“May I Speak to So-and-So?”

Today I’d like to share a list of common responses to my fateful opening question on every call out I make: “May I speak to so-and-so?” These responses are the ones I typically get from what we like to call “unauthorized third parties.” These are people who are clearly not the person we’re calling but picked up the phones.

Along with these typical responses, I’m going to include what I’d really like to say in response to them, because, let’s face it: what I have to say and what I want to say are often two very different things.

The Straight Up Lie

Person: “Wrong number.”

Me: “Do you know so-and-so?”

Person: “Well, yeah, he’s my son/husband/father/brother/etc.”

Me: “Then I’m pretty sure this isn’t a wrong number, moron.”

The Jealous Spouse

Person: (typically a female voice) “This is Mrs. So-and-So. Who is this?”

Me: “Clearly not a person stupid enough to tell you I’m sleeping with your husband since it’s obvious you’re already thinking he’s cheating. By the way, could you have him pay his debt? ‘Kay, thanks, bye.”

The Enraged Wrong Number

Person: “Do you know how many times you people have called me for this guy? What? Do you call every fifteen minutes or something cause I am getting sick and tired of this! This is ridiculous! You need to stop calling immediately or I am getting my lawyers, and I am going to sue you. Stop calling this number! You keep calling me every day, and I keep telling you I am not this person, and this is harassment and illegal and…”

Me: “Have you considered the person might have had multiple creditors, and maybe, just maybe, you’re not getting harassed by one company but several who have this number for him? In any event, a simple wrong number and I don’t know him would have sufficed, but no, you had to get your rage fest on for no good reason.”

The One Who Pays

Person: “He’s not here, but I’m the one who pays. You can speak to me. I’m an authorized payer on the account.”

Me: “If I wanted to speak to the authorized payer, that’s who I would have asked for. Now be a good third party and give him a message. Because I don’t want to deal with your pretentious belief that you should have everything you demand all the time when I can’t accommodate you, and I have other people to talk to.”

(As an alternate end to this scenario when I try to decline and explain I can only speak to the person whose name is on the account, they sometimes get defensive and demand I speak to them or no one at all, which can be amusing in itself.)

Person: “I told you. I make the payments. He doesn’t know what’s going on with the account. You’ll have to speak to me, and I’m not giving him the message.”

Me: “If you think I really care about resolving this issue, then think again. All I care about is getting off the phone with you and moving on to the next call. You are not that special, unique or anything else your mother taught you, and I couldn’t care less if you want to ignore my message and not tell so-and-so we called. The only person you’re hurting is him and his credit, so have at it. It’s not my account, and I’m not being paid enough to deal with your delusions of self-importance.”

Those are just a few of the more common responses I’ll get from people who answer the phones as well as the responses I’d like to give these people I talk to. In all honesty, it can be a bit cathartic to go through and think up biting responses to people even if I’m not allowed to give them.

I have some ideas about other things to add, but this was just what I wanted to post on a lark because it entertained me thinking about it. I’m sure people who have worked in collections have heard these same things and will agree with some of my desired responses.

The good thing about my job? I’ve learned there are a ton of people in this world I do not want to be friends with… and all because of how they treat their friendly neighborhood call center rep!

 

RaeNez

 

Employee Safety & Health Concerns: Ice

So today is one of those normal days where we get an ice storm.

No, wait. That’s wrong. We rarely if ever see sub-freezing temperatures, let alone sub-freezing temperatures combined with precipitation of the snowy or icy variety. Who am I trying to kid? Let me rephrase, then.

Today is a unique day when everyone and everything that has even an ounce of self-preservation is remaining out of sight indoors in the interest of avoiding the sheets of ice on, well, everything outdoors.

The ice covering the plant right outside my front door…

As you can see, it was a bit frozen. I took a few different photos for the sheer beauty of the icicles, but did I go to work this morning at 8 am? No.

Was work called off due to conditions where even the state troopers and fire departments experienced incidents where their vehicles flipped on the side of the road? No.

I had, conveniently enough, scheduled off work for today to enjoy a three day weekend (also a good thing since my throat was so sore I could barely speak when I woke this morning) prior to yesterday’s general workplace pandemonium about increasing weather reports of ice, school closings, and overall danger on the roads. I knew I wouldn’t be at work and was already planning to sleep in.

