31 Dec 2004

Once you pop

Is there anything on Earth more painful than spicy twiglet-dust in your eyes? It stings like nothing else. Its enough to put you off them – believe me – I almost missed Wizard of Oz this year trying to douse it out.

They should carry a health warning.

I hope that all my readers had a great Christmas.

Apart from Christmas Eve, the customers have not stopped calling. There was a numb silence prior finishing on Friday. The annual twiglets and Pringles party was cut short this year. We all decided to go home and reconnect with our loved ones, as we had not seen them for four weeks.

There’s a silent stare that we exchange. A knowing look that says: “I understand what you’ve been through.”

When we came back this week it was much the same. Customers were holding on for twenty minutes yesterday to complain that their miniature sprinkler for bonsais was bunging up, or that their Singing Ringing Tree had forgotten its words.

Ah well. Happy New Year everyone and normal blogging service will be resumed on Tuesday. 2005 promises to be full of changes.

21 Dec 2004

Christmas Puppies

It was the team Christmas do on Friday. I never enjoy it. Somebody always corners me for a ‘career chat’ and ends up crying in my stella. It was quite good this year as everyone got leathered early doors, during the meal, and cut out the banter.

I love Barney (The Big Gay Bear) when he’s had a drink. He cranks up the campness to such a degree that he can wave his left hand, waft a fag in his right, while wobbling his head and bobbing excitedly in his chair - all at the same time! “I need to unfasten my pants, I’m bustin’ out. I’ve been gobblin’ nuts all day.”

Tizzy was almost wearing an 'Obi Wan Dress' - ("Feel the force - LOOK). Every muscle around my eyeballs was straining to maintain a ‘horizontal hold’ to save embarrassment.

“Look at those love. You could feed a crèche,” Barney said. “You could cure me with those!”

Someone got me a ‘Best Boss In The World’ mug in the secret Santa.

Someone was taking the piss.

20 Dec 2004

Ho Ho Bloody Ho

I know, I know – sorry and all that – but I’ve been busy. Santa’s turned his back on Bangalore and outsourced his work to us in Bolton.

My headset has been out of the velvet-lined box and its muff welded to my ear throughout December. The wallboards have been jingling constantly as the ‘on hold’ Christmas music warped with overuse.

John Three has not had time to breathe, never mind moan, and the inquest about missing stationery has been ‘parked’ (whatever that means) until the tidal wave of customers that crash against our heads ceases.

It must have been bad as Quandix were taken off ‘Hygiene Bin detail’ and redeployed to take inbound calls for The Catalogue That Cannot Be Named (for keeping my job reasons).

I don’t want to spoil the surprise for you, but here are the top 5 gifts for this holiday season:

(1) ‘Ever Hard’ a space age biscuit tin that means your bourbons will never be limp. It’s like Viagra for Rich Tea.

(2) ‘Disco Pen’ re-live Saturday Night Fever next time you write a cheque. Flashes red, yellow, pink and blue – not suitable for people with photo-sensitivity or taste.

(3) Nuts of the World Luxury Hamper – a hamper filled with nuts. Unlike every other hamper in the world, there’s no sign of a ‘pie in a tin’, you’ll need to purchase it separately. May contain nuts.

(4) Singing Ringing Tree – knows over a hundred Christmas tunes, some of them made up, could replace Cliff Richard when he croaks.

(5) Wrapstar’s Lever Arch Files – while stocks last!

7 Dec 2004

too busy to blog - see you in a week - write in for a refund.

30 Nov 2004

A Brief History of Call Centres

Part One: Banishing the Back Office.

A combination of economics and technology has created call centres. The desire to get more for less created the need for companies to centralise; therefore taking their operation out of city centres and into the outskirts, in a bid to transform the country into a car park.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, using technology as an excuse, that has driven the rise of call centres. It’s a logic that says “We need more call centres because our customers want to contact us by telephone” while customers are saying “I need to contact people by telephone, because I don’t have a choice, they’ve moved everything into a call centre.”

Management have been determined to banish ‘back office’ work. The ‘back office’ conjures images of gnarled old men punching holes in strips of paper while Bob Cratchet chucks another log on the fire. Back offices were filled with people who used to ‘do stuff’ and they have been replaced by computers that ‘don’t do stuff’. It was a necessary to make companies profitable.

A hundred people were once employed, on four pounds an hour, to 'do stuff'. Instead, we have Management consultants who are paid four hundred pounds an hour to work out why nothing gets done.

Progress.

