Sunday, November 30, 2008

Joby Cain Gets Fired

Joby Cain worked for Callus Representation and Partnership. He doesn't now, because he was fired three days ago. He's been at sea since then. Some would say gone to seed.

He stayed up the first night getting drunk. The second night - the night before this - he couldn't sleep for the nerves. WTF would he do now? He asked himself again and again:

  • As he made coffee with shaking hands and a sore head

  • As he took the bins out, smell of cheese and that smell that only rubbish can have

  • As he switched on the computer and googled aimlessly round the web

  • As he panicked, realising his rent would be due in two weeks, and he had only enough really to pay for that month

WTF would he do now?
Last night, after the day and evening drinking coffee, he decided to stay up and watch the dawn. He'd be at the darkest, just before then. Or so they said. It made some sense to him, but why, he had no idea. It was a feeling more than a rationale. And besides, WTF else was he going to do?
When they did it, he knew it was coming. He got an email. Not telling him exactly. But saying something else that he knew meant that was it. They didn't need to tell him it was the third, but they did anyway. He knew what would happen next, so he waited. He delayed. He saw the mouse pointer moving about the screen, perhaps of its own behest, it became real. Deus Ex Machina. He always took this to mean "God's coming from the machine - there was no classical education here. But, when he saw that pointer, he knew it meant this is it. He didn't know, nor did he care WTF he'd do next. He was nearly - nearly - ROTFL.
He was miserable anyway, so didn't see much point in fighting it anymore. Fighting himself, to get out of bed and get in there everyday; or fighting them, with their artillery of numbers and spreadsheets and three letter acronyms which recorded - apparently very accurately - calls answered, compliments received, complaints reversed, complaints carried over, complaints outstanding, complaints, complaints, complaints. WTF was this job anyway? Somewhere between an answering machine and a sounding board for general frustration.
The call centre was an outsource partner for every crap service and product distribution company in the land. So customers phoned up to complain about something that wasn't working, or the shoddy attitude of the person who came to fix it, or the last person they spoke to about this (or that, or any of it). He'd been called everything from an asshole to an automaton to unfeeling. He'd been told of nervous breakdowns, heart attacks and pregnancies. Everyone was miserable, as far as he could tell, and he was paid to listen to them all let it out. But not as much as a therapist or psychiatrist or barman who was expected to provide solutions, or show a way out. Because he was paid to keep them in limbo. To stall them, while someone somewhere else figured out WTF would be done about it. Everyone seemed to know: At least they said as much in pubs and things. But still they said "I want to know: What you YOU going to do about it?"
So, he stopped answering phones. That was when he got the first email. They called him in and told him "This isn't good" They talked about SLAs and SQ and SDTs and he had no idea what they meant. One guy was wearing braces, like in the film Wall Street. And the girl he fancied from the interview seemed to grow fangs as the "Interface" progressed. He shrank in the glass cube while people passed to get their coffee and listen in and try to figure out how bad it was.
But then he was back at his desk. He had to answer phones, and he had to make people happy. So he tried to DO something about things. First, he wrangled emails to try and contact the people who seemed responsible.
Dear so-and-so, Joby from Callus here. This old woman nearly died (her daughter said) from exposure because her gas was cut off. But it shouldn't have been, because all her payments were up to date...
Dear such-and-such, this customer pays a fortune in line rental and the infosuperhighway broadband, but suffer very poor speeds. This is a work-at-home business, so likely to cause real problems for him...
Dear cares-not-a-jot, your toy broke off in a girl's hand. She was only two years old and nearly ate the head. He mouth turned blue from the ink used to colour the dolls hair, and her mother is most distraught...
That brought him in the second time. All the acronyms were rolled out again. But this time they also mentioned the crucial role of Personalised Response - Interfacing with Customers in the Brand-Customer interface. Brands were presented to customers, but couldn't interface with them, because appropriate responses had to be formulated according to the Brand objectives, customer value and legal ramifications. It was absurd to try contacting these people. They would deal with customer issues based on volume, priority and Brand requirement. WTF did a PRIC think they were doing when they tried to contact these people directly? Apart from anything else - and as one partner pointed out - if they were taking calls and dealing with these things, they'd have no need for the Callus PRICs, would they? There was no arguing it. The world needed Callus PRICs, apparently. WTF would happen without them?
So he was back at his desk, feeling contagiously miserable. Spreading through telecommunicative contact; symptoms: general feelings of frustration, anger and leading to drunkenness or complaining to friends and family. Jesus wept, Callus Representation and Partnership (NASDAQ: CRAP) seemed to be the hub from which some awful conspiracy spread. Humanity was no longer journeying to face hell. No longer your epic travails with the great writers of antiquity. No longer the simple pickup by a skip down an alleyway just off the quays. No longer the suffering of the world - a vale of tears - visited upon you when you least expected. Now, you phone a Lo-Call or Freephone number, and get patched through to limbo, inaction and frustration for next to nothing. It seems a shame to get it for free, when others had studied or worked so hard to experience it.
So he was incident free for about two weeks. Kathryn and he ate lunch. She asked him to tell her about his meetings and why he did it. He told her he didn't know, and embellished enough to make her laugh. They'd looked at each other just so, every so often. WTF would happen there? Hopefully something good. She always ate vegetarian. But she was a good laugh. He just had to stop looking at her cleavage. She'd caught him a couple of times, but if anything were to happen, he'd need to seem more together... less of a perv.
So that side of things was getting better as every other side was getting worse. For phone lines and gas lines and credit lines and storage lines and any other line of business requiring support or a customer interface, the customers tangle with scripts, ably read by people wearing headphones and staring at screens. People like Joby. Callers fight back with scripts of their own, but are powerless against the might of the call centre scripts and so become more and more desperate.

