Sunday, May 29, 2005

Secrets of the world government

Today, I'll be telling you a little story about an employee that I affectionately call "The Crazy Hipster".

The Crazy Hipster is probably in his late fifties, but looks older due to his gray hair and gray stubble, which always looks like he forgot to shave for about a week. He has serious dental issues and has one eye that is always slightly askew. He typically wears a very conventional sweater and khakis, but always wears a creepy long brown trenchcoat over it.

Now, some of you may think that I use the word "crazy" pejoratively. Please keep reading. I truly mean it in the bona fide, clinical sense. This person is someone who, if you saw him on the bus, you would think that he spends his time wandering the streets and talking to aliens in his mind. You would think this before he even opens his mouth. Alas, it gets worse.

The Crazy Hipster has told me the following:

- He was trained in ninjitsu by the CIA.

- He knows the true story of who killed JFK, but can't tell me because he will be killed.

- He can see auras. My aura is, apparently, "lemony".

- He can use ninja healing arts to easily cure any illness.

- He is being closely monitored by the executives at my company.

- The Illuminati, the Mafia, and the Skull and Bones society are in fact one organization that controls the world.

There's much more, but I can't remember it all.

The Crazy Hipster likes me, because I'm friendly to him and I will talk to him without getting angry. He likes talking for long periods of time to the supervisors who aren't rude to him. I kind of enjoy it, though after about twenty minutes it gets old. He really likes to imply how intelligent he is and how much he could turn our company into a fantastic business, if only we would let him, because he has a master's degree, and has advanced theories about the nature of everything, and so on.

I wonder if he realizes that we will never promote him, because he is crazy.

The Crazy Hipster is very careful to not do anything that can get him fired. Even though he is crazy, he does do his job, and so we are stuck with him and all of his weirdness. I must confess that I would probably miss him if he left, though -- he makes the job interesting.

Plus, I'm looking forward to him telling me more secrets of the Illuminati.


Saturday, May 28, 2005

Miss Thang and her 'tude

Miss Thang, as I've mentioned previously, was one of my employees with a particularly nasty disposition. She embodies perfectly what I consider an urban attitude gone awry -- someone who really cannot function in society.

This type of individual will freely disrespect leaders directly to their face, act completely unprofessionally, and then complain that their supervisor is "all up in their face all the time".

They will freely make up horrible lies about supervisors or peers, accusing them of racism, sexual harassment, stealing, or unprofessional behavior -- yet reels back in shock and righteous anger when confronted with their own real misdeeds.

They behave in a childish, confrontational manner at all times, yet seem to sincerely wonder why they keep getting disciplined at work or fired.

I tend to believe that this kind of problem with authority and personal egotism comes from upbringing. I have no problem with any particular culture, but if you have kids, I'd advise not transferring the chip on your shoulder to them. It cripples them in corporate society. I believe in diversity; however, diversity does not mean that you are above the rules (in so long as the rules are reasonable and contribute to company success in a manner fair to all reasonable individuals).

Sadly, these individuals are usually hopeless. Because I am an authority figure -- even though I worked my way up -- I am labeled an enemy, an evil proponent of the policies of Whitey, or The Man, or whatever, out to repress and conquer. If I try to let someone know in a friendly manner that they are cruising themselves straight toward destruction, I am attacked in return. Masochist that I am, I still try, but I am no longer surprised when my gentle suggestion to start paying attention to scores or future employment with my company might be at risk causes the individual to start a full-fledged campaign intended to get me fired or, at least, cause all of my employees to hate me. Fortunately, my management and most of my employees are too smart for that.

Miss Thang was, for quite a few months, the thorn in my side. Because of her performance, I was trying to coach her regularly, hoping that she would get the hint and stop acting up. Every time she was at my desk, she would sigh loudly, shift in her chair, roll her eyes, and generally act in a completely infantile manner. At first -- being a new supervisor -- I hoped to win her over and help her realize that I wanted to help her keep her job.

After a while, my personal mission just became to get rid of her.

Firing someone at my company isn't easy. She had basically been never disciplined for her behavior, and had worked at my company for years. HR told me that, essentially, her poor work performance couldn't get her fired because it was so consistently bad for so long that we had, in a legal sense, had determined it acceptable. Fortunately or unfortunately, as with most individuals like her, Miss Thang also had ... other problems.

I hate to go after someone like that, but it's how it works -- I have to build a case for getting some to leave, and she was an embarassment to the company and to my department. I was wasting my time with her, I finally realized, and it's disheartening. I had failed. I don't know if there was much I could have done differently -- it was probably always a lost cause, but still.

When I finally had enough attendance issues, official warnings, and documentation, I did the deed. Surprisingly enough, she didn't get up and start swearing. When I told her we had decided to end her employment with my company, she just said "Thank you" and got up to leave.

That's how it ends -- not with a bang, but a whimper.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Hot as a burning fire

I fired someone today.

It was a similar situation to that of the agent in my previous post, whose story I blissfully recalled from memory. Though some sort of psychic osmosis, a similar caper was committed yesterday, and the offender caught and terminated in short order.

It just makes me mad. Confronted with the evidence, the person didn't even deny that they did it; they just disagreed on the degree of their crime, the number of completely reckless and unethical acts that they committed.