29 Nov 2004

The Important Room

Mary had booked the Important Room that we are never allowed to go in, for the meeting about stationery. I was ready to be publicly exposed as the main culprit for the rising costs in the office. I rehearsed my leaving speech in preparation: “I may be going – but at least I discovered what gridding tape is – how many people can say that?”

The Important Room has a long, narrow table down the centre; like a decorating-paste table, and a big plant in the corner. Brenda loves the table because you can’t help but sit really, really close and breathe on the person opposite. “What’s this? A ‘stare-out’ competition.” Martin said as he sat down.

I laughed (with nerves), but everyone else was far too serious.

Everyone in the meeting was clutching a cup with a cardboard jacket from the Death Wagon. Every time Brenda crossed her legs, she kicked me hard in the shin.

Mary led the meeting and after an hour, six sheets of flip chart paper, six different coloured markers, some blue tac and ten copies of a 10 page report, we came up with a cost saving strategy:

“We pledge to use less stationery.”

It’s a simple but effective strategy I feel.

25 Nov 2004

Ouch

I caught my finger in a lever arch file today. It was the shock of being invited to a meeting to discuss ‘stationery consumption’ headed by Mary. It really hurt. Maybe it’s an omen.

I bought a latte from the Death Wagon - two quid! - for a cup of foam that inflated in my stomach. I was farting away all afternoon like a singing ringing tree.

You should hear my ‘Away in A Manager’.

23 Nov 2004

Skinny Latte – to go!

Mary has pointed out that people have been turning in late over the past week. I opened up my in-box to find a stinging memo from Ian complaining about my team’s log on time. Every member of the team has been late every single day for the past three weeks.

Part of the problem has been Mary’s visit and John Three’s scowling, but the real reason is that my watch is on British Summer Time. Call it wishful thinking; call it ‘positive self-talk’; better still, call it laziness - but I haven’t put my watch back in an attempt to avoid winter.

A few pertinent questions here and there and everywhere and … et voila – Bob’s your Auntie’s live-in-lover - my investigations revealed the cause of the tardy behaviour.

It seems that the Death Wagon, parked outside of the Call Centre, is not content with clogging up arteries with fried egg, bacon, steak and mushrooms. It’s gone ‘up market’ and bought a barista. The sound of slamming that accompanies modern coffee making rings through the converted trailer while my team wait for the next fix.

My team are wired on caffine from a gleaming machine… (get Bowie on the line – I have a new lyric.)

22 Nov 2004

Shot in the Dark

John Three’s gripes and groans are still fresh in my mind. Wendy from HR has suggested that I ‘document’ the discussion for future reference.

I’ve considered what he said and can see his point. It’s a pain in the arse working in the Call Centre. I watched a neo-investigative journalist on one of those pre-Eastenders fill-ill documentaries that the BBC is churning out - “Should I be worried about … the bleedin’ obvious?” or something like that. The journo went undercover in a call centre and measured his ‘stress levels’ as he took calls. He was standing in line for a triple by-pass after twenty minutes. He said that it was ‘the fear of the unknown’ and ‘not knowing what query was coming up next’ that sent his heart rate a flutter.

If it’s true that call centres are not for people with a nervous disposition, how come they employ so many people who get stressed at the slightest thing?

Tizzy has the constant jitters and apparently told one of the Quandix temps that working at the Call Centre was like “playing Russian Roulette – you never know if the next call is your last.”

I may suggest a new ad campaign for recruitment: “Call Centre work – at last – a game of Russian Roulette that won’t cure dandruff”

18 Nov 2004

Bull by the Horns

I’ve decided to tackle John Three and his Moomin memoirs in a pre-emptive strike, before Mary hits me with a 40 page report. I decided to take him on and find out, once and for all, what’s bothering him.

I wish I hadn’t bothered.

“The innovation station hasn’t been up dated for months. There are not enough pens, there’s too many files and flip chart paper, but we can’t write. John’s had to use the same piece of paper for the past 4 years …”

“It’s his choice to use the same piece of paper.” I interjected.

“It’s ridiculous. There’s too much noise in the office and the customers are stupid and don’t know what they’re doing. The toilets are never clean. I’m not enjoying my job and no one seems to care.”

I knotted my eyebrows in concern.

“Trouble is,” he continued, snarling now, “If you say anything you are branded as ‘negative’”

Whatever gave him that impression?

17 Nov 2004

Giving Mary the Finger

Mary has been sat with the team. The last time she was here she said that we were “not specific enough about the degree of imitation-ness of the imitation beech effect cd cases”.

She has been hovering over to the Quandix team too, who have been wooing her with their charm and cheap sweets. The chuckle brothers, Mr Outspan and Johnny Knucklehead, have managed to persuade her of the rationale of having a hygiene bin in the middle of the office.

