Like every one else with a telephone and an occasional gripe, I’ve called into many a call center.
Like every one else with a scintilla of impatience, I have punched in the 800 number with a feeling that can best be described as, if not existential dread, then near-existential dread.
The other evening, my cause de call center was $120 in charges to my AmEx card from Meetic.com, a European dating site, that’s recently coupled up with Match.com.
This is not the first time I’ve heard from Meetic.
$60 worth of faux charges in November were also on my bill, which resulted in my being issued a new card.
Lo and, ah, behold, charges were still coming through.
To the best of my knowledge – unless I was sleepwalking a few long winter nights – I have never put a profile on Meetic. And I’m100% sure that I haven’t had a close encounter with anyone I met on that particular line, or anywhere else online.
Other than the annoyance of putting up with the Valley Girl voice that meets and greets you when you call the AmEx support line - (“Please sa-ay or enter your fifteen digit account numbrrrrrrrrr?”) – the call center rep was exceedingly professional, courteous, and helpful. She also told me that she really enjoyed working at AmEx, and was drawn to the company because of her good experience dealing with them as a credit card holder.
Sure, I registered some initial (internal) surprise that someone working in a call center could afford an AmEx card, but, hey, I don’t know whether it’s her second job, whether they get paid oodles, or whether AmEx cards are dime a dozen in terms of income requirement.
The call center rep was great – and took care of my Meetic problem.
For the most part, I must say that the credit card call center folks – who account for most of my support calls – are pretty good. Much better than the mixed bag tech support reps. I’ve found that tech support – especially for someone like me, who’s a bottom of the barrel consumer who’s only entitled to bottom of the barrel free support – is a real crap shoot, much of it involving apparent trainee reps called “Brian” and “Allyson”, just starting out in Slum Dog Millionaire style careers.
But my happy experience with the AmEx rep the other night reminded me that there are some call center jobs that are truly from the pit of hell.
These are the jobs working for mortgage lenders, which were referenced in a article I saw in The WSJ a bit back on a woman whose house – and parrot – had been accidentally seized by BofA. (Naturally, I couldn’t resist that particular topic.)
Anyway, in the parrot article, I read this:
Mortgage lenders have struggled in the past three years to hire and train enough people to deal with the biggest wave of foreclosures since the 1930s. Nearly eight million households, or 15% of those with mortgages, are behind on their payments or in the foreclosure process.
Many borrowers complain they get the runaround when they call their lenders for help, receive contradictory information from different employees and are required to repeatedly fax the same documents.
At the same time, suicide threats from distressed borrowers are so common that one lender, OneWest Bank Group in Pasadena, Calif., had to establish procedures for alerting the police. Lenders' call-center employees are under heavy pressure. "These people make $14 or $15 an hour, and we ask them to move mountains," said a OneWest executive at an industry conference last month.
Okay. Someone making $30K a year, and not likely trained by the Samaritans, is not only having to deal with completely ugly financial problems. But the entire ugliness is compounded by their also having to respond to “suicide threats from distressed borrowers.”
Now, I’m assuming that many of these threats are in-the-moment cries of anguish that aren’t really attached to a serious intention to stick head in the soon to be repossessed oven.
Still, would you want to be the call center worker trying to gauge whether someone was blowing off steam or truly in harm’s way, albeit harm’s way of their own making?
Makes me really happy that my career in high tech marketing – while not devoid of moments of angst, anomie, and anguish – didn’t ever bring me into life and death situations. Sure, deciding who to lay off at least borders on the life part of life and death. And I did work on some pretty darned awful (and expensive) products that might have driven a customer to kill (us, not themselves). But I really never did have to worry about a distraught customer pushed to such wits’ end that they would tell me they were going to kill themselves because of us. There was never any need to train us in the proper “procedures for alerting the police.”
Call center at a mortgage lender….
Yeah, I guess any job is an okay job these days, but is this the job from hell or what?