It was a dark and stormy night. Sorry, I've always wanted to put that in print.
I work(ed) in a call center. I’m the perky happy-butt you hate talking to. I love it, because as a general rule I can’t stand people. That endearing attribute and the fact that I’m a pathological liar makes me the perfect candidate for the job.
I sell face-creams, zit medicine, exercise programs, exercise equipment, time-shares, vacuum cleaners, male enhancement product, vitamins, magazines and just about everything you see on TV that no one really needs. I take applications for credit cards for four or five different financial institutions. I trouble-shoot TV equipment for doofs that forget to turn their sets on. I sell TV programming, resolve billing problems, and provide therapy for angry, annoying, people whose food stamp cards won't pay for what they bought. No one working at the call center can afford any thing we sell.
My typical day starts about 7:00 am. I normally consider skipping work for a while but I need the benefits. I’d really rather stay home and watch TV. Come to think of it the pay is about the same.
Walking in the door takes will power and a special magnetic card. Kind of makes you feel like you're on Dr. No's island. There is always a crabby guard that welcomes you with... well he doesn't, he’s too busy playing solitaire. He does, however grunt professionally. The guard looks like Howdy Doody might if he was sixty-five years old. There's a long hallway after that with inspirational posters all over the walls. Always brings a tear to my eye.
Upon arriving to the main production area where I work, the drone of rows and rows of lost souls answering phones accost my senses. It's like being in a giant kazoo. The dull roar of their noise as they work and chat makes me feel as if I could reach out and physically brush the sound away and it would be quiet. When it doesn’t work I act like I’m swatting at flies just in case anyone is watching.
Computers hate me and have earned my enmity till the end of time. Initially they look so modern and full of promise, gleaming in lines of calculated poses like models on the runway. It doesn’t matter which one I sit at, I can’t talk or cajole it in to operating. I feel like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football Lucy is holding. Some day I am going to find the programmer for that virtual desktop, get a three-foot, iron hourglass and beat him to death with it. I just know when I give up trying to get a computer to work, turn my back and move to another, all the other computers are chortling and calling me a idiot in binary language. Of course they will work fine for the next person. If I call a supervisor to help me, he only has to wave his hand over it and it will salute and boot up.
My hydraulic ergonomic chair sinks to the floor about every two minutes and I am soon typing over my shoulders and craning my head upwards to see the screen. Occasionally my head gets stuck in that position when I leave and I have to pretend to be studying the ceiling or looking for airplanes for a while. The screen generally has a company logo burned in to it and has non-working color controls. My head set is stuck at the highest volume and customers are usually screamers. Talking on the phone wouldn't be so bad if you could turn the sound off. Pretty soon it doesn’t matter as the taped on mouthpiece falls off my headset, unplugs from the phone and I have to find another computer.
Eventually I’ll be prepared enough to be abused by callers. About every ten minutes some male cheerleader, who is the type of person who puts cucumbers in his pants, runs by my desk clapping and screaming "encouragement" to sell things with a voice louder than us as well as many nuclear tests. When people I'm talking to on the phone ask who is screaming, I tell them there is a drunk loose in the building that security hasn't subdued yet. If I want, I’m sure I can sue him for giving me PTSD. I should call OSHA. If quota is met, he then runs around screaming about how proud of them he is. It's like being potty trained. I'm sure they will promote him soon.
The staff generally refers to their cubicles as anti-productivity pods and often compares them to bathroom stalls only shorter, worse smelling and with more graffiti. The cloth earth tone covering of the stalls add to the thought dampening effect. It's just as well; in these types of jobs most people function better if in a coma. They are not sure if they're dead and in a coffin or just wishing they were.
Workers often pop up and down peeping over their little cubicles like desperate sewer workers trying to get some air and sunlight. Hormone-drenched juveniles cluster together in little groups as far away from the older people as they can get. Glaring neon light fixtures seem like rows of empty aluminum ice trays upside down in the ceiling of acoustic tiles and accentuate the mundane, mind numbing symmetry of the layout. The occasional wisp of smoke as a computer burns out is always a welcome relief to the monotony.
