Saturday, July 19, 2008

I wanna Diephone

I work for a major telecom doing customer service. It is a mindless, uncompelling job specifically devised for an odd cross section of potential employees: those with no wish to go any further in life, and those with no hope of doing so. The former are often immigrants who find their degrees which, like bartending, should guarantee them employment everywhere, are useless here without more school. The latter are generally engineers recently laid off from salaried positions at large corporations who have just enough dignity, and French skills, to avoid flipping burgers. Everyone is bitter. No-one wants anyone else to have a nice day.

Recently, a new product was introduced onto the market that only us and our parent company were offering. Being too young when the Cabbage Patch doll craze was happening, I had no real experience with a large-scale consumer frenzy. This was to be the first in my life, and it was magnificent.

Being one of the few people in my company without a cell-phone, I'm often able to wax philosophic about the rampant consumerism and mindless consumption in this culture. I get odd looks when I admit I don't have a cellphone and occasionally, I'll ask how an employee account is set up just so I can impart to the person next to me that I am somehow above it. "no no", I'll say, "I don't need to switch it, if I get one, I'll have to set it up from scratch." I emphasize the if, to make clear that somehow, someone is going to have to make it worth my while.

The glut didn't surprise me this time, as I was one of the people who actually did want one of these devices. They are smooth, sleek looking, and they have that next-generation feel of all useless and dangerous technology. "A flip phone?", I'm known to ask friends and friends of friends, "who would put that much faith in hinged fibre optics? Don't be surprised that when it breaks, they won't replace it." This is my final word on both the technology and the managers who own it. Don't expect much, it's only shiny until you use it. Then it's covered in skin oil and traces of earwax.

It wasn't so much the unadulterated avarice surrounding this launch that did me in, this being the default state of being for anyone in their right mind in North America, but it was the depressing residual follow-up phone calls that I had to handle from those people who were offended at the thought that on the first day the item was available in this country, they might have to pay for it. In the build-up, I dealt with many customers who needed assurances that they could get them, that we were in fact selling them. I tried to tell them everything would be okay. A friend of mine in another department cleverly advised a customer who was waiting in line overnight outside a Toronto store to dial the customer service number at 7:30 am and wait on hold until we opened at 8. The phone wouldn't be on sale until 9, but that way, he could choose whichever was faster. He thanked her for her innovative suggestion, you could almost hear his wink over the phone.

The mantra of the day was, 'it's just a phone' all throughout the office. Partially this was to shield us from the live insanity leaking through our headsets at us, but it was also response to the management's handling of the launch. We had been invited to wear white, presumably because in a call-centre environment, not only can the customer 'hear your smile on the phone' she can also tell what promotional colour you might be wearing based on your tone of voice. Managers walked about with baskets of Spartan apples, which I only accepted after confirming that they were from Quebec and hadn't been shipped in from somewhere.

In the days leading up to it, several online petitions and articles by tech reporters had gone far to describe how unfair and draconian the business practices of our, and by extension many, telecoms were. I dealt with Europeans who were shocked at how the business is run here, and a few Americans who were surprised that the system still ran the way it did. A bill had even been presented in Parliament for review and a potential vote, and when one woman from Etobicoke asked me about it, I didn't have the heart to tell her what a 'first reading' meant and that likely she'd get her answer in the next two years or so. When asked in an accusatory tone if we were 'doing anything' about all the people who took seconds from their life to sign an email petition about telecommunication business practices, I looked for a way to explain that for every call to complain, there were 10 to place an order at full-price, while retaining my tone of understanding and helpfulness.

The day itself is passed now, and actually went okay given all the hype from both sides. Comments ranted on internet columns, managers sweated, computer systems crashed. Like any usual day when millions of tons of important information are shoved willy-nilly through overtaxed towers and routers. I often imagine satellites groaning in space under the sheer weight of classroom text messages and gps searches for the nearest 99c pizza.

It's done, we're in it and it's one of our products. The buildup is over and launch day could have been worse. The traditional disappointment in finding the normalcy in your newest acquisition is setting in. And as I prepare for work tomorrow, I can say, with a smile in my voice, that at least for this telecom, it's bark is worse than it's bite.

1 comment:

John Breese said...

Believe it or not, some people that I've spoken to about this actually see nothing wrong....

I guess we're just jaded Scrooges...