INTERNAL JOB POSTING
Job Type:Corporate Services Adjustment
Company:Meridian Southwest / Downtown Office
Job Title:Manager, Customer Operations
Contact:Joyce Armstrong FAX 972-555-6611 Mail Slot: 12B/8th Floor
Duties:Manage and implement all programs designed to enhance employee productivity, communications, and operations quality. This includes training, scheduling, creating, and implementing such operations. 20% travel. Must have advanced communications and negotiation skills, teamwork ability, must be time-oriented, and able to accurately document implementation and progress.
Requirements:Bachelor’s degree in Communications or Business preferred. Science and Administration majors applicable. Two-year minimum experience in high-end customer relations or equivalency. DRISCOLL, Excel, Outlook, and ACIS experience needed.Faulkner
Meridian Southwest Telephone, how can I help you today?”
“Is this Faulkner Lorraine?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Well, Faulkner Lorraine, we spoke earlier and I need my phone service turned back on right now! I can’t wait a minute longer.”
“Can I have your first and last name, please?”
“Don’t play games with me! This is Jonnie Coleman. Y’all know me by now!”
“Mrs. Coleman, may I please have your account number?”
“Two-one-four, five-five-five, twenty-seven-forty-three.”
“Can you verify your address?”
“It’s the same address that it was when I called you people an hour ago. Twenty-six-seventeen Banneker Lane.”
“Mrs. Coleman, according to your account, you have an unpaid balance of three hundred—”
“Kiss my ass. I don’t owe you people nothin’! I paid my bill!”
“Mrs. Coleman, it shows here that we have not received a payment from you in three months. The computer records indicate you have been given two extensions and the—”
“You is a goddamned lie! Them computers don’t know nothing but zeros and ones. I sent a payment two weeks ago! I remember because I used one of them stamps with Mary Bethune on it. I mailed it in, so you musta lost it.”
“Mrs. Coleman, we need proof of payment before we can reactivate your service. Can you provide a check stub or confirmation number?”
“You think I have time to be hunting down those check stubs and running back to this pay phone? I don’t have no car! Why don’t you come and pick me up since you want to help me so much! All I want is for my goddamned phone to be turned on!”
“Mrs. Coleman, your service will not be reactivated until the balance on the account is paid.”
“The phone company gon’ make me come down there and hurt somebody, that’s what this is boiling down to, an ass kicking.”
“Mrs. Coleman, if you continue to use offensive language, I will have to terminate this call.”
“You black bitch. I don’t care what the hell you do—”
That was the fourth time today I’d given Mrs. Coleman the uncut version of Mr. Dial Tone. It was never a desire of mine to hang up on her, but each time she called, that’s how it usually ended, as if she wouldn’t have it any other way. Earlier today, she called me a “skank ho” before I pressed the wrap-up button on the phone and disconnected her call. I didn’t even know what part of a ho the skank was, but coming from Mrs. Coleman, I knew she wasn’t telling me how much she liked me. I usually kept my cool because even though Mrs. Coleman’s bark seemed worse than her bite, I never doubted that any of our irate customers were one bullet shy of coming up here and creating some tragedy for the evening news. Especially now, with the way the world is. People are losing their jobs left and right, not to mention recession, war, and the not-so-global crises like house fires and child abduction. Too many people are at the end of their ropes, and I’m not trying to give anyone a reason to let go of what little piece of rope they’re holding on to.
