Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Microdyne Days

There are two sides to every coin, and Microdyne is no exception. It is a place where students come to learn valuable job skills, with aspirations of financial independence. It is also a soulless pit of drudgery and despair. 

Microdyne is known to people of Orono, Maine and surrounding areas as a place where anyone looking for a job can turn. You needn't ever wait more than two weeks before something opens up, which is a big plus for the jaded job seeker. However, once hired you might lose the will to live.

So, what is Microdyne? You mean besides a depressing gulag of shattered hopes? It is an outsourcing company that takes in contracts with several other companies to help them with customer service. These companies have to outsource because they are awful people that fuck up so often, they couldn't possibly handle all of the angry calls with their current workforce. You're juggling the policies of Microdyne, and the policies of the company whose contract you're working for. So, since you are essentially working for two companies at once, you are constantly torn between who to hate, and end up hating only yourself for getting into the whole mess.

There are inbound telemarketing contracts, outbound telemarketing contracts, and inbound customer service contracts. Some contracts are certainly better than others in the same way that some diseases are better than others. Given the choice, you would have a preference, even though they will all slowly kill you, or at least make your life terribly inconvenient.

So, in this prison where happiness goes to die, you undergo a one to two week training course where you are familiarized with the contract, and learn their software and policies. You don't spend any of the time actually speaking with customers at this point. Then comes On the Job Training. Now you get real customers on real calls, but not often, and with coaching in between. During the OJT stage, management will go easy on you when you inevitably screw everything up. After this is over, you're in the no holds barred arena, where you get to watch your life force drain with each call. 

There it goes!

I worked there for about two years, part time and full time, and I know about one million people who also tried their hand at it. The turnover rate was so astronomically high that what you thought must've been ghosts were actually new employees getting fired or quitting so immediately they left vapor trails.

When I got started on the actual calls, I didn't quite know what to expect. What I did was handle magazine subscription complaints, which were mostly along the lines of "I want to cancel my subscription" because "I have no idea how I even got signed up for this". And I was the one that had to convince them to keep something that they felt they were tricked into. GOOD. But hey, I was working regular hours, making decent money, and one of my bosses was kind of hot, so it didn't seem all that bad. Then I got a call from a lawyer. 


She had an erroneous charge that someone told her was from us, but from the looks of it, actually wasn't. She didn't appear to know what she was talking about, and she didn't exhibit any professionalism, or human decency. So either she was lying about being a lawyer, (probably) or just wasn't a very good lawyer. She constantly threatened me, telling me I'm going to lose my job, and when I told her the credit card she mentioned wasn't on the system, she screamed "IT'S NOT A CREDIT CARD, I TOLD YOU IT'S A BANK CARD, WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?!" I assumed a "lawyer" would know that the term "bank card" is used loosely, and can refer to a credit card, but even if she specifically meant debit card, that wouldn't change the fact that the numbers still weren't in the system. She went on to say our entire organization was in "so much trouble" and furiously hung up. 

I felt like a target at which a monkey had just thrown its poo. No matter what I calmly tried to explain to this woman, I couldn't get her to stop throwing said poo. This was my first time dealing with someone that could somehow remain convinced that they were completely in the right despite being a lousy piece of shit fucking idiot that didn't know anything. I kept my job despite her certainty otherwise, but I remained baffled.

More and more strange calls like this would roll in from time to time. Some people were hilariously furious. I couldn't even take them seriously because their anger was so intense and immediate I knew that there was nothing I could do to save the situation and may as well just enjoy the ride. Here are a few examples.

Me: Thanks for calling the magazine service center, can I get the spelling of your last name please?



Me: Ok, sorry sir I looked you up and you don't appear to be on the system, so your subscription might not be through our service. Is your name misspelled on the label or anything? 


Me: *stifling laughter* Ok sir..uh well you might have to call the publisher directly, since we don't have a record of your information.

Customer:....Don't play with me buddy...

Me: Thanks for calling the magazine service center can I get the spelling of your last name?

Customer: Who's your manager? I just spoke to him..what's his name..he's an asshole. Jerry or something? Yeah he's an asshole. Because if someone calls in and tells you you're a piece of shit, even if you are, you get to hang up on him don't you?!

Me: Whoa, uh..

Customer: Listen I ordered a subscription months ago with my airline miles, and it still isn't here. You people can't do a fucking thing right cause you're all idiots. You try to talk to me like you're educated but you work in a call center.

Me: Actually, I'm working here to help pay for scho--

Customer: Get over yourself. You fucking people waste all my time, and where's my magazine?

Me: See ya! *click*

Then there were the occasional customers that used the call as an outlet for their feelings, or to talk about their life. I loved these people, because they talked forever. Taking over one hundred calls a day got to be pretty draining, so if you got one that could eat up a solid 45 minutes it was very therapeutic. And you barely had to put any effort into the conversation. Just occasionally say "yup" "uhhuh" "wow" or "hmm!" and they would keep right on talking. I've had people tell me about how they met their wife on a plane, they still skydive every day even though they're 85 years old, they could kill me five different ways with their bare hands, etc.. These people had all kinds of stuff to talk about that had been building up for who knows how long because probably nobody talked to them anymore. One woman claimed to be 105. Holy shit!

Then there's the time I got a customer that was from Waterville Maine. We had customers from all over the country and I actually got a caller from my hometown! Amazing! I couldn't help but tell her, and quickly realized my mistake. She got all weird and talked about how people called her the "Waterville Angel" (yeah? I've never fucking heard of you) and she talked about miracles. 

"Come home child..."

My shift was over and she was still talking so I did the classic "crumple paper over headset" and hang up. 

So sure, there were some colorful callers sprinkled throughout the day, but for the most part, it was the same thing over and over and over. Someone called because they didn't recognize a charge, I told them what it was from, their tone immediately gave away that they remembered now, they still denied it and wanted to cancel, I offered them a better deal, they said no, I offered them another deal, they said no again but angrier this time, they hung up, and then I did it all again with someone new. It was the most monotonous depressing thing, and will forever be a reminder of what I don't want to spend the rest of my life doing. 

Something more like this perhaps.

So Microdyne was an interesting experience. Sometimes I would reflect on the fact that over the course of my time there, I must've talked to thousands upon thousands of people, from all different areas, ethnicities and backgrounds. I guess not a whole lot of people get to do that. And what did I learn? That we're all mostly the same...that we all get pissed when someone takes our money...that most people refuse to accept that the mix up was partially their fault...that some people are very difficult to interrupt...everyone knows a lawyer that could end our business immediately...that when I try to talk someone out of cancelling they would rather interrupt and rant about why they don't want it for five minutes rather than just say "no" and be done with it in two minutes...that the country is terrified of identity theft...that very few people have senses of humor when their money is at stake...and that the people who do have senses of humor throughout were my favorite people to talk to.

Nowadays when I call customer service, if I get upset, I just take a moment, and picture someone like me on the other end of the line, then fucking yell at them anyway cause they're an IDIOT.

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