Off Center
 
Nobody could have foreseen the on-the-job meltdown of Tim Thomas, a veteran customer service agent for Alabama Light & Electric (ALE), during a tropical storm last summer. Tim had endured numerous call deluges during regional power outages in the past without so much as a whimper or a whine. His fellow agents had always revered his skill, dedication and resolve – particularly his use of adult diapers during peak periods to cut down on his time offline.

To them, Tim was invincible – until the afternoon of Thursday July 14, 2011. While handling calls during the three-day long storm that left nearly half of ALE’s customers without power, Tim suddenly snapped. In the middle of a call, he punched his computer screen and threw his “Employee of the Year” plaque at the contact center’s readerboard before attempting to eat his headset. His colleagues and supervisors were shocked – never before had they heard Tim forget to use the proper call closing with a customer.

Tim’s manager recently discovered the personal journal Tim had been keeping right up until he freaked out. The journal entries from the days during the storm provide a fascinating and vivid account of the unfortunate unraveling of ALE’s star agent, who has since moved on to work for the U.S. Postal Service as a mail carrier.  

Below are several of the aforementioned journal entries:

Monday, July 11 - 4:30 pm: High winds and heavy rain have left many of our customers in the dark. I’m handling about 50 calls an hour – just wish I could do more. All those nice people trying to get through to us for information and consolation. I love each of them like family. My manager just offered me some pizza, but I told him I couldn’t possibly take time to eat while our customers are suffering so. I think I’ll volunteer to work through the night.

Tuesday, July 12 - 11:15 am: The wind and rain are unrelenting.Things sure are crazy around here – call after call after call from frantic customers. But that’s why I became a rep. I live for helping others. Granted, it would have been easier if these people didn’t yell at me whenever I answer the phone. Don’t they know I didn’t cause this tropical storm? Don’t they understand I’m on their side? Probably not – most of them don’t even know their own zip code. Oops, that was mean and uncalled for. Shouldn’t lash out like that. Must stay focused. I wonder if there’s any leftover pizza from yesterday.

Tuesday, July 12 - 5:20 pm: I’ve handled 120 calls in the past hour and a half. Can’t get my eyelid to stop twitching. I’m starting to regret not going to work on my uncle’s farm. No phones there. No confining workstations. Just fresh air and plenty of nice goats.

Wednesday, July 13 - 9:45 am: My supervisor just hung a banner in the middle of the contact center that reads, “Don’t Give Up.” How encouraging. I should hang him in the middle of the contact center by his stupid tie. Oh, but then who would monitor my every word and action? As I write this, an annoying caller is babbling into my ear – something about a down power line in her backyard. I just thanked her for completely ignoring our IVR, which is designed to handle such types of calls and save me from wanting to cut myself. I told her a technician would be there as soon as possible, and recommended she go out and mow her lawn in the meantime. She hung up. But what’s this? Surprise! Another call is coming in. Probably just Satan.

Thursday, July 14 - I have no freaking idea what time it is: The rain and wind will never stop. The calls will never stop. My eyelid twitch will never stop. All the customers are out to get me.They’re each plotting ways to have their calls routed directly to me. They want to see me crack, but I refuse to let them destroy me. They have no idea whom they are dealing with, the powers I possess, how easy it is for me to press the “release” button. They may have taken away my lunch break, but they’ll never defeat me. Never. Never! Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha!

That was Tim’s final journal entry before his complete meltdown. Three supervisors tried to restrain him when he became violent, but they were no match for his surprising strength. The struggle didn’t stop until the contact center manager shot Tim with one of the tranquilizer darts usually reserved for neutralizing agents on payday.