Thank You for Calling

Come on in; take a seat, make yourself comfortable. We’re friends now.

We all have to call customer service once in awhile. No one is immune to it; the worse-than-muzak cacophony of hold tunes, the transferring back and forth between fourteen different departments until you get a barely satisfactory attempt at a solution, never quite knowing whether the representative you speak with next will make you verify the same damn security questions all over again.

It’s hardly the high point of your week. And let’s be honest: you’re probably not thinking very much of the person who answered your call. They’re probably undereducated, lazy, lacking work ethic. Why else would they voluntarily be spending their days in a cubicle taking phone calls for what is probably a pitifully-sized paycheque?

So let’s just get a few things straight.

No one dreams of working in customer service. No one. No one decides to attend a postsecondary institution to get a degree in Objection Handling. There are no degrees in that. There are also no diplomas handed out for specializations in Empathizing With the Caller or courses offered in How to Warm Transfer to Management. No little boy or girl asks Santa Claus for a pretend headset for Christmas or stands in front of the mirror practicing their “smile voice”.

I’m one of those people whose life hasn’t quite gone as initially planned. I was gonna take over the world! I was going to go to school, then become a journalist or a novelist or a travelling…something. A career in telephones was not on the menu for me.

Then – it happened. I graduated. Good for me? Not so much. Sure, it was exciting and the world, for a brief moment, seemed to stretch out in front of me. My parents got to stick my degree in a frame and hang it on their wall, I got to add “Bachelor of Arts” to my resumé. Which, evidently, turned out to mean a big fat NOTHING to employers. Turns out that while a bachelor’s degree carried quite a bit of weight 20 years ago, in the year 2008 it didn’t open up quite as many doors. Don’t have at least a Master’s Degree and 6 years of work experience? Don’t bother us.

So, after 2 months of scooping ice cream for Government employees on their lunch breaks, I ended up getting a job in a call centre. It seemed okay at first; I wasn’t looking forward to it, per se, but I was going to be making $5 more than minimum wage, plus generous bonuses, three weeks paid vacation a year, and benefits. I begrudgingly put in two years at that place until I had had enough, so I quit – and am now working in yet another call centre. Because guess what? Apparently entry-level positions that come along with those perks are not as readily available these days as one might like. So, not only has the degree gotten me nowhere, but it also came along with a pile of debt that is just barely being chipped away at. Which means I’m stuck.

Some days are better than others. But each day brings with it a deeper sense of self-pity. A stronger urge to tell each and every customer I speak with that I indeed am educated, and am even reasonably intelligent, and to please not treat me like a lesser human being for working this job. It is not my career plan, it is just temporary. I wake up every morning wondering “Is this really what I’m doing with my life?” But until I win the lottery, I’m going to have to work. And considering I don’t even buy tickets, that Dream is most certainly one of the Pipe variety.

So please, everyone. Please keep in mind that, when you call customer service, the person you’re speaking with probably doesn’t want to be there. It’s nobody’s first choice. But that person has bills to pay, just like you do. A lot of them have mouths to feed. Some of them, like yours truly, is just waiting until they are able to afford going back to school – where they will absolutely not make the mistake of majoring in something that leaves them unemployable. Again. And that person probably did drop off about twelve dozen applications before they decided to settle for a job which requires them to answer your inane questions and be yelled at for 8 hours a day.

Maybe I will eventually get out. Maybe one day I really will save the world, or at least a little bit of myself. One day, I intend to actually have a job which involves me positively affecting people’s lives. But until then: please be kind. We, your customer service representatives, are people too.

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