Thursday, August 26, 2010

Customer service, part one of probably three

I have a customer service job. All day long (not all week, though; I'm only part time there, thank god) I take phone calls from people who, though they don't think of it this way, are trying to find the best way to give their money to the huge multinational corporation I work for. About half the time, they're irate because something has gone wrong in this system: either my owners have taken a bunch of the customer's money at once rather than over time like the customer expected, or there's been a breakdown in the service that the company I work for provides to cover for the fact that what they're really doing is taking the customer's money.

Due to the nature of my company I work for, the people I talk to are occasionally business owners, but more often they're people like me, low-level people with no power in their organizations just working to make a living. Even when I do talk to the business owners, the businesses they own are small, and usually struggling, and always local; it may be that I would agree or disagree with their "politics" or whatever to greater or lesser extents, but in general, they are people who are trying to make a living while simultaneously at least attempting to provide something of value to the communities they live in, rather than just sucking money out of those communities and investing it internationally so as to fill their own pockets.

The people on the phone aren't my enemy, in other words. But the structure of the job sure makes it hard to keep that in mind.

For their part, when they call angry, they're occasionally angry specifically with someone-or-other in specific who messed something up, but more often they're angry with the company. The company, of course (and this and all that follows applies to all corporations, not just the one I work for), is not a person no matter what legal hoo-ha's been worked up over the decades saying it is. It is instead an emergent property of a bunch of wealthy assholes making decisions in their own self-interest, which obviously is going to result in a whole bunch of policies that run counter to the interests of the customers, who will as a result have to be tricked into thinking that these policies actually favor them. This leads inevitably to a lot of anger.

When the time comes for them to unleash this anger, though, they don't have any method of expressing it to the people it should be targeting (i.e., the wealthy assholes I mentioned above, the ones who make my hourly wage almost every minute of their entire life, waking or sleeping. But they do have the phone number for where I work. So they call me, and yell at me, and I have to take it and act like I like it and convince them that not helping them is helping them. Because if I don't do those things--if I lash back at them, or explain to them why they shouldn't be mad at me but at my owners, or if I explain to them that yeah, what the company does is shitty, or if I actually try to help them, I'll get fired. And I'm lucky to have a job! So I'm not going to do that.

So all this tension has no resolution: the customers flip out at me because they hate the company, and I end up hating the customers because they're flipping out at me. In this way, members of the same class who should be allies become enemies.

In part two, I plan to go further into my side of the conflict, the customer service side. Most likely the phrase "Stockholm syndrome" will be invoked, or at least evoked.


Randal Graves said...

Gee, it's almost like the entire system is set up for Peon Group A to be angry at Peon Group B while tiny Non-Peon Group counts their blessings, often in the form of vast gobs of loot.

The library often annoys, but I don't know how you private sector types deal without going AK-47 (I know, food & shelter, etc).

¯\(°_0)/¯ said...

I used to work in a similar situation, and my current job entails some "customer service" aspects, but not nearly as much. Anyway, I found the easiest way to not hate myself as much as I hated my job was to either automatically give the customer what they wanted, or to automatically pass it on to somebody else. If the company you work for is as clueless as most companies seem to be, you can get away with this for some time, if not forever.

Ethan said...

Wow, two comments within twelve minutes of posting? I should write about work more often!

More relevant response coming later in the day.

Anonymous said...

Many of us can relate.

As Beck sang, "I ain't gonna work for no soul-sucking jerk."

The glories of a hyperconsumerist capitalist society are manifold, even if they are restricted to a very narrow % of the citizenry!

Let us now praise famous predators!

stras said...

I used to work in a call center, too, helping to cheat sick wage slaves out of their disability benefits. And yeah, a lot of the job involved listening to confused, angry, frustrated, or just plain desperate workers shouting, pleading, or breaking down over the phone while I pretended that my employers gave a shit, that the entire exercise was about anything other than theft. I used to feel like shit every night, but it paid better than any job I've had since; if I hadn't been fired I'd probably still be there, I suppose.

Ethan said...

Randal--oh, a library job would be nice....

You with the symbols instead of a name--it's a good strategy, and one that I've done from time to time without realizing I was doing it as a strategy, if that makes sense. I did it in a huge way yesterday. The problem is my job also has a lot of monitoring, so it's not "safe" to do it often.

CFO--I have nothing to add, but I hate to neglect that comment!

stras--luckily my work is less explicitly amoral than that. That sounds awful. I've only ever had one person actually break down on the phone (yesterday, actually...I guess it was an eventful day!).

Soj said...

I too once worked in a call center, one that forced us to tell the "customers" we had a different name every week, to lie about where we were (physically) and monitored every minute of our day.

*sigh* such happy memories :P

Ethan said...

Jesus, Soj. You win.