This particular person was on thin ice anyway, for various other issues that I won't recount. But, nonetheless, it just baffles me as to how someone can feel that they are above the rules, and that it's okay to shirk duty -- to the detriment of our company, our customers, and worst of all, their own peers who have to pick up the slack.

Everyone goofs off a little. I do too, sometimes. It's human nature and I understand, though if I catch you, I will call you on it because it's my job. Yet, even while I'm telling you to get back to work, I understand -- I used to be a CSR myself, and, as much as I did well, I was no saint, either. It can be a very hard job and everyone has bad days once in awhile.

Yet, there are some things that are just not okay. Violence, theft, or things which act in total disregard for our customer, our client, our company, and our co-workers are never excusable.

To those dishonorable, morally bankrupt individuals out there: beware that you don't work for me. I derive most of my joy in work out of helping my employees succeed and helping them find a happy little niche in my company. However, for you limited few who are complete wastes of space, I will extract similar pleasure simply from carefully watching you, documenting your every move, catching you in my net, and telling you to get the fuck out.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

So. Why aren't YOU taking calls?

True examples of excuses.

Agent: "I was going to go to the bathroom, but I just didn't get around to it."

Agent: "I was filling out this form."
Me: "Why is it taking twenty minutes? This should take maybe two minutes."
Agent: "I was concentrating really hard."

Agent: "My supervisor said I could."
Me: "And who is that exactly?"
Agent: "Uhhh, never mind."

Agent: [I'm calling on their phone] "I'm working on this account, it's really complicated!"
Me: "That's funny, I can see from my desk that you're looking at a newspaper."
Agent: "I'm getting back on."

Agent: "I'm on break."
Me: "No you're not, you just got here ten minutes ago. Get back on the phone."

I see an agent walking aimlessly around with a pencil.
Me: "Where are you going?"
Agent: "I'm looking for a pencil sharpener."
Me: "Uh, we don't even issue pencils, we don't have a pencil sharpener. Do you need a pen?"
Agent: "That's ok, I'll just keep looking."
Me: "Er, no you won't."

Agent: "I'm going to a training class."
Me: "That's tomorrow."
Agent: "[looks crestfallen] Can I stay off the phone for an hour anyway?"

Me: "Why are you offline for twenty minutes?"
Agent: "I'm having a problem with my computer."
Me: "What's wrong?"
Agent: "My password doesn't work."
Me: "Ok, which supervisor is helping you?"
Agent: "No one."
Me: "Okay... so how are you resolving this situation?"
Agent: "I restarted it eleven times, and it still doesn't work. I need a new computer."

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Run, don't walk

One weekend day, I was watching the call center floor with one other supervisor, "Rickie". Rickie was more experienced than me and was helping me watch the goings-on. While she was out, I was watching our floor monitoring software. It basically shows what agents are doing, so we can watch for people who are goofing off, or who need help with their PC, or what have you.

I'm updating it and watching the small number of agents we have. Since it's a weekend, and I have maybe a third of the staff around as normal, it's pretty easy to keep a close eye on the usual suspects and troublemakers, and see how the new people are taking to things.

I was watching to see how many people were available for calls (seeing if it was a good time to take people offline for projects or to go home early). I noticed one particular agent, a new agent on someone else's team, has an unusual pattern of behavior.

Available for calls.
On a call for under ten seconds.
Available for calls.
On a call for under ten seconds.
Available for calls.

The little supervisor alarm bells start going off in my head.

I start doing a little 'research'. For those of you who are agents, there are lots of ways for us to find out what exactly you're doing on anything trackable - your phone status, what your PC is accessing or displaying, and more. I am suspicious that the agent is dropping calls -- hanging up on people -- which is a serious offence for which we have no tolerance.

Typically, agents who drop calls are trying to get along just doing less work than their peers. Of course, they're not thinking about the poor customer who has to call back, even wait on hold again, just because they're trying to duck duty. Typically, they'll drop a few calls and then go back and take some more, but you can still tell through various means, though it'll take me awhile to clue in. Drop calls on a regular basis, and you will be caught, at least at my center.

Most people who drop calls drop a few here and there, as not to seem suspicious. This makes a lot of sense; they don't want to get caught.

I pull up the offending agent's stats and check her number of calls to see if it seems a little high or if she is having big "spikes" -- taking four calls one half hour, then seventeen the next.

She has taken 312 calls today.

Just for the record, even with a very short talk time and working 10-12 hour shifts, my personal peak was 125. 80 calls a day is more like average.


Now, I start to get mad. I understand people feel the need to occasionally goof off or shirk -- hey, who doesn't do that, though it's my job to bring you back in line -- but this is fucking ridiculous. I check her again to see if she's on a call. She's actually offline on a code for system issues. Hmmm. I go over to see what her "issue" is.

She's gone.
Her coat and purse are gone.
Her computer is off.

"What the?"

I wait for about 20 minutes, and when she doesn't return, I log her off. I'm not going to have her on the clock if she's gone!

I start doing more research. Similar patterns are showing up for previous days. I alert Rickie, her supervisor, when she returns. We watch and wait for her to come back -- nothing for an hour, so we get back to our normal routine and plan to fire her Monday for obviously dropping calls.

