#StoriesFromTheStoreFront - Episode #9
"A Customer Service Christmas"
"I have to bury my son tomorrow, and I need to purchase a shirt."
My heart stops. I sit up straighter and I lean forward, wanting somehow to reach her with my concern.
Turns out, she wants a very nice-looking t-shirt, because he was 19 when he transitioned, and he "never wore a suit in his life".
We spend an hour trying to find something. She is calm. In fact, she is so calm I think maybe she's scamming instead of serious, but who would go to this level to get a shirt? No. She's in shock, or fix-it mode. Or this-is-what-I-can-do-for-him focused mode.
I'm not leaving this call until she gets what she needs. We seem to get her there, at long last. She can get a shirt for her son. And she can get it to the mortuary in time for tomorrow's service.
I am sobered...and the phone is ringing...and it is on to the next call...
This man says, with a voice redolent of maturity and a deeply Zen-like calm, "Call me Jimmy." He sounds older - 70- or 80-something. He has a mellow undertone to his voice; a lovely sound of ease and all-the-time-in-the-world in his tone. I feel instantly calmer. He tells me that he wants to buy a perfume for his wife. We take some time and eventually find him what he is looking for. He wants to go into the store rather than order through me. Before he goes, though, he says, "You have a real Christmas voice. Do you have a supervisor so that I can give you an 'atta girl'?"
I am so moved by this offer! It does help. I have had four people ask to do this in my five weeks there on the phones, and it is this one that feels really heartful. He is so authentic, and "feels" so spiritual to me, I feel personally respected and cared for.
On to the next call from an Asian woman who is not hard to understand because of her accent but because her phone is horrific and makes her muffled. Even though we spend some time looking, and I slow my speech and I change my choice of words so that she can understand, we are unable to find what she needs.
She says, "I am sorry. It is my accent."
And I feel moved to say, "No, no, not at all, my darling. [I keep getting more and more a combination of New Yorker and British somehow. Is that even a thing???] It's the cell phones - they make everyone sound muffled."
She leaves feeling cared for too. Mission accomplished. Karma paid forward.
Next...a woman stranded in a wheelchair in a rehab facility for a month longer than expected, uncertain if she will ever stand again on her own two feet. She says slightfully tearfully that she can't get into the store - "I wish I could," she says apologetically - and she needs two sweaters. She wants to talk me to death about how bad all of this is, but I cut her off and I say, "How about we bring the store to you? What do you think of that?" She loves that. We get her a couple of fantastic sweaters that she can wear, and cheer herself up with. She has a husband, but he is involved with the family at Christmas, while she is in this facility. I feel for her. Images of Vince come up in my mind - him in his final weeks in his rehab facility - his terror. If helping her find two sweaters gives her that tone of warmth, relief and gratitude in her voice, that's holiday stuff, to me.
After we hang up, I press the Hold-On-Just-A-Damn-Minute button - the one that lets me not take another call immediately - so that I can tell my new Service Leader of 2 days' duration so far, that I will be in on Sunday, and then out on Monday for my birthday and out on Tuesday for Christmas.
I'm telling him this when I hear, "Lori! That's my birthday too!" from the young woman who sits next to me. Are you kidding me? SO COOL! We share a birthday?????
That's never happened to me before. So, here is my co-worker who is a Capricorn born the same day I was born (different year - she's in her 20's or very early 30's). My new Service Leader, who is the coolest, most laid back dude ever, announces that he's a Capricorn too and his birthday is January 5th. It's a Capricorn Corner!
No wonder I'm feeling comfy! I'm around people who "get" me!
Anyway, we call center types are doing our thing. It's still the holidays, though, and people are tired, stressed, maintaining...and I can't help thinking this job should really come with hazard pay. My back HURTS from all of the enforced sitting!
People on the phones are lovely, for the most part. The ones who are losing their balance have forgotten to practice what is important. I can't blame them. But it is time to make a better choice, I'm thinkin', before we all impoverish ourselves - and not just financially - to "prove" our love.
One of the customers asks me if I have finished my Christmas shopping.
I take a deep breath before speaking. I don't want to soapbox her with my mixed opinions about the holidays. I don't want to tell her I'm too poor to really do Christmas in a "let me buy you a Rolls" kind of way. So, I think for a second and then I say, "I'm not shopping. I'm knitting."
Her turn to pause.
Then she says, "You. are. so. SMART!"
"I'm not smart," I want to say. "But I am listening to my own mode of being. I don't know how it will all fall out. But here's one thing I believe I know: the holidays are here for me, and not me for them"...whatever the hell that means. And I guess what it means is that I just didn't really feel the holidays until 3 days before. Couldn't get myself to do a damn thing about 'em...I have a sense of disconnect from it all.
Or is that really the truth?
It occurs to me as I drive home that my approach to customer service alters the day for people. I calm heightened pulses. I unexpectedly bring laughter and connection and understanding into peoples' days. The purchase itself matters far less than the quality of the contact, far as I'm concerned anyway.
I have not waited for a December day arbitrarily designated the day for celebration. I have been celebrating daily.
Yes, I wish I had thousands of dollars. I would have bought THE most wonderful gifts for my friends. And for myself. I wish I wish! But if I cannot, I have to have the courage to not feel that I have injured the people I love by not spending. I have to find other ways. So I have.
If I can maintain my energy level, I'll keep this up until I get promoted out of that sales chair and into training, where I feel I belong.
Meanwhile it's Christmas. When we are reminded of some powerful shoulds: to be kind and compassionate and loving. I hope we practice that for ourselves more. That's where the real power starts.
So, my Christmas wish, if you will: May our every day be shot through with practiced care, compassion, love, humor, authenticity, humanness, thoughtfulness, and mutual blessing.
"All I know, all I know, love will save the day."
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Working for a retail store should come with hazard pay. Especially when you're in a Call Center.