I feel like I can barely breathe between calls.
“Welcome to America Home Shoppers, this is Meredith-Leigh Cobb, how may I help you?”
Nonstop calls are normal—albeit unwelcomed—when you work in a call center.
I bite back the urge to swear as I watch eight o’clock to pass. I’m supposed to leave work right now. The company doesn’t like us to use our AUX times between calls to take a break, or let us make many notes after a customer makes an order. We have to do it all during or get screwed and docked a lot of points by Quality. I also failed to hit the magical AUX that would prevent this call from coming in because my last customer hung up before I could get to it.
“Okay,” the woman says, “please bear with me. I decided I need to get some Christmas shopping done early today.”
It’s November first.
Can’t she wait for Black Friday sales?
AHS is having a sale right now on turkey deep fryers, so of course she can’t wait. I haven’t bothered to remember the exact name of the product because I can just go by the item number, but it’s impossible to believe a stupid deep fryer is causing all this fuss to rush to make an order.
I decide to suck it up, take a drink of water, and to adjust my headset. It’s pressing my glasses sideways and a headache has been building pressure in the left side just behind my eye. I can’t keep sniffing, either.
Another thing that makes working in a call center hell: the colds you get at work.
“No problem! I like to shop early for my family too. You avoid a lot of panic if you shop early!”
I can’t remember the last time my brother and I exchanged gifts. We did a few times when we were in college, but now Tommy doesn’t bother talking to me since we’re so busy with our lives. He never answers his phone, so I’ve stopped calling him. I love Mom, really love her, but since I got my job at AMS three months ago, she won’t stop trying to go nuts with my employee discount. I shouldn’t have even told her I started working here.
I’ve avoided a few of her calls lately. I feel guilty, but what else am I going to do? I like to leave work at work when I go home at the end of the night.
“Could I get your member ID or phone number, please?”
“Yes,” she says. “My ID is 0729158.”
I tap out her account number. The system lags—the fun of a work computer—but it brings her up. I’m fairly sure I should bring something up in my scripts but I ignore it since, thankfully, this job doesn’t require an inordinate amount of scripting to be checked off with the threat of failing a call. I’ve had call center jobs where I had to read nearly every script, and even a temporary at-home position where I wasn’t allowed to stop reading verbatim at all. I hated that one, and became bored quickly with it. I never left my apartment. At least now with this job, I’m getting out more.
Her name is Isabella and she lives in New Jersey. I’m thinking she’s close to the shore, but I’ve never been to the state. I’ve never left Virginia for more than a two or three-week vacation. I even went to college out here, and now I’m trying to save money so I can take the Praxis. Isabella is very obviously a frequent shopper, I see, as I scroll through a few of her last orders. One of them just shipped today. She has an obsession with stoneware dinner plates and gaudy stone jewelry.
“Would you like the Today’s Special?”
This part is boring. Sure enough, she wants the turkey deep fryer. It promises to make the turkey moist and yummy in about an hour, but I hear these things are dangerous. Give me a gas oven and six hours to cook the thing with a brown paper bag, smothered in butter. That’s how I like my turkey, but I help Isabella by adding the fryer to her shopping cart. She chooses pink.
A glass teapot is next on her list for her sister. Three pairs of jeans for herself. A scarf on four payments of twenty dollars when she could just go to a craft store and make one payment of sixty dollars for the baby alpaca and bamboo blend that’s in this scarf. She also chooses a really hideous puke—sorry, lime green purse for her sixteen-year-old daughter.
“Oh, I just love those bags!” I squeal in a high pitched voice. My co-workers tell me I sound like Minnie Mouse when I do that, so I clear my throat, and drink some water. “Do you need this in payments as well?”
“Hmm…” Isabella debates. I mute the phone and sigh, just to release a little bit of frustration. I’m hitting the thirty-minute mark of being past my clock out time. “No, it’s only sixty dollars since it’s on clearance. I’m not so sure about the lime, though… I almost want to get her the coral.”
Yes! Get her the coral!
It’s like a mix between orange and pink but it’s a whole lot better than the lime. Her daughter will get made fun of for the lime green purse, or else it will never get used. Then again, maybe I just have no idea what teenage girls like? Maybe they like the puke green colors up in New Jersey.
I’m definitely calling the lime puke green in my head.
I bite my lower lip and tell myself not to use the term ‘puke green’ with the customer.
“What do you think?”
“Honestly? I really love the coral,” I say to her. I’m no fashionista, but I hope I can steer this poor woman in the right direction.
She’s teaching her daughter to choose gaudy stuff and that has to be against some kind of law.
“Well, that’s okay, I might just get them both. Let’s come back to the purse in a few minutes.”
