Reflections On a Year in Customer Service
"What's APR???" they would say to me, their voices dripping with fear and frustration and anger. "Why do I owe $6,000 when I only borrowed $500???" That was RISE, a company that offers short-term loans with interest rates through the roof. Up to 298%. And yes, you are reading that correctly. There, I offered education and respect and understanding to those who called me, freaking out. I couldn't offer them lower interest rates. I couldn't believe the high ones are lega but it turns out they are in fact legal. "Moral" is an entirely different story.
I did try to get out of that gig and get into a better sales job within the matrix of sales campaigns available, but we had an odd cast of characters leading the charge. The Supervisor who had a substance abuse problem and an anger problem. The 21-year-old Supervisor - need I say more? - who followed the lead of the Supervisor with the substance abuse problem. The Scapegoat Supervisor who the drinking Supervisor hated for no particular reason. The Head of the Department who smiled well, made beautiful promises, and was preternaturally resistant to fulfilling them. Stories within stories within stories unfolded in that crazy department, and anyone who actually did make it out of there (they for some reason hated letting anyone go to another campaign, especially if it bettered the lot of the employee) was seen as a heroine.
It's actually the people on the phone that make this kind of job fascinating. I met Johnny on the phone one day. Johnny lived and worked in L.A. in its heyday, and he had stories to tell about seeing Liz Taylor across the street and being absolutely dumbstruck by her remarkable, purple-eyed beauty. He was a Casting Director back in the day, so you can imagine how ardently I wanted to keep him on the phone all day long.
Okay, so that was December of 2017, not 2018, but I love that guy, so I just had to mention him.
In this last year, I have talked politics with someone who was like-minded and who brought the topic up (my Supervisor was not in the room at the time, or I'd never have gotten away with that one), and just a couple of days ago I listened to an unprovoked harangue about "those damn Democrats, I'm so angry! We need to build a wall!" I have calmed people and I've been amused by people. I've talked a couple into looking at Cincinnati as their next place to move. I've learned a lot about Sales, and I've taught myself a lot about how to use those learnings with integrity. I've had my heart break for people with really challenging situations, and I've thickened my skin towards, and worked to deepen my compassion for, those people who are trying to run a game on me. Sometimes the compassion part is only for me and not for the both of us, and I think that's just fine. Compassion Starts At Home, right? Yes indeed.
Young women with voices of uncertainty call me; this is one of those moments for them in which they have to have some authority - Mom told them to call - and their voices reveal the struggle to meet the challenge of answering a question of decision while they still feel like little girls waiting for direction from the adults.
Men with equally uncomfortable voices call me - men I imagine are from the backwoods, men with compellingly and deeply Southern accents and a cadence of moment-by-slow-moment, which I yearn to possess - who express an uncertainty with the navigation of this shiny online store world, and who understand a far more grounded world than the one we offer them. Their energy reflects a demand for respect, and their voices reflect an expectation of shame.
Women buying for boyfriends. Men buying for wives. Mothers buying for sons and daughters. There's a lot of money flying about through these airwaves.
Physically immobilized women in their 80's for whom I waive the shipping. Badass sharp-as-a-fucking-tack women in their 80's who know what's up! Dumbass men who hear my voice and offer me their phone numbers, their emails. "Contact me," they urge. "I'm not kidding. I'd love to get to know you more!" (More?)
Two friends in an office in New Jersey who spend time shopping with me because they're bored with their work in this last, slow week of the year.
A Sergeant shopping for a ring for his beloved.
An 80-year-old woman (we get a lot of calls from 80-year-old women) crying because she has to return a gift that her daughter - in her illness - cannot use. A man in his 60's whose wife has just died, leaving rings she never managed to wear.
It's a never-ending line of people with stories.
And it's a challenge. Some days I meet it with glee. Some days I simply meet it with coffee.
Some days I come home defeated, wondering what happened to my life that I have "ended up" in Customer Service. Other days I come home exhausted but happy that my abilities have been noted, and that I've helped someone, or that someone has made me laugh. A lot.
I have worked with remarkable and fascinating people. You would be so surprised to know who goes into Customer Service, even for a short time in their lives, and who bring so much to the job.
An 80-something retired nurse and her 50-something son. A professional artist. A sustainability expert. Students. Teachers. Trainers. Actors. People of age, because no one cares what you look like on the phone. People who need to rebuild; people like me.
A year ago I was just a couple of weeks out of homelessness - a place I never expected to "end up". Clearly, "ending up" is in never-ending flux, giving the lie to the words. I want so much out of my life. I always have. I still yearn to be a successful working actress. I yearn to receive the financial compensation that matches my worth, and I yearn to be respected and appreciated - I think the two go together in my mind. How American of me. I yearn to bring all of me to all of my life. I yearn to be of visible service, not just vocal. I dream of pinnacle moments that last for the rest of my life.
A year ago I was working at RISE, conflicted about the work itself, but not conflicted at all about what I was willing to do to keep my new apartment.
A year ago, I was starting to realize that there was a place in the work world that I could use my abilities - a place I'd never considered because it seemed like the ass-end of the work world: Customer Service.
A year later I have grown. I know what it takes to serve multiple types of people. I know what it takes to be a good Customer Service agent and a bad one. I know that there is no Sales training in Customer Service - which is complete and utter lunacy. I am grateful for the Sales training I got from my Los Angeles-bred boss at Playhouse In the Park's Subscription Office. I know that I still believe this job should come with hazard pay because it is taxing and emotionally challenging and you have to make a choice, daily, whether to check out, or engage, and how much. Whether to give your all, or keep 50% at least for yourself. Whether to define yourself by your work, and how to define your work.
This is not the end of the road for me. But one year on, the road looks different. I dream in Sales Trainings that I could provide, and in Communication Trainings that started with The Goodbye Good Girl Project and now include Sales, Fundraising, and Customer Service. I dream in public speaking about connection and communication and community. I dream about making a difference in peoples' quality of life. I dream of making people laugh.
And I dream of a better quality of life for myself, and a partner to share it with, so that when I come home I can tell that partner my stories, and the stories of the never-ending line of humanity that pours itself into my ears all day long, five days a week. I dream of a place to rest within myself, as well as in my partner's arms at night. I dream of peace. Self-love. And that step-by-step groundedness that the Southern men speak into my ears when they call, challenging me to just be. And I dream of finding my pinnacle life where my acting, my communication, my singing, my compassion, my laughter, my service and my financial reward come together like a magical composition, turning my life into a song of praise for life itself, lighting up my world with joy and understanding and hugs.
I dream of a world filled with the transformational care and compassion that our world seems to have lost.
Not bad dreaming for someone who "just" does Customer Service.
©2019 Lori Kirstein
Do you like the idea of breaking those social "should's" that have held you back for too long? Do you like the idea of successfully changing your modes of communication, your business goals, your self-image, and to your quality of life?
Lori Kirstein, CEO
The Goodbye Good Girl™ Project LLC
Kicking the Good Girl Rules to the Curb!
Cincinnati, OH 45205