I took my ear set off and rubbed my ear to get the blood circulating again. After wondering for a second why I dealt with this madness from day to day, I rolled my chair away from my desk, extended my fingers, balled them as tight as I could into fists and back out again, allowing the tension to escape. I looked at the wooden nameplate on my desk and frowned. Underneath my name were the words “Team Lead.” Sometimes I wished it read “Support Representative,” like it used to. Being promoted isn’t always something to brag about, and today I couldn’t even see the worth in having the position. The back-and-forth episodes with Mrs. Coleman weren’t anything I couldn’t handle, but they quickly got old. I mean, I’d been with the Conflict Resolution Department of the phone company for four years, and dealing with customers like Mrs. Coleman was the absolute worst part of the job, not to mention having to deal with that drama while being cramped in a three-sided workspace the size of a compact car all day. I don’t know whose bright idea it was to increase workspace by creating cubicles, but he obviously still had an office. Don’t misunderstand me—the people here were great, the benefits wonderful, and I enjoyed what I did, for the most part. I’d been Team Lead for two years, with the company five years, and I was looking to move up into management soon, but sometimes, it just didn’t seem worth it. There were days when the idea of putting my belongings into a box and walking straight out of here was so overwhelming, I had to get up and take a walk just to tell myself that I was here for a reason and that my bills wouldn’t stop coming just because I’d quit a decent job. It was the frustration of dealing with customers who try to curse and back-talk their way out of an overdue bill that pained me, because I knew that my team and I were hired to take all the shit that comes with a person who is mad because his phone has been disconnected, not connected soon enough, or who’s been overcharged on his bill. We handled the absolute worst accounts the phone company had, both business and residential. If people wouldn’t pay, didn’t pay, couldn’t pay, hated to pay, or paid late, they dealt with us. Sometimes it was like telecommunications Vietnam around here, but the six of us got the job done. Gail Perez, Brenda Jones, James Hardy, Carmen Estrada, Margaret Eddye, and I were the people who made up the Meridian Southwest Conflict Resolution Team. What the customers didn’t seem to understand was that we were held personally responsible for everything that went into our computer systems, and all the yelling and cursing in the world weren’t going to sway things from our point of view if they weren’t presented in the form of a cashier’s check, money order, or cash. Sure, if it was our mistake then it was all good. What customer was going to call back if his bill was a few dollars short or if he wasn’t charged a reconnect fee? But when it was his fault then all hell broke loose and we were the ones in the trenches defending a billion-dollar enterprise against the common man.
I could only guess what mean, bitter Mrs. Coleman did with her money to keep from settling her account. Maybe she had a gambling problem and was spending her social security checks on casino boats down in Louisiana. I let my mind wander, like I do about so many of our customers, and began to imagine where she lived and what she did all day besides call the phone company. West Dallas, maybe? There were some suspect spots on the west side, but maybe she lived on the south side. Hell, she could even have been in those run-down apartments I saw along Gaston Street, headed into one of the wealthier areas in East Dallas. I imagined her as a small-framed old woman with leathery, dark skin surrounding squinty eyes, yellowed and dull from years of cigarette smoke and late-night socializing at the club. She’d be the type of woman who wore her hair pulled back in a gelled-down, why-even-try-it pigtail. One thing I didn’t have to wonder about was the way she spoke. When she talked, her grammar was broken and devoid of any sign that she’d ever paid any attention in school as a child. I figured she was one of those women who spent her time not wondering where she’d gone wrong, but rather blaming everyone but herself for any of her disappointments. Or she could easily be a woman who was simply trying to make ends meet and kept coming up short. I decided that it didn’t matter where she lived, because Mrs. Coleman could very well be a wealthy woman who simply was not paying her bill. Maybe she called and yelled because that was the only way she knew how to express herself. Maybe she was lonely, and found a connection in the relationship she had with us, regardless if it seemed like a backward form of adoration. She knew us each by name. She knew our voices, even if one of us was feeling under the weather. Sometimes, if she called enough, she could tell who was absent. The funny thing was that it was no secret we tolerated her more than we should. Maybe we enjoyed it in some strange, Whitney Houston–Bobby Brown sort of way. Whatever the case, every time she came in on my line, it was the same thing: I asked for her information, she cursed, I threatened to hang up, she cursed more, I disconnected the call while she cursed. And with each episode, I’d have to take five minutes to regroup; ten, in some cases.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from Cubicles by Camika Spencer. Copyright © 2002 by Camika Spencer. Excerpted by permission of One World/Ballantine, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.