When I was in college I worked for a telephone survey company. It was my job to call people’s homes and allow the phone ring up to four times. If someone answered, I was to keep that person from hanging up by reassuring them I was not selling anything, rather I simply wanted ten minutes of their time. If they agreed, I would ask them confusingly worded questions and give them a series of equally confusing answer choices. I was paid minimum wage with a bonus based on the number of completed surveys (which was never an impressive amount).
The job gave me anxiety. I hated the feeling that I was bothering people. Most people I talked to were annoyed but polite nonetheless. A few were truly unpleasant. I wanted to tell every person I talked to that I was a person. A real person. A really nice person in fact. I wanted to tell them that I hated calling them even more than they hated being called. I wanted to tell them that I was trying to get through college and that this was the only job I could find, and that I would be leaving the job just as soon as I could find another one. I did not tell them these things, but I did make a conscious decision that I would always be genuinely kind to people on the telephone, no matter what.
I have to say that my determination in this regard has been tested the most, interestingly enough, each time I have had to talk with someone who works at the phone company call center.
Just recently, there was an unexplained $10 charge on my phone bill. I would much rather do something fun with that money than have it siphoned off by an untouchable service corporation, so I put on my “genuine kindness” and made a phone call.
That single phone call turned into many phone calls. Each time I got to wait on the line with lovely elevator music interspersed periodically with the warm reassurance that I was a valued customer. And each time I got to talk to a pleasant, yet mostly unhelpful, person.
The first operator told me that we had incurred third-party charges and gave me the telephone number to the company that had allegedly charged us. I called the number he provided and it turned out to be a floral shop that had no idea what I was talking about.
So I called the phone company back and I talked to a woman who before too long accidentally hung up on me. But I did not give up and this time I had a humorous exchange with a gentleman working out of his apartment. He said that his computer was slow and he was having trouble accessing my account information. I suppressed the urge to say “Oh, you must have the Internet your company provides!”
He was eventually able to explain the charges and they were valid. But I was distraught that this information had not been clearly provided on my phone bill. I politely told him that I would be looking for a different phone and Internet company. He responded by putting me through to a customer retention agent who immediately upgraded my phone and Internet and decreased my monthly charges.
What did I learn from this? I learned that phone bills are impossible to read and that the phone company is difficult to deal with. I also learned that persistence and vigilance result in the best rates. But above all, I learned that I am responsible for how I behave. If I fly off the handle because of frustrating situations, then I am essentially yielding my agency away. I feel good inside when I am kind, even to telephone people, because I know it is how I want to be treated. More often than not, it pays to live the golden rule!