Three hours later she shows back up and clocks in. Engrossed in our work, we don't notice her for twenty minutes, in which time she racks up an alarming 67 additional calls on her total for the day. I notice she's logged in, and I call Rickie.

We both start heading to her desk at the same time. Even though she is facing in exactly the wrong direction to see either of us, she notices us right away -- apparently on the alert -- pulls her headset off, drops it, and gets up, grabbing her purse and briskly walking toward the exit in the opposite direction from us. Rickie calls her name and the agent walks faster, disappearing around a corner. Rickie is much closer and ducks into the hallway after her. I start to walk faster.

I get into the hallway, and they're nowhere to be seen, despite it being quite long. I start looking down side passageways when Rickie starts walking from the door to the parking lot.

"She ran away!" Rickie says, out of breath.

"Yeah, I guess she saw both of us," I offered.

"No, I mean she literally ran away. Once she saw me in the hallway, she started running as fast as she could. I asked the security guard if they saw her, and apparently she ran all the way to her car and squealed her tires getting out of the parking lot."

She was fired, of course, and we left a message on her answering machine.

I'm a little puzzled about the running, though. I mean, I've had agents do all kinds of horrible things to customers, management, peers, and the company at large, and they always hang around and keep trying to talk their way out of it until we practically drag them outside.

I guess some people don't like confrontation.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Escalated excitement

Taking escalated calls is part of my job as a supervisor. It's a pretty small part, because we have so many agents and a lot of escalated calls, so we actually have a whole department of senior representatives that takes the first line calls. We supervisors only get calls in emergencies (like the agent is crying and can't get through to someone else) or we get the dreaded supervisor callbacks.

Callbacks are a mixed bag. By the percentage, nearly all of them fall equally into two categories -- someone who just wants confirmation from a supervisor and is calm, and someone who wants to scream at you. (The very small remainder, under five percent, are complaints about a particular representative.)

The confirmation type calls are what you want to get. These are calls where it's usually about two minutes long. "I understand you wanted to talk to a supervisor about your account being cancelled." "Yes. Is it cancelled?" "Yes, it's cancelled effective yesterday." "Okay, thanks."

The screamers are the ones that are really bothersome. Most of the time lately, I've gotten people who were declined for being reimbursed for overdraft. We use automatic payments off a credit card, and sometimes people go into overdraft fees. If it's our mistake (billed on wrong date, CSR made a mistake, etc.), we'll generally reimburse it. If it's the customer's mistake (didn't understand dates of billing despite getting it in writing, etc.), generally we don't, though we'll reverse our charges even if we don't get the product returned, just to make the process easier.

The key point to these calls is that the situation has already been escalated to the correct department, sometimes even high up on the ladder, and the decision has been made. My job is simply to deliver the decision. There is only one thing that can change the situation -- some kind of new information. Then, I can send it in to be reviewed again with the new information. We explain this to the customer on the first callback. I'm only the second callback because they insisted to talk to a supervisor.

Here's one such conversation:

"Ms. X, I'm calling about your Generic Brand Name account, I'm a supervisor with Generic Brand Name."

"Oh, yes, thanks for calling." (They are usually sweet at this point, even though they weren't to the CSR. Fortunately, I have notes about the previous calls.)

"I understand you had some questions about your overdraft request that was denied."

"Yes. I want to know why it was denied." (They already know.)

"Well, it looks like it was denied because we didn't have any information to indicate that it was our mistake. We had sent you the terms of the offer, blah blah blah, in writing, so we can't be responsible for the overdraft fees. We did reverse the charge that we put through as a courtesy, however."

"How is it not your fault? Nobody told me about this when I called."

"I can understand your frustration with the situation. It is a part of our ordering process to tell you about this when you do call, but just in case there is a misunderstanding, we follow up with information in writing that is sent to you with your package."

"They didn't tell me when I called! So, it's your fault, not mine!"

"Well, Ms. X, I'm sorry, I have no way of knowing this. However, it is in the letter you received as well as spelled out on your billing statement. We also put this in our advertising as well."

"But nobody told me when I called!"

"I understand that you misunderstood how this works. However, we cannot reimburse you for these charges."

"I can't believe this! How can you charge me without authorization?!"

"Ms. X, we had authorization to charge you. This was the terms of the offer, which we advertise, and submit to you in writing. Again, I'm sorry that you didn't understand, but there is no more that we can do for you."

"But nobody told me when I called! You have to reimburse me! That's what the bank said!" [Banks won't reimburse the customers, so they refer them to us if they refuse to pay.]

"I'm sorry, ma'am, but I cannot reimburse you for the overdraft fees--"

"Who can I talk to that will give me my money back?!"

"There is nobody else you can talk to. We've escalated this as far as we can go."

"Bullshit, I want to talk to your boss!"

"I'm sorry, they are not available for calls."

"I'm a single mother with three kids, I can't afford to pay all of these charges!" [We sell items at a premium price, generally, and even low ticket items are definitely luxury items that you don't really need.]

"Ms. X, I'm sorry to hear that but we cannot reimburse you."

"You HAVE to reimburse me! I will never buy from your company again!"