“...look, you have to help me...” asserting

“...look, you have to help me...” demanding

“... look, you have to help me...” hoping

“...look you have to help me...” pleading

“...look you have to help me...” begging.

Cries of desperation. Like those who had not known Christ, these people who called daily were tortured for not knowing a better service provider. Their arms outstretched, grasping for hope; hope ebbed away with those answering “Hello! Some company name. I'm whatever, how can I help you?” So promising, some even responded in good tones. Sooner or later the callers, the unclaimed customers, realised these call centre folks were really just passing by. They asked how they could help, knowing they couldn't. Joby could pass no longer; he stuck out a hand.

He told one woman to never give up. While the thought of calling everyday was daunting, she would get nowhere until she hit the critical threshold. The number for that particular partner was free, so it would cost her nothing but time and her battery charge. She had nothing to lose, had she?

Another, he told to give up. It was quite simply the company policy to avoid support discussions relating to the lithium battery shipped with the device.

He spoke to another customer for thirty minutes about her son's phone bill and how best to deal with his way with it.

Then, he hit the big time. He called to one woman's house with a mop and bucket to replace the set that fell apart. She asked how he got her address, and demanded to know why he would do such a thing. She slammed the door. He was still explaining through the letterbox about how he wanted to make a difference when the Guardians of the Peace arrived to ask him what he thought he was doing. Down at the station, he explained to them how he could take the suffering no more. How he had to do something. When Mrs Molloy called about her mop and bucket, he decided to replace them for her. It was a small thing, but he hoped it would make a difference. The Guards looked at him blankly, then gave him a coffee and a breath test. They told him he could leave and asked him – begged him – to not give them reason to bring him here again.

It was the following Tuesday that he got the email; that the pointer started moving round his screen of its own free will.

It was short, really. Some berrating. Some recrimination To bring a competitor's product to someone's door! We can't have our partners thinking that we hire stalkers! It went on, until It's not without regret that I inform you... This last, spoken as if it were a letter being dictated. He wondered whether he should be writing it down. It turned out this was unnecessary as they'd be sending him a letter and an email to confirm in writing what he'd heard in person.

And so here he is, past the darkest moment – or so they said – with the dawn light bleeding from behind the night sky and its clouds. Blood red and beautiful, he stares up. And thinks “Well maybe it wasn't for me anyway”. He makes some coffee. He looks at his phone, the unanswered calls. Texts. He thinks about his rent, due in two weeks. He drinks his coffee and wonders what he'll do next.

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