“That’s fine, ma’am. Take your time.”
My supervisor, Chrissy, walks into our pod. I plaster a giant fake smile on my face. She motions for me to mute my phone and I do while Isabella rattles several things she wants but she’s not sure if she needs them right now.
“You’re supposed to get off at eight, right?”
I nod, still trying to listen to Isabella.
“Could you stop by before you go home? I’m glad you didn’t leave. I have something I need to speak to you about.”
“Sure,” I say.
I hate it when Chrissy does that crap to me. Butterflies immediately erupt in my belly. Why did she tell me she needs to talk to me now?
The call center has been cutting down their employees. AMC has a ton of other places, but for some reason our location isn’t doing so well. A lot of people have already either left or have been quitting every day. On top of that, they’ve been thinning us out because not everyone has been doing so great. I think they want to completely re-staff the call center, except for the people who have been here the longest, so they can try to get their rank higher. They fired three people yesterday in the pod next to mine because those employees decided to take as many days off as they needed. I don’t understand why they’re doing this now. It’s the beginning of the holiday season, and if we’re slammed today, we’re going to be over loaded come closer to Christmas.
Call centers always have a crazy high turnover rate.
I’m one of the employees who has missed a lot of days of work.
Tears start to well up in my eyes, but I have a customer who is asking me if I’m still here. I suck in a deep breath, tell myself to pull up my big girl panties, and unmute the phone.
“I’m so sorry, I was just looking up all of the items you need. You rattled them off so fast I didn’t have time to make note of them all.”
“Don’t you be sorry; I am! You should have told me to slow down. My husband always gets so frustrated with me when I rattle things off but he’s the CEO of his brother’s company and I only have so much time to talk to him in the morning because he’s so busy!”
Called it, I think to myself. I’m certain ninety percent of our customers are housewives and elderly women. I know that is incredibly stereotypical and maybe rude but the whole three months I’ve worked here I’ve mostly spoken to women.
Thinking about this calms me down. I realize I’m acting ridiculous.
She spends another ten minutes but then decides to order the purse in both colors since we have a thirty-day return policy.
“Okay, your total is seven hundred and fifty dollars,” I say. That’s almost what I get paid in two weeks. “How will you be paying? The MasterCard or Visa?”
“Well, they’re both my husband’s, but I think I’ll use the Visa.”
I figured as such.
I choose the card, say goodbye to Isabella, and quickly log out of the phone and take my headset off. I hate the stupid thing. It makes my glasses dig into my skin so bad sometimes. My head is pounding.
“Finally…” I breathe.
I look around my pod. Everyone has already left and my hands feel sweaty because now I can’t stop thinking about what Chrissy wanted to speak to me about. I try, and fail miserably, not to think about what she needs from me when I shut down my computer.
I love my job, I really do, but sometimes I can’t help but hate it. Supervisors are usually sit next to us but Chrissy sits a little farther back. Soon, she’ll be a trainer. She also happens to be far back enough in the call center that the butterflies in my stomach have turned into big, fat, hairy moths.
“Oh, Leigh,” she says, “Goodness, how long was that call?”
I take a seat in one of the chairs next to her desk. “I lost track of time,” I say honestly. “I just helped a woman spend seven hundred and fifty dollars.”
She whistles, a long, drawn out one.
“Wow. You have been one of our best.”
I’m almost flattered. I know I’m good, for the most part. “Thank you.”
“But your attendance to work has been an issue. Your sales are also down by sixty percent.”
“I know that,” I say, the panic rising in my voice. I swallow thickly and twist off the cap to my bottled water. “But you also know I’ve been going through some personal issues.”
I just had a really bad break up and a pregnancy scare.
I can’t think of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. I’ll cry. Then I won’t be able to enjoy my Harry Potter books anymore.
“Unfortunately you haven’t given us a solid excuse for why you’re missing so much work. I have to ask? Why?”
I sigh. I hate talking about my personal life, but I realize my job very well may be on the line. I’ve already gotten a verbal warning about my attendance and I can feel that I’m about to get fired. This sucks, but I decide to reign in all bad feelings about what might be happening, and decide to tell her.
I’m stammering like an idiot. I squirm nervously and look at my watch and push my hair back. Chrissy is a busy woman and she should have left work almost thirty minutes ago. I know her patience is wearing thin.
“I just broke up with my boyfriend.” I decide to leave the part out about the pregnancy scare. “He moved and now I can’t afford our apartment on my own so I’ve been trying to find something a little cheaper. I’m sorry. I had to take time off and I might have to take more.”
