In my time at Sears I took thousands of calls. I worked in a call center in Round Rock, which is just north of Austin. For those of you who don’t know, Sears vacated the Sears tower long ago, and most corporate business comes out of Texas. I worked at what they called the “fifth” tier. What that entailed was when a customer called in, and got passed around four times, they found their way to US. Now, there were only about thirty-five of “us” in the whole blamed company, and we were all in Round Rock. If that wasn’t high octane enough the Blue Ribbon squad, which sat right behind us, with power somewhere between the CEO and God, was ready, willing, and able to take the customer to the Promised Land.
I hate working in a call center. To be honest, most calls were people who knew that if they complained long and hard enough they would get a sugar cookie out of Sears, and they were right! I figured out early on that if I gave a gift card under sixty-seven dollars that it would placate most customers, and wouldn’t count against my statistics. In spite of that there was more than a few calls where the customer began the call with, “Just let me speak to your supervisor!”
All that having been said, there were three calls that stood out for me. Calls so different that I remember them to this very day. These calls demonstrated for me at least why we were really there. Almost like a reminder from God that in spite of all the technology, and corporate red tape, we are occasionally called to rise above, and be human!
I got a call from Memphis. After my usual greeting I was immediately interrupted by this wonderful southern black voice saying, “Wilbur, I got a problem!” As I set up the screen for her case I asked what the issue was. It seems her washing machine was broken. It was no big deal. What put a monkey wrench in the whole thing was scheduling. Now Sears had an issue. While having the best technicians in the world, Sears couldn’t schedule a Bar Mitzvah in Brooklyn! A good percentage of our calls were people screaming because they had patiently waited out the two weeks required to get a tech out, endured the four hour window on the day of repair, only to get a call telling them the tech was over booked, and they would be rescheduled yet again. That would make Mother Theresa want to throw her washing machine out into the streets of Calcutta! This caller was in that category.
She had seven grandchildren. I could easily see how a broken washer would complicate the day so I began to search for a solutions. I DID have a big stick, though rarely used, that enabled me to force a repair. If I pushed that button the lady’s call would be out ahead of everybody else. When you used it you had to put up with your supervisor crying a river, but it didn’t affect your stats. As I set it up the customer began to chat with me. I had a method where I would initiate conversation in order to calm the customer so that they would not realize the length of the call, and hopefully by the end of the call the customer would be pleased and come away with a positive experience.
She told me that her daughter had been killed years ago in a drive by shooting, leaving seven children to be raised by grandmother. The pressure had led her into a heart attack, but she had survived, and the kids were getting up in age now. I told her I was very empathetic to her plight, and that was important because “empathy” was one of those things that would kick up your stats. I could empathize with Hitler! I said, “Bet that wears you out having to look after all them kids,” and she said, “No, Wilbur, I took care of them, now they take care of me, but they do need the washing machine.” She got it the very next day!
Then there was this lady in Pensacola. Seems she had this refrigerator situated in her bedroom. I Crappith Thee Not! Right beside her bed, and it had this funny noise. As I looked at her account I could see page after page of cancelled trouble calls, seemingly ignoring her issue. I immediately scheduled a priority call, but upon concluding, I rang up the unit in her area to find out just why they had ignored a customer in such a rude fashion.
A call from corporate was the absolute worse thing that could happen to a Sears manager. That stick I mentioned before was not my only one. As a senior manager in Round Rock I had a golf bag FULL of sticks, and I was ready to play eighteen holes at any given moment. And right around the isle from where I sat was the “STAC” team, which was the section In charge of ALL Sears repairs. They were a bunch of beer drinking Austin Bikers so obnoxious that customers were never allowed to even speak with them, and I would serve up a store or unit manager to them without a second thought!
I asked the unit manager what was in his mind. He had cancelled about one hundred service calls, and was too stupid to even cover his tracks. The man just laughed. With my finger poised above the button that would end his life as he knew it, he explained. It seems the lady was elderly. That made me madder. He continued telling me that she had a debilitating mental condition that caused her to think the refrigerator was producing a noise, making her fear it was failing. It seems that they had run call after call, always finding the appliance was in perfect working condition, yet the repair requests came week after week. Then the manager devised a plan. The call would come in and he would immediately cancel it so as not to fill up the scheduling, which was bad enough already. There was an agreement among the techs. WhomEVER found themselves in Mrs. Simmons neighborhood on Friday near quitting time would swing by and do her “repair.” She always had coffee ready, and the refrigerator was always “fixed!”
Save your fork, I always save the best for last. In New York there was an old lady. Now, we have hot summers in Texas, but it seems that New York City is right up there next to us because as the summer progressed our phone lines would fail from all the calls up there concerning air conditioning. I don’t think think they even know what central air is because it was always these little rinky-dink window units we had done away with long ago. Again, scheduling! That and location. The lady lived in some kind of brown stone walk up (they apparently hadn’t come upon elevators either. When the tech arrived he would invariably find difficult parking, and if he did find it the foreboding long hike up the stairs would lead to the job being labeled, “Not at home!”
While I was sending a notice to the manager of the unit, raining the appropriate bowling balls down upon him, the lady began to cry. I’ll never forget what she said. “My husband, Frank, died three months ago. I never had these problems because he had a big screw driver, and he could fix anything!” I put her on hold, and called the unit. I told the manager that I was making this call a priority, and I didn’t care if that tech had to carry a new window unit up to that apartment I’d better NOT see a “not at home” on my screen the next day! Oh, and one more thing. Have the tech put a big screw driver in his back pocket! I’m sure the old lady has passed by now, and I’d be willing to bet as she entered the gates of heaven, Frank was waiting there . . . With his big screw driver!