ONE: CUSTOMER SERVICE
OLIVER JORDAN SIGHED AS an electronic tone sounded in his ears through the headset. He wasn’t a big fan of the headset. It was new. The old ones were more comfortable. The new ones made his ears sweat. He wasn’t sure why the company had changed headset vendors, but Management tended not to solicit his opinion when they made the really big decisions.
It was a shame really; Oliver had only been working for the company for thirteen years after all. He liked to think his opinion mattered; he liked to think he mattered. He’d learned long ago however, that in Corporate America, all that mattered were the numbers. Oliver was a number, and as long as he didn’t make any waves, he would forever remain a number.
The tone in his ear signified an incoming call; that someone, somewhere in the country, had picked up their phone and dialed a 1-800 number found on the back of most products that sat on the shelves in your local department or grocery store. The tone also meant that Oliver had to answer the call, and so—as he had done over a hundred times a day—Oliver opened said call using the scripted greeting he’d received back on Day One of training all those many years ago.
“Solutions Incorporated, this is Oliver, how may I help you today?” He gave his belly a small scratch.
“Which product are you calling about?” Oliver said.
This was how many of his calls began. Oliver—Ollie to the people that didn’t know him all that well—worked for a privately held company called Solutions Incorporated. They were a customer service firm who hired themselves out to handle most of the 1-800 help lines you see on products.
Similar businesses, and there weren’t many, have a different 1-800 number created for each of the companies they were contracted to service. That way the operator knows, when a call comes in, which product company the customer is calling about. This helps create the illusion that the customer is speaking with the manufacturer of the product they purchased, and not some faceless corporation such as the one in which Oliver worked for.
Solutions Incorporated, unfortunately, were too cheap to pay for multiple lines. This meant that many of the calls taken each day by Oliver and his fellow representatives in the cubicle jungle started out with the operator convincing the caller that they had, in fact, called the correct number.
“You’ve got the right place,” Oliver said. “How can I help you?”
“You sure?” said the gentleman on the other line. “I’ve never heard of Solutions Incorporated.”
Oliver sighed, but only on the inside. Customer Service 101: Never let them hear you sigh.
“We are a call center that contracts out to many of the products and services you use everyday. How can I help you?”
“Uh, okay, yeah,”said the gentlemen. “I uh, I bought a case of your canned ham patties seven years ago. I’m down to my last can, and it says here that it expired.”
Ham patties meant a Yummy Tum product. Oliver worked the mouse like a pro and in less than two seconds had the Yummy Tum product file open and began to toggle through to the ham patty designation. As he pulled the information he attempted to engage the customer.
Engagement is one of the primary keys to good customer service. Of the many roles that the well-qualified customer service representative is tasked to perform during the life of a call—Subject Matter Expert, Voice of Reason, Detective—the Engaged Listener role allows the representative to show his or her customer that they are involved. Within moments of the greeting, the customer should feel that the representative’s sole purpose in life is to help and that the only two people alive in the world during the length of that call are the customer and the customer service representative.
Oliver—being the professional that he was, and with over a decade of experience under his belt—had a wide variety of tricks he’d cultivated over the years; sure-fire techniques he would often employ when acting in the role of Engaged Listener. So, with the speed of a billion dollar super computer, he pulled the perfect engagement technique from his bag of tricks and lobbed it softly over to the customer on the other end of the line.
“Uh-huh,” Oliver said.
His technique inspired only the best from his fellow coworkers.
“Yeah, so… uh, I wanted to have some ham patties for lunch,” the caller continued. “I mean, I love ham patties, right.”
“Okay.” He could relate. The Yummy Tum ham patties were damn good. Too good, in fact. Oliver had spent many years indulging on them, which hadn’t been good for his figure.
Oliver wasn’t fat, at least he wasn’t what medical science would call morbidly obese. He did, however, meet the clinical definition of overweight, but as he thought about those ham patties, as he scratched once more at his belly, he gave it a bit of a pat and watched it jiggle and shake like the proverbial bowl full of jelly.
“Yeah, you know. I mean, I bought this case at a Huge Mart because it was cheap and on sale and I love ham patties and so I thought I’d pick it up.”
