Tuesday, August 14, 2012

No. 34: Customer Service

“Customer Relations, Inc. is our client’s one-stop shop for customer service excellence,” Mike Flint’s voice boomed through the conference room where me and six other people sat. They were a hodgepodge of shapes, sizes and colors. Mike was a tall guy who had slicked back black hair that seemed soaking wet based on the amount of hair gel that looked combed through it. He had a beard that was mainly stubble along the cheekbone but he had a full grown goatee. “CRI currently has three contracts which you will all be working on at some point. The contracts are the National Cancer Association, Nuwicki Business Insurance and Upbringing Monthly, a magazine.”

I had never heard of any of those companies. The National Cancer Association sounded like it gave you cancer instead of helping to cure it.

“The best part about CRI is how easy it is to work here as long as you follow two simple rules. One, follow the scripts. Everything you need to say is written down for you. The script works. Read it word for word. And two, have a positive attitude. Bring your smile to work everyday. CRI has been a long-established company in town having been here for 12 years.”

Someone in the group raised their hand and spoke, “If CRI has been here for 12 years then how come I’ve never heard of you? And if you are a well-respected business then how come your newspaper ad just says ‘Earn money calling people’ and the phone number?”

Bold, I thought. But I was honestly thinking the same thing.

“If you are not going to be serious about working here then there’s the door and you can leave,” Mike said angrily and pointed at the conference room door.

So you want people to have fun at this job but not question the shadiness of this business, I thought. I would honestly leave right now if I hadn’t had water in three weeks.

I was laid off from my job that I had for seven years about eight months ago. When I was first laid off I began searching for jobs that were similar to or a lateral move from the job I had before. After about six months I decided to look for a low-pay job that would at least bring in some income while I continued to look for something else. When it was clear places like gas stations and McDonald’s wouldn’t hire me I decided to call some of the mysterious numbers in the papers. The ads that read “$1500 a month!” and “Make $100s setting appointments” and the ever ominous “Need young people now.”

The first ad was going door-to-door selling some kind of expensive humidifier. The next was going door-to-door making appointments so other people could try and sell vacuums and the last one was to become one of those annoying magazine salespeople who are trying to get a trip to Rome or some other place. The last ad I called was for CRI. I was told to come down and fill out an application. After I filled it out, I was immediately called in for an interview which wasn’t so much an interview than an application verification. I was hired on the spot and, after the weekend, was back to start training.

“You will all start on setting appointments for Nuwicki Business Insurance. It’s the easiest script we have, ergo, it’s the easiest sell,” Mike said and began handing out papers to us. “This script is easy. ‘Hello, my name is Mike. Can I speak to the owner of Customer Relations, Inc? Thank you. I am calling on behalf of Nuwicki Business Insurance with an offer to lower the insurance for you and all of your employees by 20%. If you would like I can set up an appointment for you to meet with one of our agents.’ If they say no then you read this part of the script in an attempt to get a yes. If they say yes then you schedule an appointment and boom, you’ve made some extra money.”

A woman raised her hand, “Do we do the two ‘no’ rule then move to the ‘Thank you for time’ bit?” she asked.

“Keep reiterating these two paragraphs until you are sure you are not going to get a ‘yes’ then thank them for their time. We are not considered telemarketers because we are not selling them anything, we are setting up appointments,” Mike said.

Just keep telling yourself that, I thought and smiled, that doesn’t make what you’re doing any less annoying.

“Who’s ready to make some calls?” Mike asked excitedly. All but two of the seven people around the table raised their hands. “All right. Let me get these people set up out there and I will be back in here to help you with whatever questions you have.”

Mike led us out to the call floor. There were three rows of cubicles that made a semi-square around two desks where apparently the supervisors sat. Mike placed me between a short and stubby man with a shaved head named Thomas Limberhand and a pretty girl with tight, curly hair named Erinn Rangle.

“Ready for your first day?” Thomas asked me as I sat down at the cubicle and put the headset on. The computer awoke from its sleep and showed me a desktop with the CRI logo and three icons. One for each contract.

“I guess,” I said. “Is this job difficult or anything?”

“Not really,” Thomas said. “I’ve been here for nine months and apparently that’s some kind of record. People tend to drift in and out of here fairly regularly.”

“Wonder why,” I chuckled and doubled-clicked on the Nuwicki icon. The phone dialed the first number on the list and it rang on the other end. Someone answered and I began my spiel. “Hello, my name is Joey. Can I speak to the owner of Murphy’s Auto?”

“This is him,” the man answered.

“Thank you. I am calling on behalf of Nuwicki Business Insurance with an offer to lower…”

“Listen, we’re a small company. Just me and my two sons. We have good insurance and we’re not really interested in switching and even if I was I don’t have time to stand around and talk about it. Just put me on your ‘do-not-call’ list, please.”

The man hung up and I quickly stopped the phone from dialing again so I could click the ‘do-not-call’ button.

“Try to do that while you are still on a call, man,” Thomas said, pointing over the cubicle wall. “The supes know when you are not ready to make a call.”

“Okay. So we’re calling people at work?”

“Typically, yeah,” Thomas answered. “If they don’t work from home.”

“I just bothered some guy at work,” I said.

“That’ll happen. After a few days, bothering them won’t even cross your mind. Hello, I’m Thomas and I’m calling on behalf of the National Cancer Association…”

I sighed heavily and got ready to make another call. “Hello, I’m Joey and I’m calling on behalf of Nuwicki Insurance. May I speak to the owner of Get Nailed On 9th?”

I was sitting outside on the benches provided texting on my phone, a once expensive thing I bought back in 2001 but now very ancient by today’s standards but I only used it to call people and to text so why did I need something more elaborate?

