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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Things I learned working for a call center

Once upon a time I worked in a call center for a major cable company that shall remain unnamed out of fear of a crack squad of lawyers I'm sure they have at the ready unlike actual technicians. That job was a rather eye opening experience as it was the first time I directly dealt with customers. What is more I was dealing with customers from West Virginia even though I was in California because that was just how the system worked. Among the things I learned on that job the following are either the most prominent or humorous.

1) A lot of people have no idea where they live

Where do you live? Seems a simple question. And one that most of us probably never give much thought. But, boy, did this question cause a lot of issues for me.

For one thing I am used to how things work in California where building a house requires a certain amount of legal paperwork. First you need a property to build a house on. This property will have a number attached to it. Most of us know this as the physical address. You must first be in legal possession to that numbered bit of land to get permits to build anything there. When the house gets built that number transfers to the dwelling and stays with it until an official act of government changes it.

That's how it works in California. In West Virginia things are apparently a bit different. There people will see a bit of slightly clear, level land and park a double wide trailer on it. That is then their home. Who owns the land? Often they had no idea. Well what about mail? Well they'd get a rented box in town for that. Somehow they had electric service and trying to figure out how the billing for that was set up without an actual address hurt my head.

This meant that a lot of people would only know of their home by its actual geographic description. "Third house up Jones Lane" would be a typical type of description that would apparently mean something to them but nothing to me when I looked it up and saw no such road, wagon trail or slightly trampled grass path designated "Jones Lane" anywhere on any map of their region that didn't also have locales designated as "Where Dragons Live".

"Well Jones is just the first house on Jones Lane," they would then explain. The actual name of the road? Beats the hell out of them.

This is when I'd start to tear out my hair.

2) Men knew nothing about where they lived

Sometimes the customers would live in a house with an actual legal address. Naturally this information is somehow considered sacred knowledge that men never, ever seemed to know but women did. And, of course, it was always the man calling in. Why it is that in West Virginia it is considered the man's job to call the cable company? Beats me. But it somehow is. And that man never knows anything about where he lives. We've already covered the address thing but what about the home phone number? Or postal code? Nope, dream on. That is top secret woman only information.

And I'm not asking about this information because I was trying to be difficult. For reasons I'll get to later in this article it was important I know this stuff at the beginning of the phone call. And, because the man calling in never knew any of it and somehow was afraid that he wouldn't properly be able to relay the information from the one person that did know it the phone would have to be passed over to the wife or girlfriend.

How it was that men never at any point deemed it a worthy use of time to learn something, anything about where they lived confounded me until the day I left that job.

3) A lot of people got free services and did not know it

One of the big reasons I had to get the highly protected gender encoded secrets about where a person lived was because the first thing I'd do when someone called in to complain their cable was not working was to look up if they had an account with the cable company. Yep, notice I said "if they had an account" because a shockingly large percentage of the time they wouldn't have one. That's right. No account. They were seriously wanting to know why a service they had never signed up for had suddenly ceased.

How did this happen? Well you'd be surprised. A cable system is a large labyrinthine mess that usually can only be understood in map form by mystics high on psychotropic drugs communing on mountain tops. Of course cable companies don't usually employ mystics or wizards they have regular people with names like Joe or Debbie who make mistakes. This means lots of people get turned off by mistake and others get left plugged in.

So you have this situation where someone moves into the double wide trailer (the one with no address) and find that when they plug in their 17 inch Chromacolor Zenith TV set (this is a real thing they still use in West Virginia) they get basic cable. And then never seem to question how it is that this is happening despite no one getting paid for it, ever. Eventually the mistake is corrected by the cable company and then they call us up wondering what happened to their wonderful free home shopping network and HBO.

4) People think we get to make the big decisions in the call center

I was on duty one Friday night during a big pay-per-view broadcast of something called WrestleMania. Yes, this is a real thing that they charged about $50 for. So during this very expensive couple hours TV event a character called The Undertaker was taking on an adversary called The Towering Giant Gonzalez (all wrestling names are created by insomniac 11 year old boys on a sugar high) and the results of the match just did not live up to the Shakespearean drama that was apparently expected of something called WrestleMania. So of course people would call me to complain.

"Why didn't the ref disallow that headlock?" Someone would be asking me. You know, as if I actually I had a direct line to the WrestleMania operations center where the bigwigs were deciding if Doink The Clown would prevail that night or not (yes Doink The Clown was something that existed in the same universe that created the Voyager Spacecraft and The Night Watch).

Of course I would have no answer for this query as WrestleMania was something I barely even knew existed prior to this job. They might as well have been asking me for blueprints to the second level catacombs of Constantinople. Actually that might have yielded more fruitful results as at least then I had some clue as to what a catacomb was and where Constantinople had existed.

Other people would complain about plot points in ongoing network shows like Law & Order. I wasn't even trusted with a key to the janitor supply room but somehow I supposed to have Dick Wolf on speed dial.

5) People really are bad at taking hints

As terrible as critiques of WrestleMania were it was worse when the customer had a point and there was nothing I could do about it. At least nothing I officially could do about it. In one of many overpriced pay per view events Mike Tyson was set to box Clifford Etienne. This was a big deal to the company as the fight had been hyped up with numerous press events for months. It even had a name "Back To Business". At $40 it was not going to be cheap either. Naturally since most of our calls that night would be about it we decided to put the fight on in the office.

The fight began and 49 seconds later it was over. Technical knock out after Tyson landed a square right hook right into the side of Etienne's head that surely erased some cherished childhood memories.

The entire office was dead silent in a way that usually only follows someone announcing a murder clown sexual fetish just a little too loudly. Bubbling up in the mind of everyone there was the fact that the company had a well known no refund policy for pay per view fight events and people had just parted with what was probably their upcoming month's toilet paper budget to watch something that was over in less than a minute.

Of course the phone queue immediately filled to overflowing. Naturally the callers were pissed. But in a move that was part magnanimous gesture and part survival instinct everyone working there started to immediately try hinting to people that they weren't actually calling because the fight sucked but because they hadn't actually received the service. We were allowed to refund their purchase price if they hadn't actually gotten the product they had paid for. And this was vital information we tried very hard to impart onto the irate customers. And boy were they not willing to understand this.

"That fight sucked. I'm not paying for that!" Screaming redneck #785 would bellow at me.

"Oh, you mean the event you paid for didn't come through?" I would reply with the pleading nature of my famished hope practically flowing through the phone. Please, just get it I'd be thinking.

But....nope. They wouldn't get it. I was only trying to save them money in a way that would't get me fired but they were insistent on not paying for the fight that sucked not the fight they couldn't see *wink wink*

6) What they did allow me to do was weird

Remember how I wasn't trusted with basic janitor supplies? Well one of my routine jobs was to reset a geosynchronous satellite in orbit that carried all of the A&E networks. With a few keystrokes they'd let me completely reboot a piece of machinery that cost more than the Gross Domestic Product of many African nations. But heaven help me if I wanted to restock the paper towel dispenser without permission.

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