“Right.” Oliver sat—to be honest, he lounged—in a cramped cubicle of four-foot high walls covered in pictures of his family and all of his favorite Mighties.
“So I pull the last can from the cabinet to cook me up some ham patties, right?” The customer continued. “And I look at the date on the back, which I never do, I just figured its ham patties, right? Ham patties don’t go bad.”
“Well the date says—here let me grab the can and I’ll read you exactly what it says, just a sec.”
“Take your time,” Oliver stood, snatching the yo-yo from off the desk where he kept it next to the monitor, slipped the string over his right middle finger, and let loose, the yo-yo spinning to the end of the string and back with the quickness of a bullet train.
If there is one thing that Oliver has learned from sitting in the same cubicle for over thirteen years and taking the same kinds of calls day after day, it’s that if you don’t have something around you to take your mind off of the tedium, the job does things to your mind.
He’d become pretty good with the thing over the years. He could walk the dog and go round the world and all that, which he figured in the end was better than spending the rest of his life in jail.
“Okay, found it,” the caller returned.
“Yeah, so the date, the date on the top of the can, it says ‘Use before April twenty-seventh’, right?”
“And that’s April twenty-seventh of this year.”
“Yeah, well… that was last month, wasn’t it?”
Oliver checked his calendar before responding.
“It sure was,” he said.
He always took that extra step to ensure that everything he told a caller was factual and correct.
“Well, I guess what I’m asking here is in regards to that date that’s printed there on the top of the can. I mean, is there like a hard and fast rule on that date? I mean, does the date mean that the ham patties have gone bad starting the day after that date, or is there some wiggle room there.”
“That date is meant to inform the consumer that it’s best to prepare, serve, and consume those ham patties before the date.”
“Right, I understand that, but if I was to eat it, you know… like, after the date? Would I become sick or anything?”
“It is possible,” Oliver rolled his eyes. “Depending on how long the time-frame is following the date, it is possible that you could become sick, which is why we would never recommend that you consume any of our products after the date that has been printed on the package.”
“Okay, okay cool. I, uh… yeah, I guess that makes sense. Thanks.”
“No, thank you,” Oliver said, a smile on his face. After all, a caller can hear your smile. “Is there anything else I can do for you today, sir?”
“Um… no, I don’t think so.”
“Okay, well thank you for your call and you have a good day.”
“Okay, you too… um…”
“Yes sir, is there something else I can help you with.”
There was a long pause from the other end of the phone and for a moment Oliver thought the caller had disconnected.
“I ate the ham patties,” the caller said, his voice small and embarrassed.
“Well,” Oliver said, rolling his eyes again. “I’m sure you’ll be okay.”
“I’ve thrown up four times already.”
“Ah,” Oliver reached over to his phone and engaged the mute function, sighed loudly, and pushed the mute button again, disengaging it before continuing. “In that case, sir, I would suggest you seek medical help as soon as possible.”
“Really? You think that’s necessary?”
Once again, Oliver engaged the mute button for a good sigh, a sigh of such magnitude that small herds of gazelle could live upon its surface and graze among its open fields of waving grasslands.
“Yes sir, I believe under these circumstances that it would be in your best interest to hang up the phone and continue at once to the emergency room of your local hospital or possibly even a walk-in urgent care facility.” Oliver continued to smile.
“Yeah, that’s a good idea. But… well, I’m new in town and I’m not really sure where the hospital is, or if we even have one.”
“No problem. In that case I would recommend you hang up and dial 9-1-1 with all due haste.”
“Oh, okay. Yeah, I could do that, I suppose. What was your name again?”
“My name is Oliver.”
“Okay, great. Thanks, Oliver.”
The call ended and Oliver let out another sigh of exasperation. This would not be his last sigh of the day. If things went as per usual Oliver could look forward to many more sighs before this day would end.
He took off his headset and placed it on a hook which hung from the wall of the cubicle. Then he pushed a button on his phone labeled AUX, which put the phone in a state that would not allow any incoming calls. He then grabbed up a small cooler from under the desk, and went off to eat his lunch, unaware that before this day would end, Oliver Jordan would become one of the most powerful men in the world.