Tuesday, 12 October 2010

It IS personal

Well I haven't blogged in a good while now as life got in the way. I do plan to get back on here sharing lots of fun and positive stuff, but for today I've come out of blogging hibernation for something not quite so cheery.


For those of you that don't know me personally, I work in a call centre. Now this isn't my vocation, some long held dream I cherished close to my heart, it just happens to be the only job I could get when I needed part time work after having children. No matter. It pays the bills, and aside from the odd bit of aggravation it's not been a bad job. Well, I say aggravation... I think I may have used the words "soul destroying" on a number of occasions, but hey, I'm a drama queen.


What I want to ask today, after many years of working on customer service in one capacity or another, both face to face and now as a call centre credit advisor, ahem *clears throat* "WHY DO YOU THINK YOU CAN SHOUT AT ME LIKE THAT?!"


Why, when I brought your son's chicken nuggets to your table do you think it's ok to scream, "How stupid are you? My wife always puts them on the mantlepiece to cool down!" Why, when I ask what the problem with your meal is so that I can help, do you think it's ok to throw your pint glass at my head and scream at me to "F*** off!" Why, when I let you know that the pub closed an hour ago and you really do need to leave now, do you think it's ok to scream in my face and call me a b***h? Why, when I explain to you in your posh members club at half twelve at night that, no I can't serve you any more alcohol as our licence doesn't allow it and I'd lose my job and get fined, do you think it's ok to lean over the bar and scream in my face that I am, in fact, a f*****g c***?


Now, you may think that, obviously being incidents on licensed premises, these were alcohol related, and excuse them that way. That's what I also suspected, and why I was a little bit relieved four years ago when I realised that my job on the phones would take that element out of the equation. Ah, the naivety. On my first shift a delightful gentleman on the phone called me a c***. Nice. Of the people who started the job at the same time as me, two left within that first week, after spending much of their time crying in the toilets as customers routinely talked to them like dirt. I, through practice, had somewhat of a thicker skin. Besides which, well, I needed, still do need, my job. When people shouted at me, swore at me, talked to me like I might just well be several sandwiches short of a picnic, I pushed it to one side and told myself, well, it's not personal. Occasionally one of the customers would even say that to me, between rants. "It's not personal, love." I understand, I thought, they're having a difficult time and can't pay their bills, they're frustrated by that and they're just taking it out on me. It's not personal. It's not personal.


But do you know what? It *is* personal. They are shouting at *me*, and I *am* a person. I'm 33, I like cats, cake, and playing in the park with my boys. I dislike dogs, aubergines, and, er, oh yeah people shouting at me. See? I'm human. A person. Therefore it is flipping personal.


So last night, when I called a customer who hadn't paid their bill and offered to try and help, I was doing it because I was actually bothered. I actually cared that she was going through a difficult time, and I actually wanted to help her find a solution. I was a person on the other end of the line listening. I listened as she shouted at me. I listened as she asked me if I was stupid. I listened as she shouted and belittled me some more. I couldn't say what I actually wanted to say at this point, as I need my job. I've put up with customers like this for fifteen years, always somehow coping with it because I knew it was my job, and at the end of the day I need to pay my bills. The thing is though, I don't have a job anymore come the end of this year. 'Organisational changes' you see. So as this 'lady' screamed at me I didn't any longer have the shield around me that ongoing employment had previously provided. So I completed the call while trying not to let her hear me crying, wiped my tears off my notepad, then walked to the toilets and cried.


I write this today not as some sort of self-pity fest, but to try and let you know that it's a person on the other end of the phone, not a robot. That may seem an obvious statement to make, but I do wonder.


The phrase "The customer is always right" means that customers know what products and services they want, and businesses would be wise to listen to that. It does not mean, "If you're having a bad day or just feel like being mean to someone, go and scream at someone who isn't allowed to talk back because they'll lose their job if they do, and it'll be ok because you're the customer and you're always right".


I don't know why people increasingly feel like it's ok to do this, and this blog isn't long enough to even begin to find out. Is it a by product of the breakdown of communities and people genuinely interacting with each other less and less? Possibly. Is it a combination of the consumer culture and wage slavery? Probably that too. It's certainly worrying the increasing number of shops and offices who have the sign up stating that their employees are not there to be physically or verbally abused. Clearly this is actually something that needs putting up on the wall as a matter of course. How scary. How scary and how sad that that's the case.


So I'm writing this in the hope that at least one person listens, and makes an active decision to talk civilly to someone on the other end of the line. You could even be nice. Ask how their day's been maybe. They are a person, and it *is* personal.