John Three gave her the curly finger – the international symbol for ‘I have something to tell you’ – and she conspiratorially slid over to his desk. She spent half an hour reading through his book.

We are doomed.

16 Nov 2004

It’s going … It’s going … Done for!

“Will we be observing a two minutes silence for him?” Joan asked with her eyebrows knotted in concern.

Bolton has come to a stand still as it buries its ‘favourite son’ Fred Dibnah. It’s not the first time he’s brought the town to gridlock – his bleedin’ traction engine made sure of that – but this time it is for his funeral procession. Shops have closed. People have lined the streets.

Not a bad showing for someone who knocked down chimneys for a living. He was Britain’s first ever ‘reality tv’ star, a pro-type Jade Goody if you will, and was probably the first and last time you’ll ever see the words ‘celebrity’ and ‘steeplejack’ put together.

At school, I was doing Fred impressions while everyone else was still doing Frank Spenser – I still get requests. Although we never met, I like to think I had an impact on his life as I once bumped into his wife Alison at the library. She was looking puzzled so I helped her to find the ‘feminist sociology’ section. Weeks later she divorced him saying he was an out-moded chauvinist who was living in the past. Who knows, if I’d shown her to the ‘canals and waterways’ section, the course of history may have been changed.

Life goes on. “Get back on the phones Joan.”

She tried the same last week for Arafat.

15 Nov 2004

Baubling On

If you “press 1” for the Christmas catalogue, you are fast-forwarded to one of Martin’s team.

Martin and his ‘Youth Camp’ – sorry – ‘Team’ have put up decorations and flashing fairy lights around a ‘Team Score Board’ to get them in the mood.

HONK! Honk! HONK! Honk! Brenda was sat with Martin as they listened to a call together. Apparently a customer was complaining about a ‘Singing, Ringing Christmas Tree’ that was fluffing its lines and she played it down the phone to the adviser.

All the managers crowded around Martin’s desk to hear the tree sing: “Fart. The feral angels sing …”

You should hear its Frosty the Snowman.

12 Nov 2004

English Language … the ultimate sacrifice

Another day. Another meeting.

Mary has summoned the managers together to deliver a presentation entitled “Mail Order and Distance Marketing Regulatory Requirements: New Initiatives for a New Millennium.”

Who could resist such a catchy title?

I could tell it was an important meeting because Bernard had ordered biscuits. He was snatching at them at intervals.

She took us through a whistle stop tour of a power point presentation and summed it up by saying, ”In short, I am adopting a holistic approach to the business synergies to ensure global, joined-up-thinking across the piece.”

We paused for two minutes silence …

10 Nov 2004

Bin and Gone

Mary has descended. She is doing an audit on the office. There’re new regulations that she wants to impose and no doubt she’ll want to commit further crimes against the English language.

“What on earth is that doing in the middle of an office?” She pointed to a ‘Hygiene Bin for Sanitary Products’ that the Quandix team were selling to pubs and clubs up and down the country.

I explained to Mary, “It helps them focus apparently. We have a gnome as our mascot.”

I held up the gnome with blue-tac where its eyes once where.

She wasn’t looking. She wouldn’t take her eyes off the bin.

Perhaps I should hide the files in it?

9 Nov 2004

Mass Debate

I was in a meeting with Brenda, Martin, Ian and Janice today. Martin was humming “Spring Time for Hitler” as he sipped on a steaming cup of Bovril.

“Yep. Yep. Yep.” Ian was stroking his Yoda (circa Attack of the Clones) tie as he made yet another point of objection.

Janice, her eyes now so big she’s wearing goldfish bowls for contacts, was shifting her support from Ian to Martin.

Martin drained his ‘Best Boss in The World’ cup of its beefy liquid and started to get passionate, slamming the table, pointing furiously.

Janice moved to his side nodding, tight-lipped. Brenda interjected, urging compromise, her hands diplomatically trying to draw them together.

The smell of tuna and onion from Brenda mixed with Bovril was making me feel queasy and I was uncomfortable with the tension in the room when attention turned to me. They wanted me to have the casting decision, I said “Look. Does it really matter where we go on our Christmas do?”

8 Nov 2004

Box Room

To be honest, I’ve not really been able to take Brenda seriously since I saw her flossing her fanny with a feather boa on a works night out. She was going to be my coach and give me support, but she’s given up the ghost.

Like all the others, she is aware that the tectonic plates are moving and changes are about to take place and she wants to make sure she is not left behind. She has started to wear glasses and inspect the office every morning ticking a list on her clipboard.

