes even to your superiors). Once I had a customer who called with an issue. After I helped to resolve the issue, he emphatically thanked me. He said that I made his life easier. He then explained this his girlfriend of 25 years passed away suddenly several months previously. The day he called me with his issue, he was having a harder than usual time dealing with the grief and my help made him feel better. That call made me feel like the king of the call support world. That’s an even higher position that what Leonardo Di-What’sHisName achieved in that movie where he overacted (I know. Which one?)

Now this range of experiences can induce a different strain of what I previous identified as Cube Farm Fever. I call this strain The Wild of The Call (WoTC). The different extremes tend to tug you in a variety of directions. When you clock out, you are exhausted and drained. How does one combat this malaise that sometimes comes on a nightly basis? Well, for me, my approach comes from several angles. One is the fact that I was unemployed for nearly 11 months. The most stressful job in the world is better than unemployment. Besides, it’s hardly my most stressful job in my adult life. Another part of it comes from the blessing of having raised children to adulthood. Just like customer support, sometimes you are “YOU PEOPLE”. Sometimes, you are the hero. Just like customer support, those extremes can happen in the same day. The other approach that I take comes from my friend (who is also my karate instructor). Many days, when he knows I am stressed about (insert subject here), he tells me: “STOP! BREATHE! ACCEPT! ADAPT AND MOVE FORWARD!” The other karate-related philosophy is that the goal of any given day is to improve upon the previous day.  That helps stave off the WoTC in most cases.

Having said all that, the next time you have to call customer support for something: try to go a bit easy on them. You are talking to a human being. You’ll feel better for it (trust me). Also, fill out those surveys. If your experience was good or bad, your input has great potential to make an impact in the future. Thanks for reading this today. My name is Shane. Have a great day. (Whoa! The effects of WoTC must still be hanging on after my day off).