Friday, June 24, 2005

The status quo

I'm sorry for the lack of updates recently. A series of recent events has really taken any remaining fun out of my work, and I've been too busy or depressed to write. I can't really give specifics, because I feel that it might identify me or my company. Suffice it to say that I can't even appreciate the absurd anymore, and laugh through the anger, the way I used to. Instead, I just feel hollow and empty.

I guess the best advice that I can give all of you is that you should never trust a company that you work for. Regardless of mission statements, executive speeches, and corporate pep rallies, the company does not want to invest in you or provide a great opportunity for you. They don't care about you, or your family, or the community. The company is always interested in one thing -- profit. Most companies will ditch you if it would make them even a small profit, and if they think that they can get away with it without morale of other people falling -- because, heaven forfend, ruining someone's life shouldn't allow productivity to drop. Sure, there might be good people above you for now, but sooner or later there's going to be someone who figures out that they'll get a fatter bonus and an easier promotion by not being a nice guy.

Don't worry about me. I'm still employed and everything, but I'm just seeing my company go in an even worse direction than before. The joy is gone, and the warm fuzzy security that was on my short list of good things about this job is gone with it. The rage is gone, too, because I just don't care anymore. All that's left is just depression and resignation. Wherever I go, whatever I do, I'll just be a cog in the machine.

Sorry for the downer, folks.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Job search update

I had a preliminary interview this week, and am meeting with them again on Monday.

The advertised salary range is $15k - $20k higher than what I make now, and it's actually kind of a step down in position. (Did I mention that I am drastically underpaid?)

Wish me luck!

The old guard

I'm helping out with another team this week, and I'm dreading it. Unlike my team, there are some really long term employees. Normally, when I say long-term employee, I mean that they've been with the company six months to a year. Not so with this new team; there are people there that have been working for the company for longer than I've been alive.

It's a very different sort of challenge to manage the old timers. Newer employees can have bad attitude, but the specific type of snottiness that comes from the old guard can't be duplicated by a petulant new hire. It's the kind of look-down-your-nose tone that says, "I was here before you were, and I'll be here when you're gone."

They're probably right about that (due to a job interview I had this week, that I hope will pan out!) but, I digress.

The old-timers are generally identifiable by a few traits:

1.) They look down at fellow CSRs, and treat them as inferiors -- far moreso than anyone in management would ever do. This makes them utterly useless for coaching and training, but yet they whine when they aren't allowed to do these things.

2.) They expect to be above the rules when they see fit, and act shocked and angry when they are told otherwise. They should be able to do whatever they like on their calls, regardless of who is making the criteria.

3.) They believe that since they've done their time, they shouldn't have to be productive anymore. Their accumulated knowledge should be enough to earn them a paycheck, and it should be considered charitable if they actually do all the tasks that are expected of the average employee.

4.) Even when told that certain decisions (like raises, schedules, and promotions) aren't based on seniority, they bring up their tenure with the company to show how unfair it is when they don't get what they want due to sinking performance ratings.

5.) They resist and fear change, and dig in their heels when asked to make the most minor alteration to their routine. They hate new technology and cling to their old systems and ways.

For all of these reasons and more, I dislike dealing with them. Now, there's one or two that are okay, and haven't accepted promotions because they like the job or a particular schedule unavailable to management or support positions. Generally, though, those representatives that have been with the company forever and have been passed over at every opportunity are a pretty useless bunch. They sow dissent and, in some cases that were entertaining to deal with, teach new employees how to cheat the system and slack off.

Fortunately, a new supervisor and some firings for the worst and most useless of the group has made them slightly more manageable. However, I'm concerned that I'm going to experience "substitute teacher syndrome" -- when the sup's away, the agents play -- when I'm overseeing these agents.

It's just pathetic to see an adult whine, "But my supervisor lets me do this!"

My response to this is the same as I would give any petulant child:
I don't care what they let you do. I'm in charge right now. When that person gets back, you can ask them to do that, but until then, the answer is no.

