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 #4

As I drove through the Hague with my mother today we passed a stately white building in the city’s diplomatic neighborhood that brought back memories of the time I had spent there as a receptionist.udink.jpg

I can’t even really recall how long I worked there all together, but I think it was just for a couple of months during two consecutive summer holidays and after that every now and then when they needed someone extra. It was a law office specialized in corporate law with, if I recall correctly, about ten lawyers and half a dozen secretaries.

My work consisted of making coffee for clients, ordering flowers for special occasions, sorting the incoming and outgoing mail and transferring phone calls. I think figuring out how the phone worked was the most complicated part of the whole job. It was great. I got a lot of studying done there, and they were fine with that as long as the few tasks I had were done correctly.

And yes, even here there were lessons to be learned.hierarchy Pyramid law.png

  • Marble entry halls are pretty but they are also cold and echoey
  • I kind of like making fancy coffee with good Italian espresso machines
  • Flowers are actually very expensive
  • So is (good) wine
  • Neither flowers nor wine are gifts that make me particularly happy.
  • Receptionists are invisible to some people
  • Lawyers are (often) full of themselves and cling to ideas of status and hierarchy to extremes that are almost funny. To me. Not to them. Never to them. Nooo.
  • All though I had to come to this same conclusion again later on in life, I had already found out during this job that I don’t enjoy having to dress “professionally”.
  • I could still pull it off though.
  • The Hague is a pretty interesting town

Nothing life changing, as you can see, but it’s still part of my life’s path, so might as well share!

Odd jobs – #3

In a previous blog I told you about my job at a car dealership after which I travelled to Ecuador for a couple of months to recharge my battery and re-calibrate my compass. I came back to Holland with a smile on my face but very little money in my pocket. That was OK for a while but after a month or two it started to get worrying… For a second I thought my colleagues had been right when they called me crazy for quitting my job in economically trying times.

BelastingdienstI pressed on, wrote and called, smiled and presented myself the best I could and finally got a job at our government’s most unpopular institution: de Belastingdienst , aka the tax office. My mother was very pleased to hear I had landed a government job and was convinced I was finally set for life.

From the moment I set foot in that office all the rebellious fibres of my personality acted up. We were treated like unruly children in my opinion, which in turn made me want to behave like one.

I was required to sign in and out by writing my name on a form on our supervisor’s desk every day. The fact that we also had a keycard to enter the building and they therefore already knew when we arrived and left, was irrelevant. The one time I arrived on time, forgot to sign the paper but went straight to work (usually before everyone else had finished their coffee corner chats), I was registered as being too late. This drove me nuts. Especially after the train was delayed later that week and I received an official warning for being late so often. After the third time the employment agency would be informed and my chances of getting my contract renewed would be slim.

It was all so puzzling to me. I remember this one time I was working on a tax return request and wanted to finish it before I went home. The working hours were from 8AM to 4:30PM and when I hadn’t joined the queue at the exit by 4:32 my supervisor came over and said this behavior was not appreciated because now he had to stay longer too… O.o It felt like I had travelled to another country and had not yet learned the language and customs.

I had never felt such reluctance to go to work in the mornings and you can imagine the relief I felt when I had found (and was accepted for) a job elsewhere. All though the list of negatives goes on and on, I will try to make a list of things that I learned from the 3 months I spent here.

  • Humor is an awesome coping mechanism, but it is important for me to keep checking myself and step on the break when my jokes become too sarcastic/cynical as it may be perceived as bullying by some.
  • More boundaries do not necessarily create more discipline.
  • Some big institutions “don’t even know on the front side that they’re alive on the back side”, as we say in Dutch.
  • I do not do well in an environment where “why” is a dirty word.
  • Your parents don’t always know what’s good for you.
  • When the annoyances from work seep into your out-of-office time, it is time to grab a parachute and jump.