Deşteaptă-te Române.

Taică-miu avea o vorbă: “Fii dişteaptă”. Vedeţi voi, titlul imnului nostru nu are de-a face doar cu somnul. Nu. Ne îndeamnă in aceaşi măsură şi la înţelepciune, la lepădarea unui văl.

Duminică votăm, chiar dacă unii nu votăm, toţi facem o alegere conştientă în acest sens. Am mai scris despre asta aici. (necesită capacitate de concentrare de 10 minute)

Trăim un moment în istoria modernă plin de convulsii, unul în care valorile sunt întoarse cu susul in jos iar adevărul contează din ce in ce mai puţin, câştigă cel cu limbajul celui mai mic numitor comun indiferent de conţinutul mesajului, motiv pentru care astăzi Trump si Brexit sunt realităţi.

Am râs de ei.

Duminică trebuie să punem stop neghiobiei, dispreţului şi minciunii. Trebuie să arătăm de ce suntem convinşi că în ciuda stereotipurilor de afară suntem mai buni. Trebuie să dăm un exemplu Europei, ţine de noi!

Acum doi ani am fost 54% pentru că ne-au enervat. Anul acesta şi-au învăţat lecţia şi pare că nu vor mai face nici o astfel de greşală.

Mergeţi la vot! Luaţi și pe alţii cu voi!.

2016.

You wake up in the morning. You go to work, if it’s something you enjoy you work hard to get better, learn more and be more. If payday just came around you order out or go out and people watch and life takes you like that from one day to another and slowly you start feeling like maybe you have some semblance of a plan because everything is looking up and things are falling into place.

2016 started out that way. Brexit and the US elections were coming up but since, at least on a personal level I was feeling positive I thought everything would turn out OK, because we had learned our lessons and the world would finally show the far right that that century had passed and hatred and fear were no longer in our collective emotional vocabulary.

“Where do you see yourself five years from now?” – is a job interview cliche. Whenever I get asked that my answer is always “I’ll be looking back at my current self and seeing a person who doesn’t know anything about anything” and I think that is poignant now – in 2015 I knew nothing about how much people can hate, how much of an echo chamber I was living in, from the media I consume, to the people I associate myself with. But slowly but surely I felt xenophobia closing in.

My friends and I were in Britain the day after the Brexit vote. I was randomly selected for a few questions by airport security, not in a way that would’ve stopped someone with malicious intent but enough that it made me feel a little uncomfortable. Later in a pub I told this story to a stranger and he said “welcome to being black”. I’d never thought of myself as non white before, it just wasn’t ever an issue, but I guess I am a little tan as some Romanians are, but… what’s that got to do with anything?

Everyone in London was friendly, I loved it, the atmosphere though was uneasy, people were shocked about the outcome, and then England lost to Iceland and everything was no longer falling into place. A majority of people in a nation that had always been a part of Europe, on the forefront of every cultural shift that has impacted our continent had chosen to believe they would be better off on their own than working together with everyone else, for goals that are common.

Furthermore, a continent of seven hundred million people who live  the most secure and comfortable lives humanity has ever experienced, feels threatened by the influx of just one million others, who just want to take part in that, and maybe contribute in their way. We are horrified by the deaths of hundreds at the hands of madmen with an agenda but will not bat an eye about the eighty four thousand road deaths in Europe last year, which amounts to two Paris attacks daily . I decry how shortsighted we seem to be.

That said, Brexit hasn’t happened yet, and in a way I still cling to the hope that it won’t though the cynic in me can’t see a way for it not to.

Surely, I thought, seeing the reaction to this, America will come to its’ senses and do the right thing and say “no” to demagoguery, outright racism and misogyny. Surely, they remember the pain and the horror that all of this has brought before. Surely, they will act.

But no.

I wake up in the morning, with an empty feeling, that makes me nauseous. Everything is out of place, Leonard Cohen died, Brexit is still happening, and Trump is still President-elect of the United States of America.

 

 

Working in a call center – What is Empathy?

I like my job. It’s not what I dreamed I would be doing at this age as a kid. Not that I gave much thought to it at the time, but it does have its’ interesting peculiarities. Chief among them is the ability of an agent to exercise empathy toward the person on the other end.