I guess it's pessimistic, but I'm steeling myself for the worst.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Money talks

Well, I've been sending out some resumes this week. I'm filled with some trepidation about the whole process, because the best prospect is with a company that one of the other supervisors I worked with was laid off from. As much as I would love a 30% pay raise, it won't be worth it if I'm laid off in a year.

Here's the thing about call centers: most of them absolutely suck, and job security is a major issue at most centers. Fortunately, mine isn't, at least for the foreseeable future. Sure, if we lost our client, they would probably close the location and lay off everyone, but we're on a long term contract with a long term client. So, I do have security on the short term. A lot of call centers don't have that luxury, and it's hard to bring up in an interview, "So, how likely are you to boot me out into the street in the next 3 years?"

This is the major reason why I've been looking around for so long -- upwards of six months -- without landing a position; I'm picky. As much as my salary is terrible and my job drives me crazy, I've dug myself into a nice little rut and, truth be told, they need me enough not to fire me. I'm able to surf the internet and get time off work when I need to, and I really do like my boss.

Yet, I'm looking, and the reason is primarily because I'm paid much, much less than the other supervisors are. I found this out earlier this year, and it's killing me to know that the supervisor who sneaks out for a dozen extended smoke breaks and the supervisor who just plain leaves hours upon hours early make five to ten thousand dollars more than I do in a year. I've confronted my boss about this, and she told me that she's working on an increase. That was too months ago. From the look that she gave me, I know that I may just not get one, despite performing well according to her standards. Not even one for cost of living. I haven't gotten one since I became a supervisor, and I took a pay cut to be a supervisor because of the loss of overtime.

I guess this is a shout out to all of the management out there. You can have a great leader who your employees love and you can offer me lots of verbal praise, but you know the old saying: money talks, and bullshit walks. Promote someone and pay them less than most of your customer service representatives are making, and they're going to learn lots of valuable skills for a little while, then walk off to another company.

At least, I sure hope I will, and soon.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Indignity of the day

We're a little short staffed this week, so I'm watching out for some other teams that are outside my normal area of influence. Most people have been surprisingly good, but there are a few high maintenance types, so I've been somewhat busy resolving issues and keeping an eye on everyone.

I check my voicemail mid-afternoon and there's a message for an employee. This is a somewhat rare occurrence in the age of cell phones, but happens every once in awhile. I pass on to the agent that her daughter called and needed a call back on her next break, since there wasn't any indication of an emergency.

About fifteen minutes later, the phone rings. I answer, "This is The Supervisor."

"Yes, may I please speak to Agent X?" a female pre-teen voice asks. "This is her daughter."

"Yes, I passed on the information to her when I got your voice mail. She'll call you back when she's free."

After a long pause, she asks, "Are you busy?", in a tone I usually only get from customers.

I'm a bit surprised and respond mildly, "Kind of, what is it?"

"I really need to talk to her now. Please go get her and let me talk to her right now."

"Er, is this an emergency?"

"Yes. She was supposed to buy me four tickets to Name-Of-Local-Amusement-Park today and I wanted to make sure that she did. My mom is really flaky and forgets things. It's important."

"[pause] That is not an emergency and I am not taking an employee away from their work for that. She will give you a call when she is on break."

"Oh... okay," she replies, somewhat snottily but not quite snotty enough to make a scene, and she hangs up.

Hmph. Usually I only take attitude from employees, but now from children?

Monday, June 06, 2005

The difficult one

I took one of the worst callbacks today that I've ever had. Actually, it was probably the worst. I wasn't particularly looking forward to it after looking at the notes on the account. The last representative used to be on my team and now is a senior agent who assists others with escalated situations. I know her as being extremely calm and unemotional, and never one to let a customer bother her. She had put in the notes that he was very rude, which is pretty much as bad as you can get in our system, as, due to executives having access to the system, you need to play nice.

