Thursday, May 1, 2008

Life Lesson From The Call Centre

Hey, kids! It's time for another True Story From One Of My Jobs!

This is another one from my days as an "information officer" in a government call centre. I spent about two years in that position, and it almost made me wish I was Catholic. Believing in the concept of penance would at least make me feel that job wasn't a total waste. Surely those years would make up for any sin I could ever possibly commit, before or after. This period was the only time I've ever said, or even thought, the words "I hate my job."

Anyway, this is the story of a back-to-back pair of conversations I had one day. Both were identical situations: a son, probably in his late thirties, was calling to report that his Dad had passed away, and wondering what to do in regards to our department. The requirements weren't onerous. Basically, when someone who was dealing with us passed away, we needed copies of their death certificate and will (which both of the deceased in these cases had - a person dying without a will complicated matters a bit, but not much). Once we had those, their executor could handle the remaining details, which could usually be dispensed with in a five-minute phone conversation.

The first son called, and I told him the requirements as I had done for hundreds of other callers in the same situation. He flipped out. He became very agitated and abusive, spewing profanities and raving about how difficult the department made things for surviving family members. He kept saying that "this is why people hate the government," repeating the words "red tape" and "making this so complicated". Remember, all I told him was that we needed the death certificate and will, which could be provided by fax (toll-free, even), and one more very brief phone conversation. When the conversation ended, the caller was sputtering with anger.

Immediately after that call, I got the second call with the exact same situation, but this caller was quite different. I said the exact same words to him, in the exact same tone. He kept thanking me profusely for laying everything out so clearly. At the end of the conversation, he thanked me one last time for being so helpful and making things so easy for him.

Remember, my words were the same both times, with the exception of a few quiet and gentle attempts to calm the first caller. I never returned his agitation; I was a veteran phone monkey by that time, so it took a lot more than that from a caller to provoke a reaction. Both of these men received the exact same information - the only differences came from their reactions.

I've never forgotten those calls, because I have no doubt which of these two men has a happier life. Given the choice - and make no mistake, to a great degree it is a choice - I would always want to be like the second man. He was pleasant, co-operative, and grateful for the assistance I offered. That's a far better way to go through life than the path chosen by the first caller.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my now-dead dog. This one was taken in 2003.

1 comment:

RebelAngel said...

You're lucky to have gotten the calls in the order you did. The other way 'round would have been less heartening.

I used to work collections for the telephone company. I feel your past pain (and current relief at it beng over)