This is a much easier thing to do over the phone than other means of support like e-mail or chat. So what is empathy? Your company’s trainer will tell you its’ the ability to understand the customer’s issue and to “put yourself in their shoes”. I contend this is only partially correct. You do need to understand the issue and you do need to understand why it’s important to them, but empathy goes farther than that. You have to be able to tell what mood they are in as they are calling. This is not something you have the luxury of determining during the call. The first thing they say and how they say it is your first indication, and be prepared for their mood to change throughout the call.

Your trainer will tell you to use words like “I understand” and “I’m truly sorry about the situation” and I often hear colleagues using these phrases as if they were a surefire way to ease the caller’s anxiety, but they are often said as a knee jerk response to what they are hearing and almost always end up sounding unnatural and fake. This only goes to exacerbate the problem as even though they are having an issue with whatever service you are supporting the assumption that “most callers are stupid” is at least misguided and at worst simply wrong.

This goes both ways, a caller may assume that working a support job is a simpleton’s occupation. Start your call with a flat greet that sounds like you’re in a speed reading competition and you’ve already made the first step toward convincing them that their innitial assumption is true. Your greet must sound like a real person speaking. It serves a threefold purpose.

Firstly, the caller receives a confirmation that they have called the right place, so speaking really quickly for the sake of your average handling time will defeat this purpose. This informational scope also includes the fact that they hear what your name is. This is important because the caller may or may not receive a survey about how you did. If you want a good grade, the first step is making sure they remember who you are.

Secondly, your greet will establish who is in control of the conversation. If you speak too slowly or sound nervous in any way, the caller will pick up on this and will assume control themselves. This is not entirely a conscious decision on their part as you must understand a call is a dance – it takes two to tango, but someone has to lead and since you are the one who knows the process that needs to be followed to achieve a resolution, you MUST lead the call. If this does not happen the caller will ask you to do certain things that you are not proceduraly able to, since they are in charge, not complying with their demands is a kind of insubordination and you will be deemed unhelpful, incapable, or worse a robot, a monkey or what have you – clearly not great for your survey results.

The third function of your greet is displaying confidence, and how likely you are to provide real, meaningful help. A greet that is expressed on a single flat note will not only not achieve this but will make the caller less likely to understand any difficulties you may face throughout the call such as the need to place them on hold, or not being able to fulfill their request due to procedure, because in their mind, they are dealing with a person who is following a script. Scripts are not something you can change and so they are faced with a situation that is likely to frustrate them unless they take drastic action, in this case being mean or dismissive or asking to speak to your supervisor. Good luck on your survey.

Empathy goes both ways. You need to know what the caller expects from you not strictly from a service point of view but from a conversational point of view, and at the same time you must act in a manner that is likely to elicit their understanding. Empathy is not pity, it is respect. Ending up in a situation where you have to say something like “sir, please understand that <insert inability statement here>” is a clear indication that you have failed at this task.

So exercising empathy starts with the very first few seconds of the call, likely the most important ones, as they determine the entire course of the interaction. Your work is not over though, you have to carry this throughout the call and gauge the caller’s attitude continuously. Are they jovial? Serious? Chatty? Formal? How old do they sound? Where are they from? Sketch a rough portrait of what you think they look like in your mind. How would you really be talking to this person if it was real life?

You will be told that being a professional means leaving your day to day problems at the door. This is not just an empty saying. Empathy does not mean just putting yourself in someone’s shoes, it means being someone they respect whom they believe can help them. There are very few callers who will be uncooperative from the get go, after all, they called you and not the other way around and one can say that you start the call with a neutral satisfaction index. Often times you will be faced with types of people you may not necessarily like. You need to put this aside and focus on the task at hand and from the moment you pick up the phone, start looking for ways to be that person’s closest friend, if you’re good it won’t last that long, and if you’re really good you’ll have a blast doing it.

Working in call centers – the factories of our time

This is what I do. I don’t call it my career but the fact is I have been at it for quite a while. I haven’t done it all but I have done plenty. Sales, retention, technical and hardware support, I’ve been a coach and I’ve taken the tough supervisor calls. I’ve even told a customer, on behalf of the company, that we would not do business with him anymore

It is a job that anyone can qualify for but that few can actually do well. Only some of these will be tough enough to last beyond six months and fewer still who can find any pleasure in it.