I called the guy as soon as I got the callback in my hand. Unfortunately it was a few days old, for whatever reason, but probably due to the fact that we're extremely busy and short-staffed on teh supervisor level. Of course, the guy was quoted 3 business days, but he didn't understand that this didn't include weekends, because we're open weekends. (I guess I can understand that, but it doesn't work that way; we have only one supervisor in on weekends.)

In any case, the guy was very upset that he couldn't split up his payment in the way that he wanted to, and upset that his package got there earlier than expected. Not late, early. He was mad because we shipped two packages six weeks apart -- as he requested -- but the second one got there in a few days, whereas it should have probably taken three weeks the way it was sent. This made him very upset because he felt we should be able to time it so he gets them exactly six weeks apart.

I tried to explain a lot of different options about shipping and payments, but he would have none of it. Every one of my suggestions elicited a "This is just ridiculous!" tirade, which of course I've heard many times before. Of course it's ridiculous that you can't do whatever you want and that we don't have every possible option available.

Predicably, he soon started taking it to a more personal level. This happens suprisingly often; my CSRs are routinely told that they will be sued personally by the customer, or that the customer is going to have them arrested, or even just personal insults about their intelligence or choice of occupation. In this case, he started to bitch about how on earth I could possibly work for such a terrible employer, and one that was so terrible to their customers by getting them there faster than they paid for, and how ashamed I should be, and by the way, why did it take so long to call him back?

I said, "Sir, I'm sorry for the wait, but we answer callbacks in the order received. I just received yours this morning and I called you as soon as it was handed to me. I apologize, but sometimes it takes a little while to get through the system."

"So you're telling me you have been busy for a week and you didn't have time to call me?"

I sigh inwardly.

"No, sir, I'm not saying that at all. As I mentioned, I just received this. I understand you put it in last week, and I apologize -- "

"I can't believe that you expect me to believe that you were busy all week and couldn't call me!"

"No, sir, I don't expect you..."

"I think it's ridiculous to wait three days, and it was longer than that!"

"Sir, I understand your frustration, and again, I apologize for the wait. Was there anything I could do for you or go over with you to resolve this situation?"

"This is ridiculous! Everything with you people is terrible!!"

"I'm sorry to feel that way, sir." (My voice starts to get a little shaky due to frustration.)

"You're not sorry, you're laughing at me!"

"I'm not laughing at all, sir--"

"What is your name?" he says, threateningly, and I'm expecting the 'I'm going to make sure you get fired' speech. I'm not particularly afraid, just tired of this call. Due to his account history and several sparring matches with well-respected agents, he's not credible enough to get me in trouble.

I tell him my first name, which I had told him at the beginning of the call and also on the voice mail that I left for him that morning. He starts laughing.

Now, I have a rather uncommon first name, but certainly one that most Americans would be familiar with, due to being used in several sitcoms. It's very short and easy to understand. I have no idea why he's laughing.

"I can't believe this!" he screams furiously, and hangs up. Perhaps he thought I was lying, I'm not exactly sure. Or maybe it was his ex that turned him into an angry little man. I'd like to think so. Either way, I wrote down a detailed account of the call, just in case he does decide to make my life difficult by getting to someone up in the company who doesn't know or trust me.

I think I'll check his account from time to time. I'm sort of curious what he'll say if he calls back. Unreasonable customers' versions of events are always hilarious.

One amusing one: "Customer said that (supervisor's name) screamed profanities at them." Yeah, sure, none of the CSRs that sit three feet away their supervisors would notice that!

Friday, June 03, 2005

No means no

It really surprises me what people at my company expect from us, the management. We are very, very clear about our expectations -- we are open 24 hours a day, which means that you can expect to work some holidays, evenings, and weekends, especially when you're new. We're also a site that does shift bids, and they're based on performance. If you want a new schedule, you have to wait for the next shift bid, and you have to be doing your job reasonably well. We'll make exceptions for emergencies, but only rarely, and it's still based on performance and behavior. Lest you worry that new agents can't compete, trust me, the bar's not that high -- if you want to do well, you will. I would say that anyone with a modicum of intelligence and common sense could easily rise to the top 10% within a few months. We provide a lot of support and additional training, too, in case you're just not that smart or you just learn better from one on one help.

