Interviewing with HR

February 13th was kind of a big day for me. I wasn’t going to say exactly, but it was actually my year mark at work, and I was sent my annual review that apparently goes out to everyone on the date they hired in. So goes a year of my life… drowned out on the phones in commentary I can’t be moved to care much more about than I do about the people who tell me how much I should stop by their kiosks at the mall to “try a little something” because they want to jack up prices on some product I shouldn’t purchase and wouldn’t use.

Clearly I shouldn’t have hired in prior to Valentine’s Day, but so goes it…

That said, it’s been a real trip the last few days this week. Monday I responded to the human resources questionnaire I was sent as part of my “thanks for staying” email from our VP of HR. Being the honest and blunt sort, my answers to questions weren’t exactly expected, and I was promptly emailed back by the VP requesting a meeting with me.

I will say that by blunt I don’t mean I was aggressive. Nor was I rude. I simply answered honestly and without sugar-coating any of my feelings on things the way some people would possibly have done. When asked, for example, how engaged I felt with the company, I stated “not very,” and proceeded to explain why and how they could change that for me in my department.

I know it’s the place of human resources departments to take care of employees. We are their customers, so to speak, and so said my VP when I met with her Tuesday. She tried to reassure me that she sees the people on the phones as the life blood of the company, but the truth is that when all is said and done, we are still just the employees.

As I told her earnestly, the trickle down affect of our COO’s patronizing and demanding ways moves through the ranks from our Assistant Vice President to our Manager to our Supervisors and Assistant Supervisors. It doesn’t stop with them. They demand the performance that is causing so much stress and dissatisfaction with the job.

I know she understands because she’s putting together a plan of action for the department, and that’s great. She asked me to bear with the department as they implement the new changes she wants, and she’s determined that we won’t feel as downtrodden as I described myself in the questionnaire responses I sent her.

I’m not sure if this has any connection to my meeting with her or if I was chosen in a random sampling that they’re doing, but I received an email from another of our HR gurus today asking me to meet with him to discuss the employee morale and engagement of our department. He’s asked me to fill out a second survey, which is scarily more personal.

In fact, it requests I rate my loyalty to the company on a scale of “extremely” to “not at all.”

While I don’t recall seeing a place to put my name on the form, I have to question just how honest I should be in this form.

I can understand why our HR department is taking such an interest in the call center employees’ morale and engagement. I just highly doubt they’ll be able to offer any form of improvement over what we have thus far developed as the main form of management and supervisory skills.

I’m still debating on how honest to be in that survey…

At least I have until Monday before I have to make any hard and fast decisions. My meeting with the HR guru is then. We’ll see how it goes, but at the very least, I have the reassurance from my VP of HR that I’m not on the chopping block that she keeps track of in terms of potentially losing my job. So that is a relief.

– RaeNez

All Hands on Deck!

It’s been a day… a long, exhausting, mind-numbing, sleep-inducing day. I don’t even know where to begin, other than to say it’s been a day.

I’d like to take the time to break apart and analyze an email our department received from a manager today. I’m not quite sure how kosher that would be on a blog, but given it isn’t exactly going to be the full email or give away any exact details, I suppose it’s not too terrible.

If you’re not familiar with call centers, I will only say they are all about metrics. Did you meet your call volume for the day? Did you hit the hourly call rate? Did you manage to avoid any supe calls? Did you keep the call times to below 2 minutes? Did you take less than 30 seconds to notate accounts between calls?

These are the things we deal with when we’re taking inbound calls for hours on end. And these are the things that irritate me to no end. Our company (Call Center Xtroardinaire) has recently gone through a great deal of expansion, and we’ve increased our account portfolio by a high percentage. That translates to having increased the number of individual accounts by more than 1 million over a very short time frame.

This, in turn, has created an expanded need for call center reps to tackle the inbound calls. Makes sense, right? Wrong. What we’ve done is turned this into an opportunity to instead fire reps, decrease our call center size, and draft other agents from different departments to handle calls with us. Other departments are now on mandatory overtime, but we are still given the option (when that will change is anyone’s guess), and other departments are spending a portion of their day taking calls due to the increased volume.

We have about, oh, a handful of new people coming into the call center mid-February (poor, unfortunate souls) to tackle the open positions we have. They won’t nearly cover the open desks we have, but it’s a start.

So, onto the patronizing pep talk we received from management today…

“Be efficient on each and every call! Typically we like to focus on one-call resolution and avoid having the customer call back and check on other issues. I’m not saying ignore this by any means, but we really need to focus on answering the customer’s question(s) and move on to the next one! Many of us (myself included) tend to get easily sidetracked talking about the weather, sports, etc., but please try to keep that to a minimum!”

Well, that was enlightening. It was just one of the points in the email, but I have to argue it could be put a little simpler by saying: Quantity over quality, people. Get it right! It’s clear management has adopted an attitude of getting through the issue of call volume rather than addressing the issue of staffing, call quality, and customer service.

I don’t get sidetracked into discussing such inane things as the weather, and typically if a customer tries to discuss it with me, I’ll steer the conversation right back to his account. “Oh, yes, it’s lovely we’re having weather. Now, did you say you wanted to make a payment with me today?” I do get sidetracked into noticing that a customer wants to hold their payments for a month and is set up on an autodraft and needs that taken care of. Or I’ll notice that when directing a customer to the website to sign up for the autodraft, I should also check to see if he’s been there before – oh! – nope, he hasn’t, so sir, please make sure to sign up for an account instead of just trying to put in a user name. I’m pretty sure the user name won’t work unless you register first.