This morning, my phone started alerting me to the general weather alerts at 7:50 am. It woke me up, so I decided out of curiosity to call the office weather line to see if they had shut down.

For the sake of reference: all county schools in my area and the surrounding areas are closed. Even the local university, which never closes due to weather, has shut down. Most banks and government institutions have even shut their doors today.

I called the weather line only to hear: “This is the weather line report for today, January 25. We are scheduled for regular business hours. Every employee is expected to be in attendance. If you are unable to attend, please inform your supervisor. You will need to use sick or vacation hours. And remember: be safe!”

Yes, be safe. In this?

Icicles dangling from my back deck awning. I was holding onto the wall but slipped just stepping a bit out from under the cover. Silly ice!

Clearly the call center believes the safety of its employees comes before the business.

Clearly.

Might I add that for my department, today was only a four hour workday? Why they couldn’t cancel work in conditions where there have been reports of everything from fire trucks to salt trucks going off the roads is beyond me. I suppose we must shoulder on in the pursuit of collecting on delinquency.

Neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow, nor ice…

…will stop the call center from calling a delinquent account near you.

I suppose if we stopped to worry about employee safety, we might actually concern ourselves with the fact that employees actually have lives, families, and other obligations besides being tethered to the phones. And that might make us remember that makes those employees just the same as us. And heaven forbid we begin treating employees who slave in the call center as equals… because then we might treat them differently.

Ah well, either way, I’m curled cozily in my bed, enjoying my day off, and incredibly grateful I “sacrificed” some vacation time to avoid this beautiful but deadly icy weather.

RaeNez

 

 

Just Doing My Job…

After two random posts about my job and a brief description in the about me section of this blog, I suppose I could explain a little more about what exactly it is I’m doing. In case you’re curious about what a girl like me is doing at a place like this and whatnot.

I’m currently working at a call center, which you may have already gathered. It’s the typically glamorous life pictured in numerous commercials (“Representatives are standing by to take your call now!”) where the gleaming white-toothed, perpetually-smiling rep takes calls non-stop with the patience of a saint and the ability to solve world hunger all in the space of 9-hour workday. Not to mention this rep never suffers a single complaint or becomes fazed by the anger of a customer.

There are multiple variations on this theme. I’m a perpetual target of SiriusXM’s call center lackeys. (And, yes, I feel I can call them lackeys since they essentially perform similar functions in a call center in the same way that I do.) They call about that ridiculous trial offer I naively took out when I got my new car, and “Ma’am, don’t you want to enjoy your favorite SiriusXM stations again? With this offer, you get all your favorite channels plus a dog, a cat, a white picket fence, and free wireless for the price of just one month’s subscription!” Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating that last bit.

Needless to say, they are just doing their jobs as sales reps. I get that. I respect that. And I generally am kind in declining my renewal subscription. It’s always the same, too. They somehow ask why I don’t want it, and I inevitably respond: “I can get it elsewhere for free, so why would I want to pay for the same service?” Cold, callous, and totally true.

But SiriusXM is the sales model call center. You’ve also got another model in terms of fundraising and/or surveying. These people don’t call with your name, or maybe they do and it’s on a list they harvested from a paid list of names. Either way, they call with similar themes: “Ma’am, can we speak with the oldest male present who listens to the radio?” (That’s the most recent one.) Or sometimes they change it up to: “Ma’am, may we speak with someone in the household who listens to the radio?”

These people are irritating on a whole different level. I never gave them my name or number. I didn’t ask to be surveyed or otherwise begged for money. Nor do I honestly care if you’re doing a survey about ongoing radio trends in the greater metropolitan area. If you’re going to call back fifteen times a day, you’re going to get used to people like me who eventually answer the phone, wait for it to connect to the person on the line and simply say: “Please stop calling.” Click.

And then we’ve got my model of call center: the collections center. Note that these call centers are not to be confused with inbound call centers that deal primarily with customers calling in to make purchases, ask questions, resolve issues on accounts, or otherwise harass reps. We’ll deal with inbound call centers later.

My job is a simple matter of logging into multiple different systems on a computer each day, putting on a headset (which does get uncomfortable after hours of use), and clicking onto a desktop system connected to my phone that allows calls to come through. Our system dialer is active throughout the day, and it runs campaigns on delinquency.

