Anyone who has watched Full Metal Jacket will be familiar with this bit of dialogue, or to give it its proper title ‘the rifleman’s creed’.
This is my rifle. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. My rifle, without me, is useless. Without my rifle, I am useless. I must fire my rifle true.
The creed speaks of the relationship between man (or woman) and the tools they use for their job; one without the other is, the creed points out, quite simply useless, they must of necessity be a single entity, a cyborg-like fusion which can trace its origins to the time the monkey picked up the bone in 2001 a space odyssey.
The creed is about a kind of love, if not an intimacy, but I have to confess to a rather more ambiguous relationship with the tools of my trade. The headset, the computer and the telephone.
For a long time I shunned the headset based upon two very sound reasons. The first was that I didn’t want to look like Madonna, the second was that whilst my old job had involved answering the phone whenever it rang I liked to fool myself that at least I wasn’t working in a call-centre. Since, with my current job there is no escaping this fact I must wear the standard issue headset. There are indeed many like it, unfortunately though I don’t have my own as there aren’t enough to go round. This means a constant cycle of pinching headsets whenever anyone is not looking. In an attempt to regain order management imposed a rule that headsets were to be left at desks with only the foam earpiece removed, but this lasted approximately a week before people started hiding their headsets again and then management imposed a rule where people had to put their name on a sticker and put that on their headset, but as they’re weren’t enough to headsets go round this rule seems to have been repealed. Needless to say its all got very confusing.
I don’t like my headset either as it is rubbish, only covering one ear (my preference is for the two ear version) it means I can’t hear customers when it gets very busy. Similarly the poor microphone isn’t any good for speaking to customers. One good thing about the design is that if I sense a customer about to embark on a rant I can discreetly slip the earpiece slightly back just off my ear, meaning I can’t hear the customer, only pick up a vibration to indicate they are talking. Rant over I slip it back on my ear and ask them how I can help.
For any firm over a certain size ‘the system’ is at the heart of every interaction between the firm and its customers. The system dictates the terms of every single action, setting the limits and relentlessly imposing its will. The sketch show little Britain was bang on the money with the ‘computer says no’ sketch; the computer not the customer is king. My job is in essence to act as the interface between the system and the customer so unsurprisingly much of my time is spent explaining ‘the system’ whilst the rest is wrestling with the system, trying to hoodwink it into doing what I want. Each system explains a lot about a company, its values and corporate culture laid bare by its architecture; for instance one system I use is a clunking, unresponsive dinosaur of a system. It’s not even in real time as it is only updated once a week. I leave you to draw your own conclusions…
Completing the call-centre toolbox trinity is the telephone. I hate my telephone rueing the very name Alexander Graham Bell. Maybe its not his fault, the telephone is after all a great invention, where would we be without them? No, it’s just my phone I hate. Why? Well it’s a tyrant, a very Machiavellian tyrant, and a tell-tale to boot. My phone produces more data on me than the Stasi would know what to do with. When I’m taking a break, when I’m not available for a call, how long I take on each call, who has called me, who I have called, the phone dutifully logs all these. My managers then compile the data and produce a table showing what our average call time is imploring us to lower our averages and castigating those over what they deem an acceptable average. This table is a crime against statistics as we take calls for many companies, each with different kinds of transactions varying in length, yet the average is just a crude aggregation of all our calls. The ease at which the telephone enables this data to be compiled also leads to an emphasis on call time, rather than much harder to measure and more subjective measures like customer satisfaction. This leads to a situation where good customer service is perversely penalised, whilst bad customer service is held up as an example we should all follow. All because of my tell-tell telephone.