The Camel Has Left for the Chiropractor

As it was after any three-day weekend, the following week was just another big blur of Mondays… 

Americans are optimists so, when any previous Sunday showed the slightest promise of Spring, the would-be campers could emerge from their winter berths,  pull out the old camping gear, and take stock of what equipment still worked and hadn’t rotted or mildewed over the winter. 

Memorial Day was around the corner! The great outdoors was calling!

The first long camping weekend of the American vacation season had officially begun. Thankfully, a majority of campers experienced good weather.  Others were not too happy, never mind that they picked up the tent on the same cashier slip that listed the buns, canned beans, hotdogs and marshmallows!  As a manager of a call center, I could plot the calls coming in by areas of the country, depending upon where the sun has peeked from behind a cloud and whispered ‘Summer is coming”.  I could also plot the patterns of “just a little wind” or “a light rain” but that’s another chapter.

Some consumers using their break/lunch hour continually dial the same 800 numbers, hold for a short period of time, then forget about their initial mission of the week. Call centers are slammed for the first seven hours of an eight hour Monday; Tuesday is busy too, but calls tend to taper off by late afternoon.  By Wednesday’s “hump day”, people’s priorities have changed.  Work and family events take over, because the numbers drop to a predictable sum in the middle of most weeks.  Thursdays just slip by.  Whoa! It’s already Friday …time to pick up the phone and complete this honey-do before going home for the weekend! 

So began the call center race each week. The Caller’s Objective: to reach a real live representative in less than 5 minutes.  In the consumers’ minds, there were hundreds of phone representatives just waiting for someone to talk to. But more often than not, there were only a half-dozen –   COUNT THEM! – six workstations inside of time worn cubicles, the majority filled with unsuspecting individuals working the consumer service lines for the first time. Some of them wised up over the years, and became seasoned reps among the fold.  Others lasted only a season; my personal peeve was that some of the best and the worst were cut from the same cloth: all had previously sold cell phones; they had learned to use their gift of gab to “sell up” rather than fix any minor problem.  Cell phone types were never seriously regarded as keepers in my long-term, managerial perspective.

In a customer service scenario, the ability to problem-solve was imperative.  As a manufacturer, we provided both the human connection and the physical part(s) to make one and one’s product “whole” again. Hence,

Defective was the only word most callers voiced.  Comprised of more than four letters, defective was a surefire adjective meant to satisfy the reps’ ears and our data base criteria.   

This is covered under warranty, right? 

What do you mean you can send parts?

We depended on reading updated, accurately prepared specs… But even then, servicing our clients was an extremely Neanderthal process, failing to offer us a means from which we could click our mouse and “presto” make our caller happy…

Please hold for one moment, Sir. (He’s not happy, he’s asking questions… )

Any unusual scenario was considered on a case by case basis; the many repetitive descriptions that implied there could very well be some type of legitimate flaw jumped from the reps notes onto my spreadsheet!  There was little coincidence, but much that was considered anecdotal at best.   It promised to be another long summer.

Among the majority of seasonal temps, anyone who had an intelligent quotient of ten points above a tree could only stomach one season. If they managed to return again the next year, chances were good that they couldn’t get a preferred job elsewhere or had decided they could bluff their way through the eight hour day with little attention.  

Not so their illustrious leader – me – who retained a yearly optimism that our corporate systems would improve, as would not only the seasonal temps but also the callers’ expectations!  The optimism each season was infectious! We’d have a better run this season; of course we would! 

Nevertheless, I remained on the phone and on emails,  tracking down the last major parts orders, dealing with the wrong parts received,  and succumbing by the end of the season to a personal depression; was I really this trusting? (I hesitated to insert “stupid”, but with hind sight, one could substitute for the other).

Relatively few details escaped discovery in our service center.  Scripts, and many hours training to pursue the correct course of questioning normally satisfied a normal, run of the mill caller’s situation.    

·      Did you review the contents of the box to make sure everything was complete?

·        Did anyone practice pitching the tent before leaving?  

·        You sprayed it with what?

We customarily asked questions and in turn hoped that we were “educating” the consumer in a polite, albeit often too late, manner.  Didn’t anyone read Consumer Reports anymore? Or simple care instructions?

Yep, that all-in-one vacation package promised the outdoor experience of a lifetime; so much so, that when the unsuspecting purchaser read the bullet point sales pitch and assured his significant other of a fantastic week in the wild for her and the kids, she was game!  Now, which aisle has the hot dogs and the chips???

The next Monday, it was obviously OUR FAULT (as the manufacturer) that their dream weekend had become a nightmare. Never mind that two layers of cloth won’t protect campers from most freaks of nature;  nor that the weather warnings that had predicted thunderstorms were dismissed by the campers who had braved rains back in the day. Now, lesser issues were often involved, including a tent bag full of bad judgment calls that piled up like proverbial straws to finally break the camel’s back; enough so that Wednesday’s Hump Day smiles disappeared entirely from our summer season’s work week. 

Ultimately, educating the masses was downright idealistic, especially when hundreds of dollars spent on camping equipment didn’t guarantee a successful experience; the entire exercise had burned a distasteful hole in pocket books and taste buds.  “Teaching callers” via a taped greeting was optimistic at best. The Labor Day Holiday ended the season, but a closed Monday always overwhelmed a normal Tuesday’s call volume; lines overflowed and calls backed up; once again, optimists chose to hang up and redial…there was no end to explaining how they had lost their place in the main queue. 

On a brighter note, the next seven months would again include only one Monday per week…