Friday, June 8, 2007

Adventures of a Customer Service Rep

I used to work as a customer service rep to make a living when I was struggling to make it as an actor. In my case, I worked for the Equitable Life Insurance Company during the Demutualization process, and for First Chicago Trust in their IBM Stockholder relations department.

Most of the time, the calls were routine, simple questions that would only take a minute or two to handle. Then there were times when you would get a call from the most dreaded caller of all, The Lonely Elderly Person (LEP). When that happened, you would never get off the phone. Some would call every day, just to have someone to talk to.

A call from a LEP would start innocently enough. You confirmed their identity. After that, they always ask for the usual routine information- how much is in their account, what their dividend payment is, do you have my correct address, etc. Everything starts off normally, which catches you off guard.

The problem started after you gave out all the information you could possibly give out about their account. Their cue came after you asked them:

"Is there anything else I can do for you, Mr. / Mrs. _______ ?"

Their answer was usually something along the line of, "why yes, maybe you can . . .", and then they'd make up some bit of business only slightly connected with the company you are working for. That usually lead to anything from a 20 minute to an hour conversation that had nothing to do with anything. If you're anything like me, who was raised to respect his elders, you were too polite to cut them off. If you are, then one word of advice: Don't tell them your real name.

Of course, you have to tell them your real name at the beginning of the conversation. Once they start getting into the conversation, though, they will forget it, and start calling you by what they think your name is. Many times that ends up being something completely different from what you told them, even a dead husband's, child's, or imaginary friends name. When mercifully you are able to end the conversation, they will invariably ask for your name again, so they can write it down, and ask for you again. The smart thing to do is to tell them your name is either what they've been calling you through most of the conversation, or if you feel creative, to make one up. That way, the next time they call and ask for you, no one will know who it is, and whoever gets the call will have to handle it.

I realized others were doing this one day when the sweet old lady on the line asked if Barry Beck was available. At the time, Barry Beck was a singularly ugly defenseman playing in the NHL. I doubt he had the time to take off from his job of flattening opposing players into pancakes against the boards at hockey rinks all over the USA and Canada to come over to my job and answer her call.

(This is Barry Beck at his full time job)

We had a lovely half hour conversation about her grandchildren, the end result being her offering to set me up on a blind date with her oldest granddaughter, who had just graduated college, and was also working somewhere in New York doing something. Not that I didn't appreciate the offer. I was going through a protracted dating dry spell at the time, and probably would have been satisfied with a blind date with grandma herself. Since our calls were monitored, I didn't want to possibly have to go into the bosses office and have to explain myself. So when she asked for my name, I told her I was David Crosby.

(This is David Crosby)

Now believe me, I am not trying to make fun of LEP's. In fact, I always felt sorry for them, and and tried to do the best I could for them. It's just that there was only so much I could do. I had a job to do, and a quota of calls to handle. One LEP could ruin my quota for the day.

Still, I enjoyed talking to them, especially if the day was slow. My favorite LEP was a retired Rabbi from Brooklyn. His advice to me:

Find a nice woman, get married, find a job you love, and Vote for Clinton!

Hmmmm . . . In retrospect, it looks like I followed his advice to the letter!