These seem like mindless little details, but these are the kinds of things we’re supposed to cut from our calls. So that explains why I got a call from a man who, after calling in earlier in the day, asked me why his blankety-blank user name wouldn’t work and why it wouldn’t register his information when he tried to log in. Well, you see, sir, you don’t have an account on the website. Maybe you could start by signing up for one? Fifteen minutes of holding his hand to walk him through all his website woes later, I’m off the phone and onto the next call, something that could have been avoided had the last rep not simply told him to sign into his account to fix it.

Next on the list…

“Be confident! You guys know this stuff – there’s no need to check with us on the things ‘you think you know, but you want to double-check’. If you think you know the answer, you probably do! And we totally trust you guys on this! Obviously there are tons of scenarios that come up daily that you (and us) need to research further, but overall be confident in your answers and advise the customer accordingly!”

Wow. Can I just say wow? I think we could easily have summed this up to be read as: Don’t ask us questions; we’re tired of it. Just answer them yourselves! Now, going right along with the above nixing of the details, this is one of those ways we shave off an extra few seconds of call time, save an extra minute or two of “off phone” time and essentially free up the supes to handle other things (what things I don’t know).

This just says to me, as a rep on the phone: We, the management, don’t give a damn about you. You are a peon, and you will take the calls and deal with it. No, we will not take your angry customers and supe calls. No, we will not take your questions. No, we do not care if our system screwed something up on an account or if one of our departments didn’t do something correctly. We are management. We will not be bothered. Go, go, advise the customer.

In short, the pep talk did more to raise my blood pressure (literally, it was somewhere in the neighborhood of 132/70ish at the doctor’s office) and infuriate me than motivate me to put in 2 hours of overtime per week for the next 5 weeks as another point in the email stressed. Now I’m on more medication to try to solve the issue of an infection I’ve now had for a week and a half, and I’m betting stress at work will certainly help that. Not.

After a wild day of crazy calls, I’m exhausted… so I suppose this shall end my post for tonight. But I hope if you plan to call a call center (especially if it’s mine) tomorrow, you’ll refrain. Spare me the misery, please. At least for one day? 🙂

– RaeNez

Flip-flops in February

No, I’m most definitely not referring to the footwear. I only wish I were.

In fact, it might be easier if I were referring to footwear. Today was my first day back after a week off from sickness, and the call center was in full steam, rare form, and full of energy, vibrance, and noise.

Well, maybe only noise.

I was slightly overwhelmed by it all but pushed through and was rewarded with inbounds.

I haven’t broached the subject even though it is the subject of my waking nightmares, and by that I mean the nightmares I live day in and day out in the call center on a regular basis. As today is Monday, it’s the only appropriate day to start talking about them, too.

It might come as a surprise that I have a preference between outbound collection calls and inbound customer calls, but the truth of it is I’ll take the outbound calls any day of the week. Why? Because the vast majority of inbound calls are inane. They’re heaped one on top of the next. And if the outbound crew is pulled to handle them, you know you’re bound to have a number of angry customers to deal with because of the wait to speak to a rep.

Today was no different, really. Mondays are the worst. Our call center, thank heavens, is closed on weekends, so we get a reprieve to get away from the madness. The tradeoff is Manic Monday, where you’ll be assaulted over the least little thing because Sally Customer has waited ten minutes to speak to you and simply will not be quiet now she has you on the phone.

Normally I go through the same routine on outbound calls and can do it in my sleep. Inbound calls are worse because some of the questions you get are so completely idiotic.

And, yes, I am pointing at you, Sally Customer, who called me today to tell me your computer didn’t want you to download a form from our website because “it’s a virus.” Clearly you either have the wrong website or your browser’s security settings are too high, but no, don’t listen to the girl who works there. Demand, quite haughtily, she mail it out to you at once and then ask her when you’ll receive it.

(My crystal ball says: Ask again later.)

For much of the afternoon, I took back to back calls, notating the accounts as I went. Inbound is more or less like a screaming infant. You pick it up, walk it around back and forth for a while and pray it will get sleepy. Then you plop in a rocker and try that to see if the rocking motion pacifies it. You stick a pacifier in its mouth only to have it spat in your face. And just when it seems to nod off, the dog barks or the floor creaks, and it’s screaming again.

That was today. We had over 200 calls holding most of the afternoon, for a steady two and a half hours. Two and a half hours.

Who holds that long?! Oh, wait. Sally Customer. Who then curtly demands I fix her problem as she rushes me on the phone because she’s been holding too long.

I’m ever so sorry. (Not really.) But when you complain about the wait, you’re only taking that much more of my time that could be better spent hustling you off the phone. And when you say you hope the calls are monitored (they are) so my boss will hear that we need more reps (he doesn’t care), I yawn and feel my eyes cross as I remember the new motto of the company.

Pretend I work for “Call Center Xtroadinaire.” Our new motto for the call center? “I am Call Center Xtroadinaire!”

Now add to that a motivational speech about how not hiring enough reps has saved the company loads in salary that they can now use to cater lunches on Mondays and breakfasts on Fridays. And maybe an addendum that everyone can wear jeans for the next six weeks as we focus on lots of pretty goals, and we’re really talking!

And, that, is what I missed by not being at work last week.

Oh how I wish I could stay sick. Just a bit longer, really.

Because, as I long to tell my boss, had I known I was signing on to take flip-flopping outbound collection calls and inbound customer calls, I would never have taken my job. Period.

Just saying…

And now I’m off to bed because it’s late and I’m exhausted. Oh, and, yes, that’s right. I work in a call center and have to get up early in the morning. Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to bed I go…

– RaeNez