Customer Service

My day job, as you’ve no doubt gathered from the customer service transcript posts, is fucking insane.  It doesn’t demand much brainpower, and, in fact, I have enough spare time to run a publishing company, act as a consultant for another publisher, and juggle a handful of freelance writing gigs as well as maintain silly shit like this blog. I probably shouldn’t complain.

Who cares about how stupid the job is, or how intrusive and petty my co-workers are.  A paycheck’s a paycheck, and crazy co-workers are handy to have around so I can seek therapy through feeling superior.

The problem is the customers.  Those transcripts I’ve been posting are just the tip of the iceberg.  The ones with entertainment value. I’m on the phones for five and a half hours every day, dealing with a clientele of PhD’s, or those on track to get their doctorate.  Mental health professionals. People who should be understanding and calm, responsible and intelligent. And, yet, they are universally irrational and remarkably angry.  So much so that, as a member-based organization, we’ve been forced to bow and scrape to them, to roll over whenever they bark a command. We refund with little debate, our front line of defense is to reduce the dues by 80% without question. We waive other fees whenever the slightest hint of a raised voice comes over the phone. Whatever the customer wants, they get.

Sadly, they rarely know what they want. I believe, half the time, that they simply call to release steam in between patients. Instead of a punching bag, they use an anonymous bystander and take great pleasure in bullying them.

I’ve had phone service jobs before – harder, tougher ones.  All day, no break, high stress jobs. But never have I encountered such a collection of consistently cruel bullies. Without provocation, and even when they’re getting everything they ask for, they call me names, they lecture me, they threaten me and, on occasion, they’ve come to me in person and threatened me face to face. They come to my office, and once sought out my apartment, and I get calls on my home phone all the time.

All of that started after a 2008 article in the Washington Post about my small press which, sadly, tied me to my day job forever.  The article opened with a description of the job and my office, and gave enough clues to the industrious to find me at home.

The article has dispelled my belief that I was just an anonymous punching bag.  Someone to yell at because, by nature of the service industry, I was a non-human, a non-entity.  Now they had a name, a face, a history.  But that only increased the bullying, and seemed to give them more focus.

“The speed you’re working at right now makes me wonder if the pain came back.” Just got that remark, delivered snidely, a few days ago from some stranger on the phone I’ve never spoken to before.

Over the last two years, personal attacks like this have come with no rhyme or reason.  There’s no single customer, or group of customers, that I can point to. It’s a random mix, and it’s gotten so frequent that I no longer answer direct calls to my line, and I avoid transfers from customers who ask for me specifically.  When I am forced to answer the phone, I do so with a nervous tremolo, an unsettled stomach.  It’s gotten so that I can’t even answer my cell phone if I don’t recognize the number.

I’ve had this job for ten years, and have been in some sort of high-stress customer service job for 20 years, but these last two years have nearly killed me.  If I didn’t believe in the inhumanity of Man before, then it’s certainly been illustrated recently ad nauseam.

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