"I'm sorry you feel that way, but we cannot reimburse you."

"I want my money!"

"I'm sorry, but there's nothing more I can do."

[Repeat all of the above for about 10 more minutes.]

"I'm sorry, ma'am, but, as I've explained, we cannot be responsible for these charges. You will not get a refund from us for your overdraft fees."

"...FINE!" (slams phone down)

Okay, on to the next callback. Hmm, irate customer wants us to pay for the time he spent talking to customer service at his consulting rate. This should be fun.

Friday, May 20, 2005

A victory, or is it?

I came in this morning only to find that the box of stuff belonging to the last person who sat at my desk was gone. I was very pleased. This particular individual had previously informed me that their desk was too full, so they couldn't take their stuff to their own desk. Excuse me, honey? Maybe you should throw some of this crap away?

Lest you not understand the scope of this victory, keep in mind I have been sitting at my current desk for over a year and a half. Yes, over eighteen months of kicking this gigantic box of clutter that apparently is completely unnecessary and unneeded, but can't, you know, be in storage or anything.

The new management finally told her exactly what she could do with that stuff if it wasn't moved immediately. A huge filing cabinet is still full of her stuff, but she was given a deadline -- it must be out by close of business today.

I also received notice from management today that I will be moving to a different desk effective Monday.

At least I got a giddy little thrill out of it.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Conversations overheard, Vol. 1

Because, in a call center, someone's always listening.

Idiot #1: "I really want to go out tonight."

Idiot #2: "Ohhh, you should!"

Idiot #1: "I'd like to, but there's not that many bars that I can go to. I've been banned at most of the clubs."

Idiot #2: "Ohhh, too bad, why?"

Idiot #1: "Because drinks make me crazy. Not all drinks, just some kinds of drinks."

Idiot #2: "Ohhh, wow."

Idiot #1: "Yeah. I can't ever go back to [dirty, skanky club]. I was drinking there once, and this girl got all in my face, and I hit her. I broke her nose and she started bleeding everywhere. I'm banned for life."

Idiot #2: "Ohhh, that sucks!"

Now, read it again and imagine Idiot #1 as a girl about eight months pregnant.


Rules of office politics

I try to stay out of the office politics nonsense that goes on in most places of business. I find that it's a colossal waste of time. If the management truly knows what's going on, they promote doers, not talkers; if the management can't tell its ass from applesauce, then I don't want to work there.

My office is, for the most part, blissfully low in office politics. Perhaps, as call center supervisors, it's just because we're too busy and work too independently to really have time to do it, and the chronic drama queens of the office world simply don't get promoted. My management has a credo -- if you're high maintenance, you're just not worth promoting. If you have "issues", if we call it, nobody wants to sit and hold your hand when your team doesn't do what you want them to, or when the other supervisors shun you for acting like an imbecile.

Once in awhile, though, someone sneaks in from outside the company that likes to play these games. As much as I try to avoid participating, there is a certain predatory competitive spirit that enjoys fending off the petty attacks skillfully. It's just a glimmer of joy, mind you -- certainly just a small bit of pleasure -- that I get in setting up a situation in which I benefit from someone else's petty and stupid office power grab or attempted allegiance. However, sometimes the thrill of victory is elusive, because people make it just too easy to find out their stupid games.

Today was a day like that.

So, to all of the petty gossip-mongerers and paranoid backstabbers, a little advice:

Rule One: If you want to try to trash someone behind their back, you had better be very careful about your audience.

Corollary #1: It is a bad idea to choose a person who is close friends with the target of your ire.

Corollary #2: It is an bad idea to insult a co-worker in front of someone who hates you for firing a member of their family for petty reasons.

Or, in terms the bottom-feeding sycophants that play these games might understand:
Bitch to person about me + person likes me + person hates you = BADNESS

I wasn't really insulted, though, just disappointed. The person had always been saying such nice things about me in public (making me suspicious, of course, but I guess I had some faith that she wasn't a complete phony). I'm sorry, dear, if you feel that I'm "the golden child who can do no wrong" in the eyes of management, and that you're trying to drum up sympathy from people who dislike me because I'm performing reasonably well. That's your prerogative, but I have news for you: nobody likes you. There is not a single person on the leadership team that has said something positive about you to me, but nearly everyone has said something negative or at least given the little eyeroll that shows how seriously they take you.

But, you have power over the situation. Stop the paranoid mind-games. Learn to admit mistakes. Stop trying to cover your tracks for the smallest of errors. Accept, and ask for, assistance, criticism, and guidance, and we will try to help you.

However, if you continue your ways of inane power struggles and try to drag everyone down instead of pull yourself up, I assure you, sweetie, that we will crush you. We supervisors have outlasted every bad and corrupt manager on site. We've fought hard for what little trust and respect that we have. We will simply not allow you to try to make us look bad and blame us for all of your problems.

I used to be your ally. I used to speak up in your defense to management when I was asked. I simply wouldn't play by your stupid rules (disobey your manager, come to me with problems so I can cover them up and not deal with them). Okay, have it your way. I'm not petty enough to fight back, but I used to speak up in the defense of your department because, having worked there, I understood the challenges that you have. No more.

