Revolving Door


My training class was moved to our permanent desks at work this past Friday. I noticed this week that they have a new training class moved in already. Walking past the aisle where I used to sit, I wonder how many call center representatives have been housed in those rows, and how many of all those have come and gone.

I begin to think maybe it’s not an accident that both call centers at which I have worked have been affiliated with a temp agency. Perhaps it’s by design – an endless revolving door of new hires to fill positions no one can stand to occupy for long.

After our training class was moved to the floor, two of my favorite coworkers were let go due to not meeting call volume. They were hired by the temp agency so their position was more tenuous than mine at the start. The problem is, the time they were experiencing system issues and were not available to take calls was not taken into account when determining call volume as was promised.

Two others in our class quit along the way. Most of the rest of us are pretty afraid of getting fired for not meeting call volume or quality standards now that we’re no longer in training. I hate to generalize. But I feel like anyone who’s a good person at heart has a hard time working in a place like this for long. You have to steel your heart and stop feeling empathy to survive, let alone succeed. They call it “thick skin,” but I’ve never really understood what that phrase means. I don’t want skin so thick I stop reacting to people treating me badly.

And it’s not everyone. I sometimes talk to genuinely kind people. But it’s not the norm. More often, callers are short, impatient, demanding, entitled. Today someone called me “ma’am” and even though I’m 26 it was refreshing if only as a marker of deference. An acknowledgement that I might know something and that she was in need of my assistance.

A coworker said to me that the callers were “lazy” for calling in to get information they could access themselves. But I don’t know if that’s quite right. Maybe some are. But at some point we all allow others to do for us what we could do ourselves. We spend dollars rather than time or effort to get our needs met.

The problem is that somewhere along the way someone decided that because this was a financial transaction they didn’t have to be courteous. This attitude is present in all customer service exchanges to one extent or another. The fact that I am compensated for my efforts does not dilute or invalidate them. Or it should not. I still have information you need and I am providing a service. That’s why it’s called customer service in the first place, ostensibly.

Moreover, why does paying for something make it not valuable? Shouldn’t it be MORE valuable then? How can we relate ethically to one another and not take our frustrations with a broken system out on those who are only doing their best to help us?

A kind word or an acknowledgement that my time and energy could be spent elsewhere is invaluable through the course of my day. Especially in a right-to-work state where my employer doesn’t value my time. I’m a replaceable commodity, as the endless line of training classes shows.

Somewhere along the way work became something that everyone does just because. It lost its value as a result. Work for the sake of work rather than work as a vocation to better oneself and society. What if we all saw work as a communal effort to get all our needs met most effectively? What if we didn’t take for granted the assistance of others as if we were entitled to it? Life is more than work, but we seem to have forgotten that somehow.

Even I was recently short with a customer service representative at the bank. I needed overdraft protection to stop a check from bouncing. I was impatient with him for telling me the overdraft options I could sign up for, rather than what my account had currently. I was so shocked that no inherent protection existed on my account that I allowed my frustration with myself for not managing my finances better to overshadow the conversation, which I then terminated rudely.

But I was wrong. We’ve all been and will continue to be wrong unless something changes. So how do we do better? Our culture does not encourage us to take responsibility for our actions or emotions, and it certainly does not teach us to process them effectively. But what would happen if we did? If we could learn?

What if employers provided classes and workshops to their employees about how to improve communication skills? What if they provided free therapy in the meantime? The psychological scars we inflict on one another daily can last a lifetime. There must be a better way.

I’m left with the thought that maybe those who have left the ranks here are better off in the long run. Someone else will come in to fill that empty seat. How long will they last? How many people have we turned hard and cynical who only wanted to help their fellow man?

Photo credit: Robert S. Donovan

About Nicole Nagy

Nicole Nagy is an independent scholar and writer who is currently working a day job as a customer service representative in the public sector. She is passionate about bringing communication and connection back to the forefront of the customer service industry, and about finding connections between the Humanities and business. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking, gardening, artistic pursuits, and cuddling her kitten.

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