There was a time when I sold out, left the comfy world of communications foot soldier -- a job for which I was woefully underpaid, but loved and petted -- to make big bucks as a manager. (Both big bucks and manager being relative terms.)
My newspaper wanted to enter the brave new world of outsourcing. And of course, when outsourcing, the first group thrown to the wolves would be you, me, we the customer, ie, customer service. And, for whatever reason, the powers under the powers under the powers-that-be, decided I'd be the one to parachute into places like Dogspit, Texas; Deadfish, Wisconsin; Brokentoe, Nebraska; Deadcat, Kansas; with an extremely small but experienced team to lead the charge.
This resulted in a nice title, and the pleasure of meeting, and bringing together a rag-tag army of farm boys and girls -- grade school dropouts mostly, with the IT crowd who hated them, and the local management team that dreamed, if all went well, of one day snagging a job in Witchita or Omaha. Oddly, I thought at the time and think so to this day, the farm kids may have been educationally and dentally challenged to the extreme, but they were on the vanguard of tats, purple hair, piercings, computers, and knew their way around a bottle of Prozac.
"Do what you have to do, but make it seamless," my betters said, and then washed their hands of the entire operation. Well, put that among my many accomplishments -- we showed no seams. Just giant gaping holes that a convoy of tractors could ride through without ever seeing, much less touching, either end of the fabric.
Our LA customers knew the moment, the very moment, we made the customer service switcheroo; the moment their call was answered by a boy or girl who had effectively never left the farm or talked to anyone more cosmopolitan than a clerk at the mercantile.
"I'd like to know my balance."
"Give me a sec. Why, no need to worry ma'am, you don't owe nuthin."
The customers hated the new customer service, the new customer service hated the customers, local managers hated the company management, and the company management hated me. Well, actually, now I'm being modest. Everyone hated me.
"I don't want to talk to Wisconsin," the subscriber base would scream, and flood the publisher's office plus national and international bureaus with outrage.
(Little did they realize, soon speaking to someone in Deadfish would seem like a long lost dream. They'd beg to speak to Wisconsin. Or anyone within the continental United States. But we showed them; yes, a scant few years later, we sent all their complaints to Manila.)
One time I had to do a 12-hour turnaround from Deadfish to Dogspit. We were suffering a massive PR fallout from a literacy campaign, our publisher's pet project, an idea he'd "borrowed" from another paper. The campaign solicited donations and featured photos of Keane-eyed kids, with captions that read, "HELP ME READ." with the P and D backwards. Most of the kids in the photos were brown and black. The blow back was so intense, we opened up an overflow call center in Dogspit. I had to script responses and train the crew. Unfortunately, half the crew couldn't read, so we spent afternoons trying to memorize all possible scenarios, responses.
Naturally, when the calls came in, everyone scuttled the script and decided to improvise, speak from the heart. I monitored one call. Our front line guy said, "Oh no, we're not saying only black children are illiterate. We have pictures of white people, too. Everyone should read, Purple people, orange people, green people..."
I ripped off the head phones and thought how much life sucks and wondered what sort of rotgut the bars serve in Dogspit, and how early.