Team 4x

I’ve been away from the call-centre all week and it feels great. I’ve even managed to fire off a job application for a position in another call-centre so my fingers are tightly crossed waiting on a call early next week. If all goes well I’ll then have the task of getting time off for the interview… do I tell the truth and risk having the request denied, or do I just call in sick? Tough call.

I saw another old colleague last night. One who had put the best part of a decade in at the call centre and who I felt was particularly good at the job. She told me she’s now doing a cleaning job which she told me is much better as “I don’t have to deal with angry xxxx Inc customers.” That’s the thing with the call-centre even the people who seem to be handling it well are feeling the strain too.

This is probably a good point to introduce the story of the fate of what I’ll call ‘team xxxx’ or ‘team 4x’ for short. The background to this tale is one of our main clients xxxx Inc who operate their business on what could loosely be called a subscription model. Their whole way of doing business is however, a shambles and they are notorious for their small print and botched admin. They have a computer system which is also updated once a week so say you place a request on Monday then it won’t be carried out until the next Sunday and the accounts department are based at head office which is on the continent. The lines of communication are so slow it’s like in the days of the empire when some officer acting on initiative would annexe half a continent before anyone in charge back home knew anything about it. Cue lots of crossed wires and customers raging at ‘reminders’ received a month after they sent their payment in, or goods showing up six weeks after they wrote to cancel. That’s even if they ordered them. Some people fail to notice the small print signing them up to an ongoing service, or else the other call centre which takes care of new orders signs people up without filling them in on all the necessary details.

All this makes taking calls for xxxx inc a stressful business. Customers are usually angry and you’ll be dealing with the same issues again ad infinitum…. “I’ve just had a package from you which I did NOT order” or “I cancelled it last month this is all a con” or another classic “I don’t owe you anything and you’ve sent me a reminder how dare you!” Your job is to soak up the crap and then trot out the same explanations that head office is overseas which means communication often ‘crosses in the post’ or that they may not have been told when they placed their initial order that other items would follow unless they cancelled we’re very sorry thankyou.

Frustratingly head office seem to be lacking in interest in the UK operation. XXXX inc is actually a massive operation split into multiple subsidiaries spanning the continent and they simply have little time for us. Someone tried using my log-in once locked me out and it took head office three weeks to get round to issuing a new password. Customers have no hope. A constant grumble is with the packaging of their parcels. This has been going on for as long as I’ve been there and we’ve fought hard to get the message across, logging incidences, sending pictures,  but frustratingly all to no avail and we must listen to each new occurence with the right amount of empathy on tap as the customer details every rip, crush, and tear acting as if we haven’t heard it all 1000 times before.

But, back to team 4x. The team was the creation of our then new manager who either acting under pressure, seeking to impress, or some combination of both decided we would need to improve our pitiful retention figures. It seemed when people called to cancel their subscriptions we displayed no real interest in persuading them to stay; Rather unsurprising as we had no incentive to do so and most of us viewed, and still view, xxxx Inc with a degree of contempt for the reasons discussed at length above. Anyway four people were selected from the pool of Customer Service Advisor’s and re-located to the corner. There they discussed strategy and drew charts on the wall showing the percentage retained each day along with a tick signifying an improvement on the day before, or cross if there was a decline.

Team 4x was something of a watershed moment for the call-centre as we’d previously been a generic mass. Something about rubbish jobs breeds a sense of togetherness and we felt we were all in it together. Team 4x though soon began to develop a swagger. They were actually asked their opinions and given responsibilities, however small these were, so felt important. The rest of us began to regard them with suspicion consigning their memo’s to the bin without reading them. Ultimately though team 4x is a cautionary tale. The relentless pressure, the being caught between customers and an indifferent organisation, the strain of being at the front with no respite took its toll. One member had a breakdown, taking a number of months off sick and returning only with the proviso that they would no longer take calls for xxxx Inc. A second member is also no longer taking xxxx Inc calls whilst a third, previous a relatively good employee, lost all interest and just walked. Like a horror movie only one person, a real call centre veteran, made it through to the end.




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