Erinn came over and sat down across from me with a sack lunch. I had nothing. I had about ten minutes left in my lunch. “Are you enjoying your first day?”

“You’re not going to tattle on me if I say ‘no’ are you?” I asked.

“No. Sorry I haven’t been more talkative but I find it best to just sit down, do my job and get the hell out of here,” Erinn said.

“I hear that,” I said.

“I’m Erinn,” she introduced.

“I know. Mike told me. How long have you worked here?”

“Two months,” she pulled out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. I stared at her as she took out a cigarette and placed it in her mouth. She noticed I was staring and seemed to go limp. “I’m sorry but this place just makes me want to smoke all the time. I smoke nearly a pack a day and let me tell you that isn’t cheap.”

“I wouldn’t think so,” I looked at her eyes. They were wide but on her it didn’t stand out or look odd. For some reason, I kept looking at her nose. She had a nice nose, not proportionate to her face but one with character. On the large side but it turned up just slightly at the end. When the sun hit her face just right or she was in the right shadow, she was beautiful.

“So why’d you take this job?” she asked.

“I got tired of hanging around with people who got out of the shower to pee,” I said.

“Really?” she laughed

“No,” I laughed at her laugh. “I was laid off several months ago and this was the only decent job that would hire me. I was desperate because my water was shut off nearly a month ago. My gas has been off for two months and my electricity will probably be shut off next week.”

“That is desperate. That’s at least a better excuse than I have.”

“Why are you here?”

“Because I suck. I can’t keep a job, I can’t just live in one place, I can barely take care of myself,” Erinn remarked. “I always relied on someone else to help me and when my friend, who I was living with, moved in with her boyfriend I had to find another place to live. I was able to find a cheap place but I needed a job and I needed it as soon as possible so I wound up here.”

“I hardly believe that you suck. I’ve known you for several minutes now and you are the complete opposite of suck. In fact, if I didn’t smell like an unflushed toilet, I would totally ask you out.”

She smiled and blushed, lowering her head. The cigarette she was going to smoke went back into the pack and she took a bite of her sandwich.

“I have to get back to work,” I stood up. “I’ll see you inside.”

“See you Joey,” she said through her smile.

I was only on the phone another hour when Mike came up behind me. “Joey, can I see you in my office please?”

I placed my headset on the desk and followed Mike to his office. “What’s up?”

“You’ve only scheduled five meetings today, Joey,” Mike sat down behind his desk and I slowly sat down in one of the chairs in front of it. “CRI expects at least a meeting an hour for your first week. It’s not that hard. What can we do to help you? Do you need to sit with one of our veterans? Do you need additional training? Because starting next week you’ll need to schedule three meetings an hour or we’ll have to let you go.”

“Are you really going to fire someone because they’ve had an off-day?” I asked.

“If you don’t set up meetings then CRI doesn’t get money and if we don’t get money, you don’t get money. We want all of our employees to be at their best. If you aren’t meeting your quota then clearly you are not doing your best,” Mike said.

“It’s my first day. Why aren’t you giving me this lecture next week? Or why not on Thursday or Friday?”

“We don’t want you to get in a habit,” Mike began but I interrupted him.

“I read the scripts, I keep them on the phone, I give them as much information as I can and, again, I read the scripts. This whole job is a habit.”

“You need to try harder.”

“How can I try harder? I’m pleasant and friendly. I treat the people nice and they seem to like me even when they are yelling at me. What am I doing wrong? Tell me how I can try harder.”

“Just think about the money you’ll make if you make these appointments. The more appointments you schedule, the more money you’ll make,” was the non-answer Mike gave me. If we scheduled a meeting, we got an additional ten dollars. If that meeting resulted in a sale then we got an additional one hundred dollars.

“That doesn’t help me. I can’t control what the people on the other end do,” I said. “I can think about the money non-stop but 90 percent of the people I call will still say ‘no’. You told us that.”

Mike stared at me blankly for awhile then clasped his hands and breathed heavily. “Maybe we should move you over to Upbringing Monthly,” Mike said. “Log out of the insurance program and log in to the magazine program. There should be a script in your cubicle.”

I got set up out at my cubicle and prepared to take my first call for the magazine. It rang and someone picked up almost immediately. “Hello, my name is Joey from Upbringing Monthly. Is this the Holvoet household?”

“Yes,” the man answered.

“Our records show that you have a newborn and we were wondering if you would be interested in a one-year subscription to our magazine at our reduced rate of two dollars an issue,” I read, feeling better about pushing this on people than I did about the insurance.

“Not really,” the man began. “My wife had a miscarriage in her ninth month so we won’t be needing a magazine on how to raise a baby.”

Damn it, I thought. “I am so sorry, sir. I will take you off the list and we won’t bother you again.”

“Thank you,” and I disconnected the call and clicked the ‘do-not-call’ button and wrote an explanation in the notes box.

I looked at the clock on my computer. “Three more hours,” I moaned then dialed the next number.

“I heard they moved you over to the magazine,” Erinn said, following me out of the door.

“Yeah. I guess I wasn’t cutting it on the insurance side. The magazine was slightly easier but I’ll be back on insurance tomorrow,” I said.

“I think Mike will end up putting you on the cancer side. You make a dollar for each donation you get.”

“Yeah. But only if they send in the money. Which they aren’t required to,” I reminded.

“True. That’s why I like the insurance side more,” we stopped at a car in the parking lot. “This is me,” she said.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” I said and turned to walk to my car.

“Oh, Joey! If you ever do want to ask me out, feel free to come over and use my shower.”

I turned and looked at her. I smiled as I watched her get in her car. I continued walking to my car. Still smiling.