At the bank’s contact centre, there are two types of roles you can do. You can stay in the background like me and do the administrative tasks, or you can be one who speaks to customers on the telephone.
Sam, my line manager, says, “We’re getting busier. We need more people from admin to go on the phones.” Then, to me, “You’ve got a polite manner. You’re good with people. You’re courteous. You’d be perfect for speaking to customers on the phone.”
“But I’ve seen how it is,” I say. “Customers get angry. They’re generally not nice people.”
“But you’d be good at diffusing those situations,” she says. “Will you not at least think about it?”
“I’m happy doing what I’m doing,” I say.
--- Customer service is doing everything in your power to avoid speaking to those you’re providing a service to.
I write letters to customers. I enter data into the computer. I file (electronically and manually). I photocopy. I scan. I print, therefore I am.
At the Cathedral, I stand behind the counter at the Admissions desk with two others called Zoe and John and ask people for a donation as they enter.
“Good morning,” I say. “Welcome to (the city) Cathedral. We have a suggested donation of three pounds per person...”
“Oh,” they say, “but the signs outside say FREE ENTRY.”
“It is free,” I say, “but we do ask for donations which go towards the running of the building.”
“So it’s not really free,” they say.
“Whether you decide to donate is entirely up to you,” I say.
--- Customer service is giving people mixed messages.
Some people give more than others. A lot give nothing at all.
At the Falconry, my job is to be in the kiosk by the entrance and sell tickets to anyone who wants to come in and see the birds.
It costs £3 per adult and £2.50 per child. A family ticket of two adults and up to three children costs £10.
“The birds are kept at the bottom and to the left,” I say. “Just follow the gravel path all the way around.”
--- Customer service is letting people find their own way.
“There’s a vulture, a golden eagle, owls, kestrels, hawks,” I say. “Flying displays take place every day at 12:30, 14:00 and 16:00, weather permitting, and they each last for roughly half an hour.”
It sometimes gets quiet at the Falconry, especially when the weather is bad. Danny, the manager, doesn’t mind if you keep yourself occupied at times like these.
--- Customer service is reading a magazine when business is slow.
I undertake several different tasks at the museum. Each day is usually split into seven periods of one hour in which members of staff move around various different stations. For example, I might start by covering reception, before going on to serve in the shop. I might then spend time in the control room, answering the phone and viewing CCTV, before going on patrol, keeping the displays tidy and ensuring all visitors are behaving themselves.
--- Customer service brings variety which, they say, is the spice of life.
In the careers meeting, my adviser tells me we need to reconstruct my CV with a view to getting further work in customer service. That’s where my experience is and it’d be a shame to waste it, he says. I forget my adviser’s name. Maybe he doesn’t have one.
“I don’t know,” I say. “I’d like to maybe try something different. Maybe take a course in something.”
“Why?” he says. “So you can get a job in customer service anyway when you finish the course?”
I pull a face.
“Customer service is taking over the world, pal,” he says. “Everything is customer service nowadays.”
--- Customer service is omnipotent.
“What about my degree?” I say. “Can’t we make it stand out more on my CV?”
“Your degree,” he says. “What was it – social...psycho-socio-political something? It won’t be relevant for the sort of work you’ll be applying for.”
“How do you know what sort of work I’ll be applying for?” I say.
“...Listen, customer service is the place to be,” he says. “Everybody’s working in customer service now.”
“If everybody’s working in customer service,” I say, “then who are the customers?”
“Everybody is everybody else’s customer,” he says. He takes a deep breath. “Look. Me: Careers adviser. I’m customer service for people who are looking for a job...”
I make a noise.
“How did you get here today?” he says.
“Bus,” I say.
“A bus driver is customer service for the passengers,” he says. “If the bus breaks down, who do they call out?”
“Mechanic,” I say.
“A mechanic is customer service for the bus driver and the bus company,” he says. “Who pays the mechanic for doing his job?”
“Or her job,” I say.
“Who pays them?” he says.
“The company they work for,” I say.
“Be more specific,” he says.
“The payroll department at the company they work for,” I say.
“A payroll department is customer service for the mechanics. Everybody. Everything. Customer service. Nothing else. The end.”
--- Customer service is a bigger threat to the future of the earth than climate change.
“Where are you from?” Zoe asks two visitors at the Cathedral while they search their pockets for change.
“Ohio,” they say.
“Oh, like the song,” she says, and starts to sing, “Oh me oh my oh, won’t you look at Miss Ohio...”
There’s a silence.
“Well, welcome to (the city),” she says.
--- Customer service is a song and a big smile.
Zoe takes £2.65 in change from the American couple and puts it through the till. I notice multiple small, white scars on one of her forearms.
