Odd Jobs #5 – phoney me

When I wrote my first “Odd Jobs”-blog in September 2015 I was just starting to settle in at the job I currently still work at and was still very much in the honey moon phase. Don’t get me wrong, I still love my job and am not planning on leaving any time soon, but things have changed since then, which is logical and good for my development (or so people keep telling me).

full-caterpillar-to-butterfly-transition

Looking back across my CV and the different jobs I’ve done, I see one big trend: the telephone. The odd one out in that sense, is my time at the notorious tax office (aka the most miserable you have ever seen me). And thinking about it now, I think I only said yes to that job because it involved no phonework whatsoever and I had decided I needed to take a big and conscious step away from call centery work if I wanted to move forward.

When I started taking my frustrations from work out on my favorite people, I changed my mind quickly and ran back to the first phone I could find.

My current job involves picking up the phone but is very un-callcenter-like in every other aspect. My previous work experience made this part of my job a walk in the park and very gradually shaped me into the company’s unofficial “phone coach”, as a surprisingly large group of people is either not very good at this or genuinely afraid of the ringing machine… Helping my co-workers find their telephone courage taught me several things:

  • Maybe, perhaps, probably, possibly, could and should are words that express doubt and avoiding them not only makes the person on the other end of the line feel more confident about the message you are communicating, but also has a positive backfire-effect on the person who speaks them.
  • “I don’t know” is a perfectly acceptable answer (when it is true) and is more helpful than offering a solution you are unsure about.
  • A sincere “I am sorry to hear that” is sometimes all that is needed.
  • Words are powerful things and should not be underestimated.
  • There are many ways to say “No”.

An interesting transformation I have seen happening in “newbies”, that I recognize now in myself as well, is the following:

  1. The beginning:
    Internal dialogue: So much new information, I will never get the hang of this!
    I feel unsure / hesitant / overwhelmed / Argh!
  2. One month later:
    Internal dialogue: Customers are not calling to make my life miserable and I actually know quite a bit!
    I feel more confident / proud / relieved.
  3. Getting the hang of it:
    Internal / external dialogue: “Yes, yes, no need to finish your sentence, I know what you want. Probably better than you do. Let me get into my flow and tell you everything I know so you can be on your way.” Next!
    I feel over-confident / impatient / repetitive / superior / judgmental.
  4. Slightly frustrated
    Internal dialogue: I’m quite sure I was giving customers the information they needed but now that I’ve been told to try a different approach I feel like an idiot.
    I feel insecure again. I feel like my words sound insincere and unnatural. I feel rebellious.
  5. Telephone zen
    Internal dialogue: First, I’m just going to listen….
    I feel relaxed / open minded / self-confident / ready

What I disliked about callcenter work:

  • most-important-call-center-metricsScripts.
  • Being evaluated using silly standards such as
    • Did you mention the client’s name the right amount of times?
    • Did you ask the client if there were any further questions (even when the client has clearly said he / she had no further questions)?
    • Did you say all the sentences in the right order?
    • Did you manage to keep your average conversation time under 3 minutes?
  • Strict break times.
  • Good hair days turning into bad hair days after constantly getting entangled with headphones.
  • The constant buzz of people talking around you, for 8 hours straight.
  • The unhealthy air / lighting.
  • The clear limit there often is to the amount of critical thinking that is tolerated.
  • Crappy tea (and apparently also bad coffee, but that doesn’t affect me)
  • The fact that I can’t pick up my own phone without automatically mentioning my employer’s name as well.

What makes my current employer different:

  • No real script, apart from the greeting when you pick up. The rest of the “script” consists of general pointers and tips (that by now have mostly been written by me).
  • Break time is very flexible (up to the point that many of us forget to take a proper one).
  • Relatively small budget, so pretty crappy phones & underlying technique.
  • It is encouraged to come up with alternative ways to do things and every idea will be looked into seriously. Disappointment when your plan disappears into the bin after one (or two) looks, is not really allowed though. You must be able to get yourself together quick and move on.
  • No evaluation (or none that I notice).

What I hope to master in time to come (or at some time in my life):

  • Time keeping
  • Making decision with “the bigger picture” in mind
  • Making a plan and sticking to it.

My final conclusion is that call center work is often seen as the bottom of the career food chain, and yes, any slacker could probably do it… but people that are really good at it need to know so much about so many things, starting out with empathy. I think that it every human being would work in customer care for a while and would really make an effort, the world might be just a little more friendly…

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Odd jobs – #1

My current job is the first one I feel pretty much satisfied with. I have been here for almost 8 months now and am quite certain my co-workers and supervisors are satisfied with my work. I get along well with everyone and look forward to every new day. I’m happy!

Before I landed my current job I had many different jobs. My first ever money-earning job was a summerjob I had at the age of thirteen. I worked on a farm, harvesting potatoes with several of my friends. It was fun. It was work we couldn’t really mess up, the weather was nice (mostly) and the company was the best. We had music playing in the background and I earned a small salary that bought me my first stereo. Life was simple and relaxed.

From that moment on, I pretty much always worked and all though it was seldomly inspiring work, each one had their interesting things and taught me valuable lessons that have made me who I am today.

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The job where I worked the longest (almost 5 years) and where I met some of my best friends was at a health insurance company, where I worked as a helpdesk agent. Phonecalls, phonecalls, phonecalls, eternal phonecalls. No claim, deductible, premiums, declaration forms, policies, invoices, bayliffs, terms and conditions. How can I help you? Have I answered all your questions? No problem, I can explain it again, if you like. I know it’s complicated, let me try a different angle… Or maybe I need to speak slower? I hope this helped. Have a nice day!service03

It’s actually a miracle I ever even got to know my co-workers, as we only had a couple of minutes and sometimes seconds between one phonecall and the next.

The reason I stuck it out so long was that it paid reasonably well, that I could plan my hours flexibly and that my colleagues were great fun. A lot of young people worked there and the ones that weren’t were very young at heart. Fun, open people and awesome team leader, what more can a poor student ask for? Definitely better than waiting tables!!

And in hindsight I must say I did learn so much from that job. I learned that:

  • …being part of a team is a great feeling.
  • …for some people €30,- is a lot of money.
  • …an angry person calling is never angry at me.
  • …a day with more than two unpleasant conversations usually says more about my state of mind than theirs.
  • …you can make a difference, by just listening. This doesn’t mean giving them their way, but if you manage to give the person on the other side the feeling that they have been heard, that’s just as good (or better!).
  • …there is always room for exceptions.
  • …complaining does pay off (sometimes).
  • …some people are just ass holes, and that’s fine.
  • …I can handle any conversation.

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I was planning on walking you through my entire CV but I just realized I might as well make it into a series of blogs. This way I can discuss the different jobs I had, without it being too overwhelming. I want to highlight the valuable lessons that I took from them and explain how they influence my life today.

Any one of you ever work in customer service?