Saturday, July 27, 2013

Call Center Confessions

We sat in wedges.  Nondescript wedges completing a circle and pointing to a center of nothing.  Imagine a Trivial Pursuit game piece, that you snap colored triangles in as you master subjects, or one of those circular cheeses made up of individually wrapped triangular chunks.  This is the better analogy, as each desk had it's own slightly off cheese-odor.  Some people bring in family photos and potted plants to their office; we brought our own Clorox wipes.  We couldn't bring in photos or plants if we wanted to because we weren't coming back to an assigned spot.  The beginning of each shift was a silent, bitter battle to secure a somewhat less disgusting wedgicle for the day.

The initial training lasted eight weeks.  I loved training.  I love learning- even about cellular customer service.  I felt very proud when I scored 100% on my final exam.  I know it isn't a big deal.  It just felt good to excel.  Fast forward 12 weeks, waiting for my next call, and silently enduring a panic attack.  Nothing was wrong.  No one had yelled at me, and yet, there I was, realizing that this was as good as it gets, and not knowing what to do.  I sat there waiting for a call that wasn't coming when I felt the hand of my Supervisor on my shoulder,

"Hey, do you want to go home?  The queue is low."

Home?  Did I want to go home?  Oh, yes.  I wanted to go home.  I had never been asked that by an employer before.  I felt like an angelic choir was going to appear. 

"Yes, I would...thank you, I think I'm having a small panic attack right now.  Going home would be good."

My Supervisor's expression shifted from confusion, to concern, to discomfort.  I think he was wondering why I was telling him this.  His team's emotional problems were slightly above his pay grade.

"Oh, man.  Well, close out your programs and feel better..."

He walked away. 

The concept of going home early sank in.  It did not fix me.  I was genuinely having a mild panic attack in that moment.  However, I felt such relief.  So much did I love getting to go home, that I began impatiently waiting for slow queues.  Eventually I discovered a bulletin board in the back where you could sign up to leave early.  That's right- SIGN UP to LEAVE EARLY.  My first stop every shift was to see if they were asking for volunteers.  One time they made an announcement that the sheet was going up.  Everyone who was not on a call put themselves in break mode and ran to the back.  I joined them as soon as my call was done.  As I headed back I overheard two employees talking about it,

Employee #1:  "Why does everybody want to go home?"

Employee #2:  "Ha, they hate money."

I don't know why that conversation has stuck with me for so long.  I thought it was absurd at the time, but I think I now see where he was coming from.  You work hard, you earn money, you pay bills, pay off debt, plan for vacations, stay on top of everything.  You keep signing up to leave early- your paycheck suffers, your debts and dreams suffer.  However, I still don't believe anyone signing up "hated money."  I believe they loved something else more.  Loved getting home to have dinner with their family- (we worked the swing shift- 2pm to 11pm).  Loved getting to hang out with friends.  Loved going home and taking a nap, etc.  Most of us were not in a job we loved.  We made the most of it, but the pull to stay would never equal or exceed the pull to experience everything else. 

I stayed in my position for about eleven months.  Then, with the urging of a friend, I interviewed and obtained a position as an Front Office Manager in a Physical Therapy clinic.  For a long time this was a better fit.  I really enjoyed it, but ultimately, I moved on.  Several missteps later and where am I now?  Yep, a Call Center.  But a nicer one.  With a real cubicle that I can decorate, and co-workers that I know by name.  It is not what I hope to be doing for the rest of my life, but I'm not praying for a sign up sheet either.



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