Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Be nice to service workers, or at least try to

I have been updating my resume of late and sending it out to potential employers, and have been thinking of the jobs listed there and my experiences at those places.

Once upon a time, I thought my resume would only have one job listed, with the Postal Service, but my desire for more out of my work life than taking rubber bands off letter bundles and seeing my promotion applications round-filed led me in a different direction.

I worked my way through college and in June 1994 quit the post office. I had savings, so for several months I really did not do much except enjoy life again, but I knew the clock was ticking. For the Christmas season that year, I took a minimum-wage job at a shopping mall’s software store, and had a good time, but it ended after the holidays and I soon needed to find a better position.

So I managed to talk my way into an interview with a company called CyberGate, which was offering Internet access to people over dial-up (broadband was just a dream at the time) who wanted to experience the information superhighway. The World Wide Web was becoming a big deal, and CyberGate not only offered Unix shell accounts but also PPP accounts for seeing Web pages.

The work was basically sitting at a desk for eight hours and solving people’s problems, or setting up new accounts. The pay wasn’t that great and there were no benefits for the first 90 days, but this was a growing field and we also got accounts with the company for free. Some customers had rudimentary Web sites up and were trying e-commerce, and others were just interacting with other online people around the world.

Most folks were pretty nice about the inevitable problems, but I always remember one woman who took nastiness to a level I had seldom experienced, except maybe in Marine Corps basic training and the post office. Maybe it was the fact that we were lowly customer service people and she could scream into a telephone, but I experienced her extreme wrath while just trying to be helpful.

We were in the early days of the online experience, I suppose lots of packets were dropped, and she reported to me in an e-mail sent to the general support mailbox that her Internet friends were having “trouble” getting in touch with her. In an effort to be helpful, I sent her a list of suggestions – boilerplate text that we in customer service had access to – that might be helpful. I put my name at the bottom.

The next day, I got an angry e-mail from her telling me I was an idiot, and she wasn’t interested in the boilerplate information, but wanted answers. There was really nothing to tell her, and her complaint against me got me taken off e-mail tech support. I do remember that one day she called, heard me give my name, and demanded to be transferred to someone else. I guess she didn’t like me.

While working for CyberGate, I managed to land a part-time job working on a local newspaper for its first Web sites, and eventually quit CyberGate without notice and after being reamed by the head of customer service for the above and other goofs. I kept my dial-up account with CyberGate, having converted it to paid, until BellSouth came up with DSL in my neighborhood a few years later.

I had some good experiences there, and most people were appreciative that we could get them into the newfangled Internet world. I still remember the thrill the first time I got everything set up just so for myself, and CNN’s Web site appeared in my browser. Of course, it was not all sweetness and light since people had to hang up and use their one phone line to dial in to get online, so the reps would give out their direct extensions in case people had trouble.

It is hardly a surprise all these years later that it eventually got easier to go online, especially with the advent of Windows 95, and most customer service interactions became scripted, but there was a time when it was pretty free-form. Still, dealing with angry customers can be very nerve-wracking for some workers, and I do have some sympathy.


August 26, 2008 - Posted by | Living in the modern age | , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. I’ve been working here for 12 years and I hope I do not ever have to again see the ugliness that is New York during a job search. I wish you well.

    I’m taking an on-line course through work – strange to think that wasn’t possible only a few years ago!

    Comment by Diana-NYC | August 27, 2008 | Reply

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