The attire of employees is varied, from rodeo duds, to concert wear for a Marilyn Manson show, to little old winemakers, hookers and bag ladies. The Village People could pick up some tips from our employees.
People employed here are carefully screened and trained to think in "parameters," an interesting word that means "everything I am able to discuss has to fit into this small two-dimensional box of information on my computer screen or you will overload my brain and I might say something the company could be liable for."
Independent opinions and signs of a personality are mightily frowned upon and can even be grounds for dismissal. The employee's need to be recognized as humans manifest itself in various, bizarre self-expressions including illnesses that results in an absenteeism approaching sixty percent on the weekends, crossword or sudoku addictions, and people writing articles like this one. Personality disorders are the norm due to the verbal abuse by angered customers who don't read the fine print.
There are always two or three new employee training classes being conducted. Classes are so exciting that younger attendees pay so close attention they wear out about three I-phones and use up about three weeks of pay paging their friends. Older trainees come out surprised looking like a goat staring at a new fence.
New employees are generally unable to stand the place for more than three weeks. Sometimes I wonder if management pays select employees to just sign in once a month so turnover looks like it is in control.
The management tries to motivate us and compensate for our misery by giving us pieces of paper that look like diplomas proclaiming our achievements to avoid giving us money. There are also, (Yay!) 'Morale' bucks that we can use to buy pens that don't write, foam beer can holders, key rings with corporate logos, DVD's that go on and on about what great products we sell and other things we don't want.
Considering the noises in the bathroom stalls, I would guess gastronomic disorders are not irregular. (Somebody stop me.) Every month seems like it is national fiber month. I'm sure the vending machines, and nose-picking vendors contribute to these explosive occurrences.
Every other agent sounds like he or she has a cold or needs adenoid surgery. The coughing and stuffy nose sounds make me occasionally wonder if our building was at one time an animal shelter, or biochemical government experiment. In so far as it possible to tell, none of them die. Considering how prevalent the symptoms are, I imagine the Agency gets kickbacks from local allergists, a percentage of which goes to the Health Dept in the form of bribes. I think it’s because the AC and heating ducts, which have never been cleaned, are harboring dead animals or missing employees. To misdirect suspicions they put up hanging plants in hopes of giving enough oxygen to finish our shift. The younger employees grow pot in them.
I know it's hard to imagine but there is a worse job than sales. It is supervisor, or as it’s called in the industry, team leader. Team leaders take all the calls that the twenty-five sales people on their team are not empowered to deal with, which is about fifty five percent of them, so they spend more time on the phone than agents. They track attendance, effectiveness and other useless metrics and read worthless emails with instructions that will be invalid by the time they are done reading them. They schedule vacations that no one will approve. They coach new, ill trained employees in hopes of preventing their enlightenment to their hopelessness. Team leaders must act happy and tell superiors how great they are or they are considered to have a bad attitude and get demoted to the morale department. They report worthless statistics no one will ever look at because some idiot MBA in India, who gets paid a roll of Lifesavers a month, says so. Said idiot spends most of his time trying not to pee his pants laughing at the 'stupid Americans'. These are the same idiots who write the programs that crash when team leaders try to report the statistics. This is why I started my crack habit. I’m thinking of getting a job cleaning urinals… just not here. Oh well, curried hummus rolls down hill.
This was written at a time when I was feeling lower than worm dung, especially about having to have to work in such a depressing place. There was simply nothing else. I was made to work on the phones for six weeks and afterward I frequently observed other team leaders openly weeping because of the pressure. One time I caught a girl giving a lap dance in an unpopulated area. Try motivating those type of people. The pay was less than what I've ever accepted. It was basically babysitting twenty five wah-wahs and I did not blame them. This is an example of when writing can be therapeutic and laughter can be invaluable.