Nonetheless, despite the fact that they are told all this not only at the interview, but in orientation as well (if they're offered a position) and in training, it seems that every single new class will have two or three people that feel that they are above the rules.

This is probably our number one reason for attrition right now -- people making unreasonable requests, then leaving when they're not approved.

One person in recent memory decided that his family came first. This is a common phrase to hear, of course, in the workplace -- but he decided that it meant that literally any family need would come before any work need, all the time. So, if his kids were even the slightest bit ill or even just didn't have anything to do that day, he wouldn't come in. He was also very inconsistent about calling in. Thus, he missed about two-thirds of his first two weeks, with several no-calls, which we take seriously. He wouldn't respond to our phone calls.

The next time he came in, we had "The Meeting" with him. He became very agitated and quit on the spot, screaming "I can't believe that this company is so hostile to families!" Have you ever had a freaking job, bub? It got to upper management that he made this comment, and they practically grilled me about it.

"So, what happened with Agent X? He's telling everyone we're not flexible with families."

"He told me that he should be entitled to miss work whenever he wants, and that we cannot ever count it against him on his scores because it's family related. He also says that he should not have to call us if he wants to miss work. I told him that everyone gets a number of occurrences, and that we do consider the reason for being absent, but he needs to find some source of child care and be at work more consistently. He missed a week and two days out of his first two weeks after training."

"So, what do you think we could have done differently, to retain this agent?"

"Uhhh... well, I guess we could have completely bent over backwards and allowed this, but then every agent would ask for the same treatment, and we'd have attendance problems beyond the pale of what we already have."

"Well, we shouldn't give up on people so easily."

" ... Do you want me to make this accommodation? We can, if it's from your direction."

"No, I'm not saying that, no. I'm just saying we need to reduce our attrition." [walks away]

Urgh. Upper management. They vaguely want something, but they don't know how to get what they want, so they blame the little guys for not meeting impossible goals.

This week, it was a similar situation. An agent has school schedules that keep mysteriously changing, and she expects to be able to pick her schedule every time it does. She wanted a weekday off now (she's already part time at the minimum hours required) and wanted to just, you know, work the extra hours kind of whenever she wanted. I let her know that, because she has Saturdays off, that if she wanted an accommodation so fast, I could arrange if it she wanted to take Saturdays (which are busy right now). She said that no, she didn't want to give up Saturdays off. I said, ok, but it'll probably be declined, especially because her attendance was so poor (she had already missed several days because of vague school-related reasons, and still couldn't understand why those were counted on her scores instead of just freebies).

Sure enough, it was declined. Now, all of a sudden, she's telling people she has class on Saturdays. She didn't say this when I talked to her. She won't bring in a class schedule, either, because she says it's an informal lecture but it's required for her to attend by her professor. Of course it is.

I take it to my manager who again denies her request unless she works Saturdays. The agent decides to pull the "I'm not going to come in until you fix my schedule" scheme. We advise her that this is not acceptable, and she chooses to quit.

I'm looking forward to being grilled about this one. Here's how it will probably go:

"So, why did we lose Agent C so soon after training?"

"As with many agents, she was making unreasonable demands for scheduling, which I can tell you about if you like."

"What I'd like to know is how we could have retained this agent."

"I guess I could have let her pick whatever schedule she wanted, and miss days whenever she wanted, too. Oh, and let her study at work on the clock instead of taking calls, that probably would have helped, too. I could have bought her a Trapper Keeper. Maybe that would have helped. Is there budget money for Trapper Keepers?"

Ok, that's probably not how it would go, except in my fantasy. My work fantasy life is pretty lame. I should at least get a raise in my fantasy, but I can't suspend my disbelief.