I just don't get people sometimes.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

You can't win for losing

One of the things that I've been forced to realize is that, as a supervisor, some people will just hate my guts no matter what I do. Regardless of my best intentions, my carefully planned feedback presented in the most positive and motivating way that I can think of, my genuine attempts to win their respect through fairness and decency, some people will regard anything I do as inherently suspect, at best -- if not downright evil.

It is awfully demoralizing. I've experienced the same thing from a leader, too -- no matter how hard you try or how well you do, it's never enough. Everything is always bad. Yet, as a supervisor, it's a little different because it's so, well, personal. It's not my work getting rejected, it's me.

An excellent example of this phenomenon was an incident that happened awhile back with an agent I'll call "Alice". Alice was always a pretty good rep and I thought we were on good terms.

One weekend I was providing floor coverage -- that is, watching what's going on and make sure the call center is tooling along smoothly. On weekends, it's pretty slim in terms of the number of supervisors, because the staff is low, too, but it also means you're usually flying solo most of the day. Part of my job is to check in on people who have blocked calls out -- for example, in what people in the industry usually call "wrap", or time after a call wrapping up an account -- or other codes that stop calls from coming in. I give them a few minutes, in case they're going to the bathroom or something, and then I go check to see if everything's OK. This is to make sure agents aren't getting too involved with one account, or having computer trouble, or, more usually, goofing around or sneaking off the floor for a few minutes.

I noticed Alice was offline for over 5 minutes so I decided to go check out what was going on. As I approached her desk, I notice she was sort of slumped over. I got very concerned and came over to her, saying, "Alice, all you ok?"

Alice shook her head at me, and I said, "Are you sick? Do I need to call an ambulance?"

Alice shook her head again no. I stood there for a second, wondering what was going on. She caught her breath for a minute, and said, "Low sugar." Alice flipped over a black cloth caddy on her desk, showing me her insulin and syringes.

I don't really know a diabetic personally and haven't dealt with these sort of attacks, but she obviously needs help. I ask, "How can I help you? Do you want me to go get some cookies from the cafeteria?"

Alice pulls out some money from her purse and puts it in my hand. "Mountain Dew," she says, breathlessly.

I hurriedly shuffle down to the caferia and rush back, putting the bottle of Mountain Dew in her hand. I put her change down as she's drinking. I ask again, "Are you going to be ok?"

She nods. She obviously doesn't really want to talk, and I feel like I'm intruding by hovering around. I jot down my extension for her and say, "Ok, I'm going to go back to my desk. Please call me if you need anything. Take the time you need, it's no problem." She nods again, seeming already better.

I check back on her a few times over the next hour, and throughout the day, and she seems okay. I was concerned, but a lot of people have health problems at my office, so I didn't want to make a big deal about it.

Cut to the next day, when I get called into my boss' office. Now, I like my boss. She's very understanding, and she trusts me. This is very important because of all of the things agents will say to try to get me fired. (This happens a lot. Not usually even my agents, but other ones that I've caught in the act of doing something.)

We chit chat for a minute, and then she asks me, "So what happened with Alice yesterday?" I explain, thinking that she's asking for time off or something like that to see a doctor, or maybe that some other supervisor caught her off the phone later and there was a problem. I even add some things in her defense, saying that she handled the situation well and she didn't immediately want to go home the way a lot of agents would.

My boss gives me this knowing nod, which always means that something more is going on than I think. "Oh, is that what happened? That's odd."

"Why?" I ask.

"Alice went to [my boss's manager] and said that you stormed over to her because she was offline, and screamed at her, "GET BACK TO WORK!"


[It should be noted that I, as a policy, never yell at employees. Ever. I think it's absolutely disrespectful, rude, and boorish. I may fire you, I may not like you, I may fight in court to make sure you don't get unemployment pay because you were incompetent, but I will not raise my voice to you.]

My boss added, rather good-naturedly, "Yeah, I know, it didn't really sound like you. But, she's been telling a lot of other agents that, so I've had a bunch of people in my office today saying that they heard this through the grapevine."

I explained that nothing could be further from the truth. I'm sure she believed me; I'm a terrible liar and I'm sure my incredulous expression told the whole story.

You know, I can understand, to a point, people who lie and misuse my good name to cover their tracks. I've had people try to get me fired for being a racist (I'm not), or for "harassing" them for various reasons or no reason, because I had gotten them in trouble with their supervisors or asked them to pretty please get back to work. This happens on a pretty regular basis to all of the supervisors who have, you know, a freaking spine, and don't just look the other way when people are acting like absolute fucking animals. Lying about me, in these situations, has a reason and a personal area of gain -- you're trying to save your job. It's still downright wrong to try to put my job in jeopardy (even though they fail miserably) to do it, but at least it has a point.

Lying about this situation had absolutely no point, and nothing to gain. It was just mean-spirited. I keep reviewing the situation in my mind, many months after the rep left the company (for unrelated reasons), and wondering, "What could I have done differently?" and "What did I do to make her want to hurt me?" I've never been able to figure it out. Did I do something else to anger her? Or did the low blood sugar make it so she didn't perceive my concern for her?

Maybe it's simpler. Maybe I'm overanalyzing. Maybe just was just a fucking nutball and there was no reason. Maybe it wasn't me; maybe it was her.

