This One Time, 98

This one time I was sitting at my desk waiting for the phone to ring. More accurately, I was waiting for Murphy to make the phone ring — Murphy being the evil machine in the basement with the phone numbers in it of all the people we’re paid ten bucks an hour to annoy.

Here’s how it works. Murphy calls the number at the top of the list. Poor bastard #1 isn’t home, or doesn’t pick up, or whatever. So Murphy calls the next number in the list. And so on — until someone actually picks up. Murph has a split second to listen to the line to tell if it’s a machine, and if it is, it can hang up if it wants. But if someone answers, then the next one of us whose phone isn’t busy has ONE RING to pick up our end of the connection and read from the script Murphy shows us on our monitor. One section has info about who we’re trying to talk to, while another has info about why we’re harassing the poor schlub — either trying to make a sale, or get ’em to take a survey, or asking for money to cover an outstanding debt, or maybe it won’t bother any of us humans up here at all and it’ll just connect them to a recording of some kind.

Murphy, when it’s in peak form, can handle initiating thirty-two simultaneous outgoing calls, and, once connected, can hand them off to our telephone system, which supports more than two hundred and fifty. And yes, we have two full shifts and a third that runs about half-mast. We can handle somewhere between 50,000 and 100,000 calls per day.

That’s an awful lot of daily misery we’re responsible for.

Murphy isn’t perfect. Murphy will connect me to a fax machine sometimes. Murphy will flub the handoff to the main telephone system (“Monroe”) sometimes, or maybe Monroe runs out of lines or has a bad one in the rotation, and the call gets dropped. But Murphy’s favorite way to screw with me is to connect me with someone and show me a bogus script. Or no script at all. I’ll get a page with no personal info on it for who I’m supposed to talk to, or a script that’s in a language I don’t know, or sometimes both sides will just be blank, leaving me talking to someone who I don’t know who it is about … nothing. Monroe can tell if I hang up on someone, as opposed to when they hang up on me, and I’m supposed to hang up on them if Murphy goes wrong, but when I do, I’m supposed to hit a button and fill out a quick form saying what happened. And sometimes that button doesn’t work either, and then I get written up and then I have to try to explain to my supervisor how busted — or maybe just malicious — Murphy is.

The screwed-up Murphy/Monroe combo has gotten plenty of competent people fired over the past couple of years, and that’s not counting supervisor incompetence or malice, like when they’re supposed to disconnect you from the system when you’re at lunch or on break, but they reconnect you before you come back and you rack up “failures to pick up,” which are nearly as unforgivable as hangups.

So when Murphy rang my phone, the screen snapped on and showed me the usual stuff. Kinda. I’m used to there being gaps sometimes or an old script we hadn’t seen in forever, but the script didn’t seem familiar. As I picked up, I heard the trailing “for quality assurance purposes” recording that was occasionally played when it took a few seconds for one of us to pick up, or when Monroe was feeling particularly sluggish finding an open associate. If it took too long, it would go straight to some horrific light jazz stuff that would hopefully stun and hypnotize the joe on the other end into not hanging up. But the script server knew I was online, so I was waiting for it to tell me it was my turn. Meanwhile I looked over at the script.

“Mr. Aan?” I asked. My ears went into autopilot waiting for something that sounded like an acceptable for on acknowledgment while my eyes flicked over the the script. Oh no.

“Yes,” came the response. I braced myself for the new weirdness and bulled on.

“My name is Leslie and I’m calling on behalf of –” and I’m not supposed to tell you who we contract for. You can imagine that many of our clients prefer to give the impression that we work directly for them. But I can tell you it gave me a chill all the way down to my spine. So anyway. “– and I’d like to offer my condolences for your loss, both from myself and from our entire organization.”

“Th-thank you,” he interrupted.

“Mr. Aan, I’d like to ask you, is there anything that we can do for you here, anything that you need?” The script here said to make a note of everything they say in the feedback section, which was just an open text box, though it mentioned that if it was profanity or abuse that we could just summarize.

“Well, actually…” he started. I braced myself. “We need four five-gallon tubs of cow blood for the rites, and, well, we’ve called around to all of the butchers and there just isn’t that much available. If we had a truck, I guess we could drive out of town….”

I started typing. “Twenty gallons of cow blood in four five-gallon tubs, Mr. Aan?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied.

“When do you need the blood, Mr. Aan? And what’s the address where you can take delivery?”

“No later than three days from now, Leslie. Friday afternoon.” And he gave me an address, and I confirmed it.

“Mr. Aan, I will pass along your request immediately, and someone will call you to confirm whether we can help you. Again, we are all very truly sorry, and we wish you the best for the future.”

I hung up, finished up the notes, and hit “submit.” And then I waited. And waited one moment more.

Then Murphy rang the phone, and I dove right in.

“Mrs. Abbot? My name is Leslie and I’m calling on behalf of the XXXX Corporation. I’d like to offer my condolences for your loss, both from myself and from our entire organization.”

“Th-thank you,” she replied.


April 8, 2011 · by xalieri · Posted in This One Time  


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