Call Center? Do You Understand Me?!?

Part 1–Setting the Scene

There are some things I’m not very good at, not at all. One of them is dealing with people trying to solve my problems who I can’t understand and who can’t understand me. As soon as I call and the call center presents me with someone from India, or Pakistan, or nearby environs, I feel like I’m going into tachycardia. I know what’s coming. Aggravation. These are not stupid people. These are people hired by stupid people, stupid people who instead of giving their employees a Berlitz course or Ulpan in American English, and some cultural sign posts, give them a book to read from.

Last week, Sears, a dying institution, presented us with a bill on our Mastercard for a sum I haven’t spent at a Sears in total purchases over a decade. Of course the bill didn’t say what it was for. So I called customer service after finding the information on the computer utterly useless. The lady who answered was young. She sounded like she might be 11. After the pleasantries, I explained my issue and she said, “Give me your Sears credit card number.” I explained to her that this was not a Sears Credit card issue, it was a Sears charge on my Mastercard. The line went silent. She then repeated everything I had said and asked me if it was right. I said yes. And then she asked me for my Sears Account number. Finally, before my jaw muscles locked, the light dawned on her and likety-split she transferred me to Mastercard call center–in the same country. Or for all I know, in the same room.

Now I had the pleasure of speaking to a young man. He had more maturity in his voice, but the same book. The bottom line here was this: “Well Sir, if this is a Sears charge I have no way of knowing what it is for. This is a Sears problem–let me transfer you,” which he did either in spite of or because of my yowls of protestation. So here I was back at start, dealing with another woman. It wasn’t the same woman as the first woman, but believe it or not it was the same conversation. My ears are now spinning on both sides of my head and my eye-balls feel like they are going to pop out of their sockets. She said, “Let me transfer you to our customer service specialist.” Silly me. That’s who I thought I was talking to. Now things become absolutely Orwellian. I was greeted by a robot. I swear on the graves of my ancestors, a robot.

The robot said cheerily, “Hi, you’ve noticed I am not a human, but you can speak to me exactly as if I were. Now please tell me how I can help you.” I’m from Brooklyn, but my mother studied English and wouldn’t let us sound like we came from Brooklyn so I know I speak well; I made a living at it in fact. Three sentences into the issue I hear, “I’m sorry….could you repeat that?” As I spluttered, the robot must have shorted out somewhere. It said, “Wait. Let me check your account,” an account he had no number for. Then in this tinny voice he/it said, “On December 12, you bought 6 socket wrenches and an electric drill. Is that right?” I said no. Without missing a beat he/she/it said, “On December 19th you bought outdoor furniture and a shotgun. Is that right?” I screamed, NO!” Moving right along CP3O informed me I had purchased fans, or chairs, or refrigerators and air conditioners. Each time with an, “Is that right?”  Screaming is about where I was, as acrid smoke began to drift out of my ears. Then I lost it.

I began yelling, “REPRESENTATIVE! REPRESENTATIVE!!” over, and over, and over again. Maybe I overloaded the robot’s sensors because it kept going on about enough stuff to fill a warehouse. Then finally, without missing a beat it crooned, “Hang on, I’ll get someone to help you.” But I was gone, out of my mind. I was now available to be an understudy for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” I have a twinge of sorrow for the woman sent to rescue me. Overcome by apoplexy, I raged a very brief explanation of the above and said, “It is no (!###!!#!) wonder that you people are going out of business!” I hung up. Would that one could still slam a phone into a receiver, but that release was not available to me.

I’m jittery just recounting the experience, a form of call center PTSD I have. I called Mastercard, got a North American, challenged the charge, cancelled the card, and received new ones. If the hundreds of non-paid dollars sink the Sears ship, so be it. You get what you deserve–at least sometimes.

Part 2–Thinking about the scene

The other night I heard yet another of the endless political discussions about job creation. Then it hit me. The call center.

This country is awash in students needing part time jobs, awash with graduates that either need “tide-them-over jobs or help-pay-student loans” part time jobs, awash with unemployed men and women laid off by job loss, men and women often too old to re-enter the job market and/or be retrained to enter it. Then too there are the under-employed. They are Americans. They understand Americans. They speak “American.” Here is a business the president should turn the guns of his 2nd amendment supporters on. Those are jobs that should be brought back to America.

And there are models. I buy a lot from a company called, “Drs Foster & Smith.” It is a pet supply company. I call up. I speak to some nice lady from the Mid-West with either an order or complaint and in five minutes it’s done and neither of us have agita. If I want to call India, I’ll wait until I know someone from there and call them. Otherwise I don’t want stroke-inducing experiences being foisted on us by so many companies, companies too stupid to understand the savings they make on wages they lose in customers.

“And, as Lilly Tomlin’s Ruth Ann would say, “and dat’s da troot!”




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