Delinquency, you may ask? Yes. Delinquent accounts. I work in a company I will not name for privacy with accounts that are mainly individual debt. Think of it like working with mortgages, car loans, student loans, credit card debt and other similar forms of debt. The debt can be anywhere from a few dollars when it’s close to being paid off to over $300,000 in some cases.

To simplify it further, I am working with simple interest debt. The principal balance on any given account accrues interest daily, and in turn, payments go towards accrued interest first and then principal. Easy? Yes. The people I speak with would sometimes disagree, but that’s not my problem.

My job is just to call and try to convince people to pay their bills. They’re always bills that are past due by at least 17 or more days. They’re typically people who tell me they can’t make their payments for this or that reason, and I have to come up with a solution to their situation. Thankfully my job allows me to do this; we have assistance options available. But woe to the person who doesn’t qualify for a program or payment plan to fix their issues!

As you can imagine, it’s an easy enough job. I figure if monkeys could talk and type, it would be simple work to train them to do it. And it’s surprising the work hasn’t been outsourced to India or some equally incomprehensible country where the hours are unreal and the people are willing to work for much less pay than what I’m getting now.

But that’s what it boils down to, isn’t it? It’s a job, and someone has to do it. Unfortunately, until I can find another job, this is what I do.

So if I call you about your payment, don’t get mad. I’m just doing my job.

– RaeNez

Case Study: Rodrigo & Denial

I’m usually a pretty patient person when I call people on the phones. My job isn’t hardcore collections work, heavens no. I can’t deal with the idea of dropping threats of garnishing wages on people; the most I’ll threaten is accounts going into collections if you reach a certain number of days past due.

That said, there is a limit to what any sane rep should have to listen to on the phone, and I might have strained that a time or two. Most notably with a person we’ll call Rodrigo.

Rodrigo is your average American guy. He is not, as his name might suggest, someone with a heavy Hispanic accent who understands little to none of the technical jargon around paying bills. (Those are the people who say, “Oh, ah, Spanish?” and get sent off to my dear friend who handles the Spanish queue and get a mouthful from her when they try to pull a lack of understanding in their own language.)

Rodrigo is of pretty average intelligence; though he seems a bit puffed up about his education and background. That’s fine with me. I don’t mind. I have a degree of my own, and I did my work to get it. That said, he doesn’t know what it means to have an account with a regular bill. Nor does he realize that by not responding to our efforts to collect or resolve his account, he can’t a) stop our collection calls, b) claim we’re doing something illegal, or c) stop his credit from being ruined. And if he keeps it up, his account will undoubtedly go straight to the collections agency who won’t listen to him tell them why he shouldn’t have to pay but will instead gently and firmly inform him of the amount they intend to garnish from his wages.

You’d think maybe then he’d actually want to do something on his account.

Here’s the story:

Typical for my job, Rodrigo’s name pops up on my computer screen, I greet the man and explain why I’m calling. Before you know it, I’m in a conversation with someone convinced that this debt does not exist.

Yes, well, apparently it does. And it does in your name. With your contact information attached to it.

In fact, this debt isn’t even legal. (It’s funny how every time someone tells me their debt doesn’t exist, they follow up by threatening that it’s illegal for us to contact them regarding the supposed nonexistent debt.) Yep, this debt isn’t legal, he didn’t owe any of this money to anyone or anything, and furthermore, this was supposed to be taken care of for him.

Clearly that happened, and that’s why we were calling.

Normally people are manageable. I’ve developed a knack for calming people down and convincing them to listen to me and take in their options to resolve their accounts and maybe even start their own process of resolution (however futile it may be). I give them a resolution that I think works, and then I give them the means to complain or request research or otherwise do something that makes them feel they’ve accomplished something.

Not Rodrigo.

He is of the class of people who are single-minded in believing any account in their name is not something they are responsible for. Nor is he responsible to try to resolve any issues on any type of debt in his name that he doesn’t feel is valid. (Because clearly leaving it alone will make it go away – like any child, this strategy is always a good one.)

His situation is one of the unique ones that my company comes across where he may have a legitimate complaint that could determine his debt is, in fact, not something he is liable for given the circumstances. He may actually have the potential to reduce his debt (which numbers in the thousands of dollars) to nothing.