Whatever. She's gone, I'm here, and part of me just thinks, nice fucking try, baby.

The other part of me shrivels away a little bit more every time.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Top Ten Reasons

Top ten reasons why people are fired:

1.) Attendance - just missed too many days and didn't show improvement.

2.) No call, no show many times, or several days in a row.

3.) Unmanageable -- usually accompanied by a lot of different issues, but fired simply because of repeated cases of blatant insubordination and complete lack of respect for supervisors.

4.) Some completely over-the-top occasion of bad behavior when (they thought) nobody important was watching, i.e. screaming, throwing around or destroying company property, or theft of company property or personal property.

5.) Goofing off, simply avoiding calls entirely as much as possible. Usually accompanied by trying to sneak out to the smoking patio or wandering around aimlessly.

6.) Repeated cases of being extremely rude to customers, swearing at them, lying to them or hanging up on them. Yes, repeated.

7.) Dishonest behavior and misuse of customer's accounts. For example, placing large unauthorized charges on credit cards of customers that were rude, or misdocumenting accounts and not cancelling accounts when requested (in order to cheat certain statistics we keep), or trying to drop calls without being detected (like that's going to work).

8.) Poor performance on calls, not fulfilling expections, generally for 3+ months at least (if they're new -- long term reps, it can drag on for a year).

9.) Violation of company policy. Usually this means that they tried to defraud us (multiple times) on timecards to get paid for time not actually worked.

10.) Drug use or background check. We usually catch these before hire, but once in awhile, they get caught later on.

[Kind of sad how low down on the list performance is, isn't it?]

Top ten reasons people CLAIM were the reason they were fired:

(As given from agents when being told why they were fired, or heard from various sources that I have, either on their way out the door or, usually, in their personal lives.)

1.) My supervisor just hated me for no reason / is a bitch / is an asshole. (Yes, we hate you, but we have lots of reasons.)

2.) Another supervisor hated me for no reason, and got management to fire me, even though my supevisor loved me. (Yeah, right.)

3.) I didn't get fired! I quit! (Sure you did.)

4.) Because I was just TOO REAL (whatever that means).

5.) They never told me why they fired me. They just told me to leave... poor me... (I will never let you leave without the pleasure of telling you why unless you simply drop off the face of the earth, and even then I will send a letter to your last known address telling you exactly why you suck.)

6.) Because they hate people with families and my kids come first! (Hint, just because you have kids doesn't mean you can skip work the majority of the time, or skip work without calling in.)

7.) They hate people of my particular race, ethnicity, background, etc. (Did you ever notice that, despite being in a very overwhelmingly white town, we have a huge number of people of color employed in our center? It's funny, too, that we hired you to begin with. Did we not notice the color of your skin that day?)

8.) Because I was bringing down the management from the inside, and they knew I had information that could hurt them. I totally know how they're breaking every law ever written, and sacrificing babies in order to bring up the service level, and forcing employees to undergo anal probes, and they knew I was going to blow the whistle! (So... why aren't you suing or calling the police?)

9.) I am a person of faith, and I wouldn't sacrifice my beliefs for a job. (Screaming at people who call in and hanging up on them because you think they are gay is pretty much unacceptable everywhere, so good luck finding a new job.)

10.) I never even worked for that company. (I wonder if the IRS will believe you?)

Saturday, May 14, 2005

What is love?

One of the things that suprised me when I became a supervisor is how people come to me with all of their problems. I don't really mind, I suppose, though sometimes the responsibility is hard. I've had male employees ask, embarrassed, what they should buy for their wives for their anniversary. I've had employees come to me for financial advice, for information about where they could find housing, or even people who were alone and needed someone that they could cry in front of when a family member died. I don't know quite why, but I am kind of flattered that so many people think that I have the answer to their problems or a way to make them feel better about what's going on. It's generally just an interesting side-effect of being in management, and I try to help them out.

The worst situations, though, are when someone simply has no place to go. They have noone to turn to. The worst part is, in these situations, I am really able to do nothing. In terms of corporate policy, I'm not even supposed to give advice of any kind, though it's hard to keep that rule, especially when someone's life is at risk.

I'm referring to domestic abuse.

I am absolutely shocked how often this happens. I mean this with absolute seriousness. I can't think that there has ever been more than a month or two at a time when I didn't have someone directly reporting to me that was in an abusive relationship. I'm not even talking emotional abuse -- I'm talking full tilt scary domestic shit.

I mean, so bad that one of my employees was a blurb in national news, and a major local news story, because of the situation.

So bad, in one case, that I've secretly told an employee that I wouldn't log them being absent because they came to my desk crying, showed me their bruises, and said they were hurting so much that they couldn't work.

As a woman, it gives me a horrible wrenching just to hear about what happens in these situations. And I'm not supposed to give advice. I'm not supposed to tell them not to go back and that there are shelters out there. I'm not supposed to do anything except give them a number that they can call to speak with someone if they want to. This is hard, so I try to be conscientious. I mean, I don't want to get sued or anything, but I've had conversations on the down-low that I'm sure HR wouldn't strictly speaking approve of. Again, I'm only a human being. I don't want to see someone show up dead because I didn't say anything, and they come to me, for Christ's sake. I can't turn them away.