I am one of these dysfunctional few.

Since it seems that lately working in these places has turned into a kind of right of passage for the young Romanian undergraduate looking for financial independence I thought it a good thing to try and shed some light on the subject.

Call centers are diverse beasts. There are sweatshops which’ll have you call two to three hundred people a day on the off chance that one or two will buy what you’re selling. These places are usually pretty obvious from the first time you go for an interview. The “office” is a glorified garage and the interview is conducted in plain view of the other agents. The noise is beyond description, the carpet is full of coffee stains and the furniture is in woeful disrepair. Avoid under any circumstance. It will be the most soul destroying thing you will ever have to do.

There are mid level companies that specialize in business process outsourcing for overseas customers. They will typically have a wide ranging portfolio of projects in diverse industries and some of their clients will be companies you may have heard about. This is their major bargaining chip when trying to sell you the job: “you will have the opportunity to work in a multinational company which will look great on your CV later”. If your education means anything to you, steer clear. These places are in fierce competition with each other and the more cheap talent they can get a hold of the better. Monthly employee attrition rates are a major consideration in their business model and once you’re in you’ll be faced with the reality that they can always find someone with the exact same skill level they require of you who has already submitted their resume.

You’ll be in a situation where your experience is largely dictated by your boss rather than the company. There are those managers who will put some effort into building a solid team of people who complement each other well and who will do their damnedest to treat you fairly. The truth of the matter is that these people are rare and it is purely a matter of chance. At the end of the day, if they can’t “fix” an agent in three months you will be right where you started. Four months experience is more of a liability on your resume than no experience.

The caveat here is that although these employers will work you hard and squeeze every last drop of productivity out of you, they will not usually break any laws. You’ll be paid on time and the fluid environment makes for advancement opportunities if you’ve got your eye on the ball. They enforce strict discipline and for those of us who were never conscripted in the army it can be a very maturing time. I repeat myself but avoid unless desperate – at 21 it’s not worth sacrificing your studies for this work experience.

Finally there is the large multinational. Companies like Oracle and HP have a large presence in Bucharest and most of it revolves around support services and programming. There are others but these two are some of the more well known employers. I am not going to talk about these two companies specifically as I have not experienced the environment first hand. Generally though, the pay is good and the working conditions are dignified. These are specialized positions which require certain skills beyond language and being “a team player who can build and maintain good professional relationships”.  Some experience in the previous category of employment may be required before they will consider you for a position but that does not mean exceptional candidates are not eligible.

Working in a call center can be a challenging proposal. There are many pluses which are often overlooked and which I will strive to accurately describe in future posts. There are also many pitfalls you can stumble into on a personal level. I would venture to say this is an important part of our current services oriented economy and it should not be overlooked as a possible career path. Like anything else however it should be looked at with steely rather than googly eyes.

There are several good employers in Bucharest and all one has to do is persevere in their pursuit. Always remember that starting work before you have your BA puts you at risk of never graduating leaving you with only a high school education, hardly sufficient in today’s highly competitive job market and a handicap that is very difficult to rectify once the deed has been done.

Kirk is a pseudonym

My foreign friends call me Kirk. I insist that they do, rather than have them butcher my real name though I allow those who are capable to use the latter.

I am a nobody and this blog is a silent scream in an otherwise tumultuous and rather horrifying maelstrom of noise that we call the internet. If you happen to find this remote corner please take a seat, light a cigarette and take a gander. It’s all rather monochrome. Sure our world has different tones but what are colours if not merely noise distilled in neatly organised packages.

I will not be your guide, you have stumbled haphazardly onto this page and I hope that should you choose to explore it you will not be too distraught at the mess that is my mind.

I am not a writer, nor a poet, I am myself and while at times I say things that some would say are wise I find I’m rather boring and somewhat less than articulate.

So why should you read this mediocre set of ramblings? You shouldn’t. It’s a waste of your precious time. It’s ticking, move along… You don’t want the mold from the walls getting in your lungs – that would be unfortunate.