April, I Hardly Knew Thee : Blog Of The Nation The strange story of how a billing/payment operator at my cell phone company became, for one brief shining moment, a friend.
NPR logo April, I Hardly Knew Thee

April, I Hardly Knew Thee

Any time I make a call that begins with either 800 or 888, I steel myself for the inevitable wave of rage. It isn't actually the quest to find human contact, it's what happens once that contact is made — utter frustration. I picture the person on the other end of the line looking at a computer circa 1980 (you know, black with green text), while he inputs my information, then presses a giant red button labeled "ERASE." Cue, the Ragnorak, interspersed with bouts of tears.

Today I made a call to my erstwhile cell phone company, and jumped the gun on the grumpiness, to mixed results.

April: Wait just a minute ma'am. What's your information?
Me: (Garbled ranting interspersed with account information.)
April: I see we've overcharged you... I'll fix that right now.
Me (ashamed): Oh. Thanks.
April: Okay, I've put that through. Is there anything else I can do for you?
Me (now, totally ashamed of my behavior): I'm totally ashamed of my behavior.

After this exchange and my horrid behavior, I talked with April about her job. It was, I acknowledged, a way to deflect attention away from my crazy ranting, but I was curious about the effect all of those angry interactions have on her psyche. We had a nice chat. It turns out, to do that job, you have to distance yourself from the folks with whom you interact. You cannot, she said, allow yourself to be defined by the person who is screaming at you. And she said something really smart, too, "I pretend they're ill — that they're a patient who's in pain and simply can't help themselves." Oddly, this is how I've gotten through most of the service industry jobs I had — treating people like patients. I asked her if she'd ever gotten snippy with a faceless operator, and she laughed. "Of course I have! I'm human. I am particularly rude to people that can't fix my internet fast enough." Of course, I immediately fell in love with April. Here is how the end of the call went.

Me: Gosh, April, now that I know all of this about you I'm particularly embarrassed that I called you names not ten minutes ago. Can I have your email address?
April: Actually, I'd rather not give it to you — you can always call this number again if you need help.

The moment had passed. It was like the morning after 1914 Christmas truce — we retreated to our bunkers. And I'm sort of worried that my information got lost in the computer.