I do what I can, and what I dare. Despite my subtle pleas to seek help, every time, how the woman goes back to the guy that does this to her. Every single fucking time. Christ. I know it's one of the ills of our society; we make women believe that they live through their men, and that someone loving them is just the most important thing ever, but maybe we need to stick some disclaimer at the end of all those love movies and perfect endings. Warning, if the guy is beating you up, he doesn't fucking love you and you should leave the bastard.

Friday, May 13, 2005

The whys and wherefores

So, you're asking yourself, "Why on earth does this person not find another job?"

Well, that's a good point. The short answer is, I'm currently looking, and I want to make sure I find myself in a better position than I am now. There are a lot of call centers in this town, but only about two or three large ones that I am trying to get into; this is because I want a call center that a) is not going to lay me off and b) is better than the one I'm in now.

The long answer, well, there's a lot to it.

I suppose some part of it is that I like being a big fish in a small pond. At my center, I'm important. I'm needed. I am pivotally involved in many things, I have my manager's ear and my manager's trust, and I like most -- though not all -- of the people I'm working with at the supervisor level. I've carved out a little rut for myself that, while I sometimes hate it, it's sometimes just comfortable to stay. I have job security, and I'm pretty much left to my own devices -- though this is a mixed blessing.

Another part of it is some measure of hope. We've had a massive change in management recently and we're in a state of flux. No, I'm not waiting around to see what happens, most likely -- but I'm not so desperate to leave that I take a step back down to the agent level, and there are only so many supervisor or leader positions out there. I keep hanging on because, though I tend to post the negatives (they're funnier and more interesting), there are positive things that happen every week. Every day, there is a radical change in something right now. So, I don't go to work hating it every day -- I hate the bad decisions, I hate when I can't fire an uncoachable and uncooperative agent, I hate the management bullshit and the corporate mumbo-jumbo, but it's not just that. Those are just the backdrop. Most of my time is helping out my people in a variety of ways -- coaching them, giving them additional training, keeping them in the loop on changes and new information, even trying to be there for them through personal problems and help them navigate this strange corporate ocean of rulebooks and policies.

In any case, you all are probably right -- I should get out of this center. Yet, somehow, every time I start looking for a position, something happens that makes me kind of want to stay.

Not quite enough to stop sending out the resumes, though. Just enough not to take that CSR position... even though it pays a lot more than I make... and would be less responsibility... but, but, but... I like supervising. Sometimes.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

It's not if you solve the problem, it's how much money you spend

Our center, due to extremely poor management and killer call volume, has had terrible attrition in the past year. "We need to reduce our attrition" is a professional way of saying "we need to get these people to stop running the other way once they go through our training program".

Now, there's no one way to stop turnover. Turnover causes turnover, especially (as with us) because turnover can be caused by overworking your employees through high call volumes. People see other people leaving and they think, "Am I a chump? What am I missing?" and they start looking for reasons to leave.

Now, here are the reasons why most people leave our company:
1.) We hire pretty much anybody, so a lot of people can't/don't want to do the job.
2.) There are several other call centers in my town that pay much more money.
3.) Our upper management has been, up until some recent management changes, extremely dismissive of agents, supervisors, and, well, anyone who isn't upper management.
4.) We're a call center. Most huge call centers have crazy turnover.

Now, we solved the volume problem and are currently overstaffed, but we still are having problems with keeping people. However, rather than spend more money on decent wages, they are throwing their money away on witch doctors -- I mean, "consultants".

The "consultants" seem to have the following ideas:
1.) In most call centers (though not ours), the reason that people tend to leave is because of some problem with their direct leader, i.e. their supervisor.
2.) Even though surveys of our own agents found this not to be true at our center, and instead people are leaving because of logistic and organizational issues, the consultants' whole program is based around this idea, so we are going to put all of the blame and responsibility on supervisors anyway.
3.) If supervisors, with no extra time or money, fail to solve the problem, well, that's their fault and we are going to score them poorly on performance reviews based on an unattainable level of attrition.

Lovely, right? Guess what -- we have a huge supervisor attrition problem, too. I bet you would never have guessed.

One of the stupidest things to come about from this project is that I have to speak with a certain number of agents about non-work things as a requirement of doing my job. Now, don't get me wrong. I do this anyway because I'm a human being, for Christ's sake, but now I have to actually document the non-work conversations I have each week to meet me non-work conversation goal, even based on the topics. This, of course, saps all of the humanity out of it entirely.

Monday. Spoke to Fred about his kids. Discussed school play.
Tuesday. Spoke with Martha. Discussed recipes for macaroni.
Wednesday. Discussed weather with Jane. Came to mutual agreement that it should be less wet and cold.

This information is sent to my manager and added to my personal file in perpituity.

I am the only person who seems to think that this is absurd.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Simple instructions

So many people come into my work as a new hire worried about how to do well in their position. If you can show up when you're supposed to, stay for your shift, and follow simple instructions, I will guarantee that (barring the possibility that you're a complete idiot) you can have a spot as one of my treasured top perfomers, upon whom I shower much love and special treatment.

I do not understand for the life of me why simple instructions are just so damn difficult to do.