Does he hear me saying that the good news is there’s a simple process he can start to get this debt issue resolved? No. He hears me saying he has to initiate something, has to take on responsibility for something, has to be active. And that grinds his ax, so to speak.

So we go in circles about his nonexistent, yet reappearing debt that he insists should be taken care of.

The great thing about Rodrigo and his infernal denial? He’s been in the system for calls so long he’s gone through several other representatives. He’s one of the people on my list that I tend to go back to for amusement purposes. He’s also spoken to two different supervisors, and I’ve had the misfortune of calling him a second time. During that call, he was so pleased that I listened to how much the system, the government, the schools, the businesses, and society has wronged him, he told me he wouldn’t speak to any other reps besides me… or perhaps the CEO, ya know, if he decides to call and apologize for this whole debt debacle.

All I can say is, regardless of our rules against hanging up on people, if I see his name come across my screen a third time, forget it being a charm, I’ll be clicking the little hang up button and calling it a “call disconnect.”

I’m sure Rodrigo will come up again in the future… he’s become a rather amusing topic of conversation amongst my coworkers. Not to mention, we’re unfortunately still calling him. It’s just too bad there’s not a button to stop calling people who refuse to help themselves. It would certainly save the reps a lot of time and energy.

– RaeNez

Call Centers: So Not What You Think They Are

Maybe you’re that person who picks up the phone without checking to see what number hit the caller ID, and suddenly you hear it: “May I please speak to so-and-so?”

Oh no. Really? Now you see it. The 800-number strikes again, and you’re suddenly reminded of too many other things you need to be doing. In fact, maybe you should just hang up the phone instead of answering.

You know, the representative on the other end might be hoping you’d do that.

In fact, the rep may be wishing you’d just tell her, “Wrong number,” or “He’s not here right now,” instead of answering any of the myriad other ways that you might decide to answer.

And then you decide to answer: “This is.” Maybe a sigh escapes you. Maybe you huff and grumble that you’re busy or tired or sick or anything other than just fine and dandy. Maybe your friendly voice turns incredibly chilly and hostile and you go on the offensive without thought.

Whatever the case, the rep on the other end of the phone is trying not to sigh back at you. And maybe biting back the retort that if she could make money doing something else she wouldn’t be there trying to get you to pay your bill.

Because does anyone really want to work in a call center? I mean, come on, really?

They look so happy to be there, don’t they?

So you got the call from the local 800-number, which, let’s face it, often enough isn’t local to your area. Instead of hearing the rep out when she tries to explain she’s calling about your past due bill, maybe you’re one of those who immediately barges in and spouts: “I’m not interested, thanks!” That’s normally followed by a hang up.

The truth is… that saves those of us making those calls a lot of time and effort. Okay, so the company wouldn’t want you to believe that, but people who make the calls? We get the crap. Have you ever considered that you’re talking to a live person with parents and a dog or a cat or siblings, maybe kids and a spouse? No? Oh, I see. You’re one of those people who thinks it’s cool to take out your anger at whatever insignificant thing in life has upset you on this particular day by screaming at and cussing out the poor rep at the 800-number because she picked this fateful day to call you and harass you when you can’t pay your bills.

I can’t say I have any sympathy for people who do this.

I can’t say I honestly care whether you can pay your bills or not, but I’m not allowed to say that on the phones.

What I can’t say there, I can say here. The truth is that when I talk to a person who thinks it’s a good idea to yell at me about how awful their lives are, I can only think of one thing I’d like to say in response: “Wow, your life sucks. I work in a call center.”

Add in a couple comments about how I hear this kind of thing all the time, I talk to people like this all the time, and before you know it… people might actually feel sorry for me!

So now you know, and  you’ll hear more… about just how different call centers are from your imagination. If you haven’t worked one, you have no idea what they’re like, and if you’re used to screaming and raging at the interruption to your precious time, I hope you’ll consider this: there are, in fact, actual humans who are unfortunate enough to work these jobs, and they’re the ones who end up dealing with your rage fest. (Not to mention some of us tend to jot down your accounts to go back and laugh at your multiple rage fests over time with other representatives because we take a sarcastic bit of pleasure in knowing we aren’t the only ones to incur your wrath and you haven’t figured out that the calls won’t stop the more you scream.)

– RaeNez