I hate that look. The sympathetic, all knowing look other women have whenever I tell them I’ve just been through a break up. Like I might cry any minute now. I feel very stupid, too, because I can feel tears welling up in my eyes.
“I’m really sorry, Leigh,” she says. “That’s awful. AHS has, unfortunately, needed to cut back recently on our staff.”
I’ve got my arms crossed now, and I’m digging my nails into my elbows.
“You’re firing me.”
Bitch, I want to add, but I bite my lower lip.
“Unfortunately, I need to let you go.”
I suck in a deep breath and I feel a tear roll down my cheeks. “All right.”
“But I think, in this case, I’m just going to lay you off. If the company does better after the holiday season we might offer you a position at a later time.”
This is bull crap. It’s all bull crap, and I really want to say it to her, but instead I bite my lower lip so I don’t say anything stupid that will jeopardize any chance of Chrissy giving me a good reference when I finally do find a new job.
“I understand,” I say. I stand quickly. “Should I leave my headset here?”
Chrissy nods. “Go clean out your locker. I’ll come help you if you need it. I’ll also need to walk you to the door and take your badge”
I resist the urge to roll my eyes. I’ve always thought this job was a little ridiculous. Sure, we handle people’s credit card numbers and some other sensitive information, but I don’t think anyone is stupid enough to let that kind of information leak. We can’t have our phones out and all kinds of other crap and I almost fall asleep every time I try to remember all the rules. In fact, even though I really feel like crying because I’m not sure how I’m going to pay rent this month and find a new place to rent and find a new job, but I’ve been independent before. I relied on my ex far too much and now, I realize, I’m going to pay for it dearly.
At least I won’t have to look at my stupid badge anymore. “Leigh Cobb” was my alias last name for work. My real name is Meredith-Leigh Parker, even though I like to go by Leigh.
I sniff, and let her follow me to the locker room. If she wants to hover to make me leave quicker, so be it. I walk to the back, where my locker is, and a few curious co-workers are staring at us. The embarrassment kicks in, and all of a sudden I feel like I’m going through some kind of emotional roller coaster because I’m pissed off at them for staring but at the same time I want to laugh and cry because all of this is so ridiculous. I’m annoyed because I have a few tears rolling down my face.
“Things will be okay, Leigh…”
Chrissy is trying to comfort me? I want to just crawl into my bed with my cats and never leave it. It would be a better alternative to this, anyway.
Instead, to save some of my dignity, I merely bend down once I reach my locker and grab the lock. I hate combination locks. I always mess up one of the numbers and end up doing the whole thing all over. This time, because I’m upset, it takes me almost three tries to get the lock opened.
I didn’t keep very much in the locker. Just a box of tampons, some candy, and a backup bottle of water with my purse. I have a huge blue leather purse. I like to be able to stick my yarn in there if I’m going to meet with some friends to knit and have coffee. I don’t like small projects, like hats. I’ve sold a few blankets in consignment shops. I shove everything that I had in my locker in the purse. There might have been some left over candy bags in there too. I’m not sure. I don’t care, since I need to clean the bag out later anyway, and I want to get out of here as fast as I can.
I want to tell Wanda, one of the older ladies who has been working here for years, to shove her twinkie in her mouth faster and to take a picture because it will last longer. I guess she got caught in a long call, too. She is the main gossiper at work and I know the story of how I got fired will spread around the office by morning. I do not look forward to all the “what happened!?” messages I’ll get later on Facebook. Somehow this offends me more when I think about it. My personal business shouldn’t matter to any of these people, yet somehow it always has. I know for a fact she’ll also be gossiping about my break up with my boyfriend, too.
I shake my head and tell myself to cut it out. I don’t work here anymore. I wasn’t fired, but laid off. I will be able to get back on my feet but right now I really hate him because if he hadn’t decided our relationship was stale and that he wanted to move halfway across the country to be some fancy director in California, this would have never happened to me. I give it five weeks in LA and he’ll be crawling back home with his tail between his legs; begging his mother to let him move back into their attic.
Deep breaths. Calm breaths. Maybe I should do some yoga when I get home. I don’t remember the names of anything, like any of the moves, but I know enough to make the poses and how to breathe. It chills me out…but just to be safe I might look up a few things on YouTube to make sure I’m doing everything right. I almost hurt my knee once by hyper-extending it and now it hurts once in a while.
“Leigh? Are you going to take all day? My kids and husband need me to make dinner for them.”
I quickly pull my purse straps around my shoulder and tuck my jacket under my arms. I slam the locker shut and hand her the combination lock.
“Sorry. I’m all done here.”
I spend the next fifteen minutes crying in my car before I’m ready to go home.
The full story will be here as I continue to write it.