Here in the call centre we spend some of our time working on phone calls and some of our time holding webchat discussions with our customers. I occasionally wonder what it would be like if we kept a transcript of our spoken conversations:
“Hello this is the amalgamated coordination advisory sector, how may we help you?”
Instead of a polite and orderly response I am greeted by what sounds like two people having an angry conversation while their children scream with laughter. A cheap electronic musical toy (which I imagine to be made of brightly-coloured plastic) emits a raucous version of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” making it almost impossible for me to hear what the father is trying to tell me. Even without all these distractions, it would be impossible for me to grasp what he was saying since their cordless phone has got a nasty fifty-three hertz buzz that drones and drones like a space-age hornet.
“Hello, I’m-I’m-I’m calling about my nephew – you see, the thing is, it’s like he was going out with this girl see and she walked out on him but they had only been together about – well, you know, you know, like, her uncle was-he-was-like the local grocer and he knew about some of his customers who had been fiddling the dole because their son had moved out but they said he was still living with them.
And-if-and-if you can just tell-me-tell-me-tell-me like what it is like that I should be getting next week-I-=mean-I-know-the-money-should go up a bit cos five of me kids are now getting severe disability allowance-it’s-great-I-mean-we-couldn’t-manage-without-=that-money-it’s-gonna-cause-real-hardship-if-you-don’t-pay-us-on-time-oh-and-have-you-got-down-that-me-daughter-is-staying-on-at-school-for-an-extra-year-she’s-ever-so-bright-is-our- Fifi Dawn Laroche Cadenza.
“What d’you mean? How dare you talk to me like that! Of course she qualifies properly for the disability element at higher rate, I mean she can’t walk or even see properly, she needs a carer to come in three times a day and make sure she gets all her medication properly you know…and so what if she did win a disco dancing competition on holiday in Faliraki? She’s entitled to go on holiday like everybody else, isn’t she? Tell me, do you take your kids on holiday? Go on, tell me? Anyway, they said that it was a miracle recovery, we actually got a face flannel that had actually been used by Wayne Rooney himself, and when she was able to hold this against her legs she suddenly found that the extreme pain began to subside and she could actually walk again I-mean-that-guy-is-such-a-saint-he-does-so-much-good-for-people. One of our friends, he actually used to work in a hotel where the players used to go after matches, and some of the parties and things they used to get up to, well, they just keep a special laundry bin for the players, and everything that goes in there is sent off to the boiler room to be incinerated, no questions asked. Can’t be too careful nowadays.
Anyway, I don’t care what it says on your silly little computer, there’s obviously been some kind of mistake, we never earned that kind of money during the last three years. Don’t be silly, just let me talk to a manager and see if they can sort it out. Look, I want to speak to a manager. Yes there is. Every office has a manager. If you don’t put me on to a manager now I shall make a formal complaint about your behaviour, you obviously don’t know who you’re dealing with here.
And why haven’t you got my correct work details – I’m doing eight and a quarter hours every three weeks, then I’m doing nine and a half hours every fourth week except during the school holidays when I do five hours every two weeks and six and a quarter hours for the other two weeks but I’m due to go full time in a couple of months. No, of course I didn’t notify you cos I thought you lot had all the information anyway from my employer. Fat lot of good you are, if you can’t even keep tabs on the workers.
And the customer becomes even more annoyed when I refuse to accept her fiendishly baroque explanation of why the huge lump sum she received from cashing in the shares she had bought with tax-free savings should not be regarded as income. I wanted so much to call her a miserable greedy cow, but contented myself with a murmured comment of ‘I’m sorry but we are unable to disregard the income which you were lucky enough to get last year…’