Off Center
 
Few people understand as well as I do the challenges contact center agents face. I was not only once an agent, I was one of the worst agents in the history of customer care. Fortunately for me and everybody else, my career on the frontline was brief.

It’s not that I didn’t care about doing a good job on the phones; rather, I simply felt they rang too often. I would go to great measures to avoid answering calls. When I wasn’t pressing the “release” button to drop callers, I was faking severe gastroenteritis and hiding in the restroom.

I felt that the other agents were far too serious. They were always adhering to scripts and schedules, and worrying too much about whether or not they resolved customers’ issues. I, on the other hand, endeavored to make the few calls I actually answered fun and interesting without stressing out so much about the overall outcome. My supervisor, while sometimes entertained by my antics, was often enraged by my abandonment rate and freewheeling approach to customer service.

I remember one time she called me into her cubicle:

“Greg, we have a problem here,” she said sternly.

“I’ll say we do,” I responded. “I mean, who chose the carpeting and lighting in this joint?”

“Forget that, Greg. Here’s a copy of yesterday’s performance stats. As you can see, the other agents handled an average of 103 calls each. You handled 12.”

“Well, if you’re going to look just at the numbers, then yeah, it looks bad,” I replied. “But some things are more important than the bottom line – like how much I make customers laugh.”

“That’s the other problem we have,” she said. “We didn’t hire you so you could use your talk time to sharpen your stand-up comedy routine.”

“But humor is very useful for building customer rapport and relationships.”

“Yes, but sometimes you offend customers.”

“What? Give me one example,” I demanded.

“Okay. This morning you told that one customer they sounded like James Earl Jones.”

“Yeah? So? How is that offensive? Mr. Jones has one of the most captivating voices in the world. Most people would consider it an honor to be compared to him.”

“Well, that customer called back to speak to me afterward, and let’s just say that SHE was not pleased.”

I continued to butt heads with management for the remainder of my time working in the contact center. I’m not saying that I was always right or that they were always wrong; I’m just saying I would be thrilled to have a voice like James Earl Jones.

I admit, I had a problem with authority. I didn’t even like it when my supervisor told me to "Have a nice evening" at the end of my shift. I’d say to myself, “I just spent the last 10 hours answering calls from irate people – I should have the freedom to have a perfectly miserable evening.”

I became very spiteful. Anything my supervisor said to do, I’d either ignore her or break into tears so she’d ignore me. If she told me to go available for calls, I’d stay unavailable. If she told me to stop pressing the “mute” button during calls so I could swear at customers, I’d continue pressing it and using even more obscene language. If she yelled at me to come into her cubicle for a discussion, I’d… well, that I’d actually do because it got me off the phones.

Then, for reasons I’ll probably never fully understand, I got fired. Or maybe I quit.

As you can see, I had a tough first day on the phones.

I never could have imagined how difficult it was being a contact center agent. I was forced into stressful conversations with strangers, many of whom already decided they didn’t like me or anything I stood for… and those were just my co-workers. I had to spend the entire day sitting in a chair in a cramped space – except for during slow periods, when I’d nap under my workstation. And worst of all, I was expected to handle call after difficult call without making fun of customers or their families.

My hat goes off to contact center agents everywhere. If you are a manager or a supervisor, please let your agents read this post so they can see how all that they do, all that they’re up against, does not go unnoticed and is very much appreciated. Then tell them to get back to work immediately so that they don’t screw up the center’s service level results.

And finally, let them know that if they ever decide to ask a customer out on a date, they should make absolutely sure the call isn’t being monitored.



Karen Wenborn
8/16/2012 11:53:47 pm

I shouldn't be laughing at this, really I shouldn't. But I am. Perhaps because, once upon a time, I was an agent too. :-)

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8/17/2012 12:00:30 am

Yes, Karen, you should be laughing. Everybody I worked with in the contact center was laughing. Just not the manager or my supervisor.

I want to hear your agent confessions some time.

Have a great weekend!

Greg

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Kevin Carly
8/17/2012 12:24:44 am

GL,

Through another great article, there is one thing that stuck with me: Your mute button actually worked.

This is a strong testament to two things that must be highlighted. First, Contact Centers in general are constrained with a concept of "minimum investment, lowest paid team members, highest expectations". Anyone who can make a career out of this should change their meds. Or share with me. Kudos to Contact Center Agents everywhere!

Second, your article begs a question. James Earl Jones or Morgan Freeman? Both are iconic, but Jones played the galaxy's 2nd most devious bad guy..until he became good guy. Freeman played God. Plus, Jones also is known for having the worst villain hair cut in cinematic history when he played Thulsa Doom in Conan the Barbarian.

I'm going with Freeman on this one.

Kev

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8/17/2012 03:15:40 am

You're a better man than me Greg. I wouldn't last a full day.

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8/17/2012 03:18:36 am

Sorry Kev, I'll forever think of penguins at the very mention of Morgan Freeman... ever since he narrated that award-winning documentary -- half of which I slept through.

Thanks for your comment!

By the way, I'll soon be sharing with the world the guest post you submitted -- I just have to finishing editing it so you sound as brilliant and as hilarious as me. Off Center readers (all 9 of them) have exceptionally high standards.

-G

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Kevin Carly
8/17/2012 03:24:42 am

Thank you. I tried to use as many monosyllabic words as possible just to make this easy on you. I look forward to seeing that post. It reminds me of karaoke night when I get up and sing Sinatra. I always warn people I'll be doing my best impersonation of Sinatra...doing his worst impersonation of me. Somehow it still ends up being somewhat entertaining.

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8/17/2012 03:21:50 am

Technically Matt, I only lasted 0.9987 days -- according to my daily performance scorecard. I still have it hanging on my fridge.

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8/17/2012 03:28:14 am

Yes, Kev, but there's no risk of you destroying SINATRA'S career...

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Aakriti
8/22/2012 04:03:18 am

This is hilarious.... Man, it took me back to those days when i was on the other side of the phone... Hahahahahaha.... Was exactly the same.... :P Good Job Buddy.... :D :D

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10/18/2012 10:37:18 pm

Thanks for your article. Been there, done that myself - love being on the other side now. What is consistent in your writings (for me) and I've read lots going back to your Xmas poem days, is your sense of humor while driving home significant points at the same time. I think the brain and our limited belief systems get tricked into imbibing information when it's done with humor. I also appreciate your lightness - taking away the heaviness that is sometimes put upon the contact center environments. Bravo! And regards.

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Roxane
11/7/2013 08:16:54 am

This was a great story! Having spent over 7 years in a call center myself' I can totally relate! I too was often in my managers cubicle... she use to always tell me, lives too short to not be happy. I could never understand why such a miserable person would continually repeat this quote! I mean, take your own advice!! One day.... thankfully... I did take that advice! I do have an appreciation for anyone still working in a call center. I think if it wasn't such a numbers game it would be a great job..

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3/2/2014 11:43:35 pm

I don’t ordinarily comment but I gotta tell thank you for the post on this special one

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