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When Mute Fails

October 15, 2014

I cannot BELIEVE this son of a @#$%!

Bart was a support engineer at WordPerfect Corporation. Bart was a bit of a hothead. He was smart enough to press the mute button on his phone before he would rant about his customers.

Smart enough and yet not nearly smart enough. And this time it cost him.

There’s a famous saying that goes

Customers are not an interruption to our business. Customers are the reason for our business.

My career started out at WordPerfect in a call center on the phones. (Back to Where It All Began.) And now my career involves setting up call centers. We have hundreds of agents who take thousands of phone calls.

Calls centers then and now record phone calls. At one point while at WordPerfect, I was moved off the phones to work on a special project. (How I Saved The EPA. . .Don’t Tell Pete!) After the project, I was moved back to the phones in the WordPerfect Office queue.

I didn’t take it well.

I ended up on a phone call with the EPA administrator and I let my frustration boil over into the phone call. I didn’t say anything too terrible, but I was certainly bad-mouthing my company. It’s okay, though, right? I was tucked away in the corner and it was just me and the customer. . .and the tape recorder.

Rodney, can I see you in my office?

Sure, what’s up?

This is Susan from HR, and you know Sam who’s the director of support.

What’s this about?

Were you aware that we record agent calls?

Oh. . .

No, I wasn’t. I certainly was after that discussion. They decided I could keep my job. I also got a great appreciation for the fact that when you are on the company clock, you are expected to support the company policy, even if you are unhappy about your personal situation.

At my current company, we record 100% of the agent calls. We have entire teams dedicated to listening to a sampling of calls and offering agents feedback on their performance. The calls are saved in permanent storage. At first glance it might appear invasive. During my phone call all those years ago I assumed that my call was private. It was a really silly assumption. The folks from the EPA didn’t assume it was private. My boss knew it wasn’t private. And I should have known it wasn’t.

When you call into an 800 number, all of them give you the standard “Calls may be recorded. I actually called a company one time who’s message said,

For your training and quality insurance, all calls may be recorded.

I wasn’t clear how the company intended to train me as a customer.

As an employee, it’s important to always remember that you don’t just work for the company. When you are on the phone with a customer, you ARE the company. Everything you say, every decision you make, reflects back on your employer. And it’s not unreasonable that your employer expects you to be a good representative. It’s how you should be acting. . .all the time.

And that brings us back to Bart, who put his phone on mute and swore at his customer. Bart not only swore, he did it loudly enough that everyone on his team knew that he wasn’t happy with the customer. On most phone systems, there is a difference between MUTE and HOLD. If you put someone on hold you are temporarily disconnected from them. They cannot hear you because the connection has been broken. When you put someone on mute, you are still connected to them, it just turns your microphone down really low. Low, but not off. It doesn’t block all sound. If you yell loud enough, you can still be heard on a muted line. As Bart quickly found out.

This is Bart, thanks for holding.

Did you just call me a son of a @#$%!?

It was kind of sad to watch Bart try to talk his way out of a problem of his own making. The customer was actually reasonable about it. But, the event has stuck with me. You never know who might be listening. It’s important to remember to be a good representative whenever you are at work, or on the phone. And social media wasn’t prevalent 25 years ago when Bart and I were taking phone calls, but the same advice goes for your online comments. You have the right to say whatever you want. You do not have the right to escape consequences.

If you have to question whether something you are saying, or posting would be viewed in a negative light by your company, it’s probably a good idea to not say it. And remember to put the customer on hold instead of mute.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday at 7:00 AM Mountain Time. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and one grandchild.

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