“How did you...” I start to say, but stop
“How did I what?” she says.
“Nothing,” I say.
“You’re strange,” she says.
“Yeah,” I say.
--- Customer service makes you self harm.
At the Falconry, when it rains, I sit alone in the kiosk and I pretend I’m a writer in a cabin somewhere in the country and I’m going to sit here for years and years and, one day, I’m going to write a great novel, set in some place just like this and it’s going to be about the birds and some of them will want to escape but some will want to stay where they are and they’ll sabotage the attempts of the restless ones to get free and, in the end, in the end, well, I haven’t thought that far yet.
--- Customer service restricts your imagination.
Things at the museum are very relaxed. A busy day brings in 300 people. The question they ask the most is, “Excuse me, where are the toilets?”
The gents’ are straight ahead, up the steps, through the door, and down the stairs at the end of the corridor. The ladies’ are up the steps, around the corner to the left, through the Natural History gallery and down the stairs just before you come to the shop. The disabled toilets are up the steps, through the door, and to the right just before the stairs which lead down to the gents’.
--- Customer service makes you good at remembering things.
Because the museum’s collection of paintings is worth around £5million, there must always be a member of staff present in the art gallery. Once, on a quiet afternoon, a colleague called Pat fell asleep while sat in there.
--- Customer service makes you very tired.
Iain, in the control room, viewing the CCTV, saw her and attempted to contact her via radio. She didn’t respond so Iain sent Martin, who was patrolling at the time, to go and wake her up. Martin shook her gently for a few seconds before she opened her eyes. They both laughed and so did Iain from the control room. Everybody else did, too, when they found out about it.
--- Customer service is one big joke.
My advisor sends me a link via e-mail to any jobs he thinks might be suitable:
Hey pal, he says, here’s one I thought would be up your street. Call centre agent in (the city). £6.50 per hour. Could be good for you pal. Could be what you need. Click on the link to apply directly and let me know if you need any help with your application. Cheers pal.
At the Cathedral, donations tend to drop off in the afternoons. The daily aim is to take an average of £1.25 per visitor but, today, we’ve only hit 73p per visitor. Gary, one of the managers, calls up from his office and asks to be put on loudspeaker so me, Zoe and John can all hear.
“I notice donations are down,” he says.
“It’s gone quiet,” I say. "We were doing well earlier but now people just aren’t giving.”
“Are you using the correct spiel?” he says. “Get it in there early about the donation. It should be the very first thing you mention after the welcome.”
“Ok,” I say.
“Just keep trying it,” he says. “Keep pushing it.”
--- Customer service: Transforming religion into a target-led industry.
At the bank, in between writing letters to customers whose mortgage accounts have fallen severely into arrears, I find an elastic band on the floor. I pick it up and drop it onto the surface of my desk so it takes the shape of a contorted circle.
I pretend what I have is a race track and I visualise tiny Formula One cars speeding along it. I transport myself to an imaginary grand stand, full of spectators, as the drivers of the cars meander around the tight corners, each vying for a podium finish.
--- Customer service makes you wish you were somewhere else.
My adviser sent me an e-mail to cancel an appointment we had:
Sorry pal, he says. Going to have to cancel Thursday, one of our colleagues Jim died suddenly at home a few days ago from a heart attack and we're closing the office so we can all go to the funeral, we're all pretty cut up about it, I'll be in touch pal to rearrange.
--- Customer service will drive you to an early grave.
The Heritage Centre is affiliated to the museum and, sometimes, when they're short staffed, one or two of us from the museum go over there to help out. I went one day to cover for someone who was off sick. I worked with a woman called Carol. Our job was to sit by the entrance and count visitors into the building using a clicker device.
“Sometimes they might ask you questions,” she says, “but, usually, they don’t.”
We did this for eight hours, with a 30 minute break in the middle. At lunch we had to write down how many visitors had been in so far. At going home time, we had to write down how many had been in for the afternoon, before adding the number to the morning figure to get the total for the day. Then we had to compare our results to make sure they matched.
“Don't you ever get bored?” I say to Carol, who works at the Heritage Centre full time.
“No,” she says, opening a packet of crisps and offering me one.
--- Customer service is sitting for eight hours, eating crisps.
At the end of the day, the manager came over.
“How did you find it?” she says.
“Alright,” I say.
“It's not bad, is it?” she says. “It can be quite interesting because you never know who's going to come in next.”
“I know,” I say.
--- Customer service is a mystery.
At the end of the working day, I go home.
--- Customer service doesn’t last forever.
I cook a meal. I eat. I sit for a few hours. Before I go to bed, I open the curtains slightly and look out into the dark, where I see it, the night, calmly walking away down the road and further, further into the distance, right the way to the end of the street, until I can’t see it any more.