Take this exchange from yesterday:

Me: "Ok, I listened to your call here. Let me play it for you...."
Me: "All right. So X and X was pretty good on this call. (I was being diplomatic.) However, I was a little confused as to why you told the customer [some completely wrong piece of information]".
Agent: (silent)
Me: "Uh, did you read the memo I put out last week about this?"

[The memo explicitly explains not to give out the information that the rep did on the call, and instead to give the correct information, which was listed.]

Agent: Yes, I did.
Me: ... ok, so why did you tell the customer this?
Agent: I heard someone else doing it.
Me: (silent for a moment)
Me: ...That's why I put out the memo. Because people were doing it wrong.
Agent: Ok.
Me: Tell them X next time.
Agent: Ok.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Getting started

My very first day as a supervisor shocked me.

I was stationed to "job shadow" another supervisor, "Robert" -- one who had been on the job for only eight days. When I went to his cubicle, looking for guidance as to how I should get started, he looked at me and said, "Oh, yeah, they told me you'd be by. To be honest with you, I'm working on this project right now. Feel free to ask me any questions, though."

I had never managed before. I had no idea. I said, "do you think I should go introduce myself to the team and let them know about the change, maybe?"

Robert smiled and said, "Sure!" He handed me a list of my employees. He turned back to his monitor and started working. I was on my own.

I merrily went about my task, heading to my first employee's desk, someone I had seen but didn't know personally. I stood around, waiting for them to finish a call, and set their phone to block the next call so I could talk to them. Changing supervisors was, at this point in time, happening often, but I felt that having someone from within the company might be a relief. Wouldn't it be great for them to work for me, being a former agent? I'm on their side, I thought.

The employee finished their call and impatiently looked at me. "Yes?"

"Hi there, I just wanted to let you know that I'll be taking over the team while Robert's working on a project for workforce management. Nice to meet you!" I cheerfully extended a hand.

The rep looked at my hand for a second, and shook it, rolling his eyes. "Another supervisor, huh? So, will I have you for more than two weeks this time?" he said, dripping with sarcasm.

"I sure hope so," I replied, smiling, trying to make this positive.

"Huh," he replied, unimpressed and obviously not trying to impress me at all. He pressed a button on his phone so another call came through.

I was surprised. I would have tried to make a good impression. I thought, well, one bad apple, that's not so bad.

Not long after, one of the quality assurance folks, Tessa, came striding over to Robert's desk, where I was loitering, gathering files. Tessa said, obviously irritated, "Do either of you know whose team X is on?"

Robert looked up. "She's on our team."

"Our team?" asked Tessa. We explained my recent promotion and she grinned at me. Tessa and I had a good relationship; she's a good worker and guided me when I was new to the company, back when she was a rep, too.

"You'll love this, then. I listed to X's call and she was really rude with a customer and hung up on her. When I brought her over to listen to the call, she cussed, and said she didn't care about these stupid f'ing b-word customers."

I knew her only barely, and recognized her as a rep with a reputation for being... well, let's say, "strongly assertive" with customers. I later took to personally calling her "Miss Thang", due to the overdone urban attitude problem she had going on. While not totally naive about my peers, I was incredibly surprised to hear that someone would swear to the face of someone in leadership. I looked to Robert to gauge his reaction. Should we fire them? Or just send them home without pay? A written warning? Surely this was a severe offense?

"Really?" said Robert, rather disinterested. "I told her yesterday to stop being rude with customers. I guess you had better go talk to her about it."

"What happened yesterday?" I asked.

"Oh, I could hear her yelling at somebody." Keep in mind, Robert sits several rows away from Shaniqua, and if someone is sitting down, it's nearly impossible to make out what they're saying if they're in the next row over the murmur of the center. So, when he says yelling, he means yelling. "I told her to keep her voice down."

"What should I do? Should I go see the manager?"

"Nah, just go talk to her and send them an e-mail that you told her not to do that stuff anymore. You might want to print that e-mail, you know, for her file."

"What if she keeps doing this?" I asked.

He half-shrugged and said, "I guess if this keeps up, I guess you'll have to work it out with HR."

The beginning

Entry-level management. The assistant managers and supervisors of the world. The downtrodden, damned souls that are doomed to walk this earth maligned by their inferiors and glibly dismissed by their supervisors. The suckers who somehow thought that a job title and a bit of authority would somehow make it worth it to endure ill-mannered idiots, scammers, time-wasters, addicts, kids, screaming jackasses and helpless blockheads day in and day out. I'm talking about the employees, by the way. Not the customers. Customers are worse.

Yes, I am one of these poor fools. Working in a call center, taking calls month after month in assembly-line fashion, everything said well-monitored and well-regulated, being offered the opportunity to escape the drudgery was simply too good an offer to refuse. At the time, I regarded the offer as a great success, and I suppose in many ways it was. Idealistically, I felt that I could go up to a leadership level and valiantly defend my bretheren, being a representative of the working poor around me. I thought I could go forth and fight for change, and do good works, while simultaneously boosting my resume and giving me a job I really loved.

Never did I realize, in those endless hours of phone calls, that I was surrounded by a mass of the most useless fucking people on the planet. Boy, was I in for a surprise.