“Why is there a cardboard box under every desk in your area?” She asked while peering above her glasses and breathing tuna and onion directly up my nostril.

I muttered and stumbled as I thought of an excuse. “I’ve recently conducted a work station review and discovered that my team needed foot rests. I thought that I’d save money by improvising.”

“Well done. Good idea. We need to do something. The stationery budget has doubled over the past month. Bernard has called in Mary to investigate.” She said (I think there may have been mayonnaise on her tuna and onion sandwich too.)

100 lever arch files – I must ask Thrush how e-bay works.

4 Nov 2004

Karma Police – arrest this man

John Three, or Moomin Papa, exudes ‘bad vibes’. I don’t know what is wrong with him, but he’s been ‘on one’ for months now. I suppose I could ask him what’s the matter, but he might tell me and if he tells me, I’ll have to do something about it and I can’t be arsed. It’s not a management approach I’d advocate for everyone, but it works for me.

His glumness is spreading to the customers too.

I had to get my headset out of its velvet-lined box to actually speak to customer.

He was a screamer. He was so loud my headset muff rattled. He may have been schooled in my master-class, using a combination of aggression and tenacity, and had managed to see off three different levels of operators, however he had made a fundamental flaw: he’d phoned the wrong number.

He was complaining about the rising price of his electricity bill and try as I might I could not convince him that I couldn’t help him.

“I want compensation!” he screamed in a bizarre west-country accent. I wasn’t sure whether or not it was a wind up and I was being broadcast across Devon by an afternoon show on Cream Tea FM so I was cautious at first explaining that he would have to make a case for compensation. “I’ve been on this call for twenty minutes. My time is money.”

He’d spent twenty minutes asking for compensation so I could hardly compensate him for not getting compensation.

He insisted on speaking to the ‘organ-grinder’ and not the monkey. Bernard (busily grinding organs in his office) agreed to send fifty quid to the guy to avoid messing up his hair with a headset.

John Three seemed to make a careful note of the incident.

3 Nov 2004

Tic Tac Toe

When I returned from holiday, my desk was covered with boxes and boxes of stationery. In my bid to blow the budget I’d got carried away and ordered 10 packs of 10 Lever Arch Files rather than the 10 files I needed. I’ve missed the deadline for making a return so I now have a hundred files and nowhere to put them.

I’m beginning to suspect that my plan to dominate the Call Centre with my innovative use of stationery is beginning to fray at the edges. The white board that was painstakingly gridded with tape to display the team sales is now used for noughts and crosses competition.

“Do you think the republicans will win the election or will Kerry snatch it at the last minute?” John Doe asked as he put an X in the grid.

Barney, the Big Gay Bear, replied “Bush or snatch? Not much of a choice if you ask me.”

2 Nov 2004

GBH

Word on the street is that John Three, aka Moomin Papa, has a beef with the Call Centre.

He's been silently fuming for weeks. I knew there was something wrong when he refused the Hear'say album he had won during the SELLATHON. "What use is that to me? I don't even have a gramaphone."

"What's a gramaphone sir?" Simon, the Craig David looky-likey, rescued me from the confrontation. The team went on to brainstorm redundant names for electrical products: Hifi, wireless, radiogram, Sinclair Spectrum etc.

Apparently John Three has saved the incident in a book that he aims to use to bring down the Call Centre. Who would think that Kym Marsh could cause such unrest?

1 Nov 2004

Bouncing Check

Thanks for the comments while I was away; it’s pleasing that you don’t begrudge me a well-earned break.

I went to Prague, a beautiful city that has escaped the grip of an oppressive regime. Interestingly, and ironically, the museum of Communism is located next to a McDonalds, inside a casino. It tells the story of how enemies were vilified by relentless propaganda and of people forced to work in factories while they were under constant surveillance.

I switched on the call monitoring software and thanked goodness that there was no turning back.

22 Oct 2004

Thank you for calling. You're through to Judith Chalmers. I'm on holiday again and will be back on 1st November. Alternatively leave a message after the tone. Goodbye.

20 Oct 2004

Doing Lines

The gridding tape arrived. It’s not much good for wrapping Christmas presents so don’t bother putting an order in. It’s designed for drawing lines on white boards.

I asked John Doe to draw a table on our flip chart board so we could mark up the sales on the team. Big mistake.

“What are you doing?” I asked, “Its not the bleedin’ Sistine chapel!”

He was working with a protractor and a setsquare trying to get the lines dead straight. “I can’t believe it. It’s like a dogs’ back leg!”

It was about a millimetre adrift. Before I could say anything he pulled it off the board. He was caught up in a lattice of gridding tape like Spiderman had webbed him.

I can feel my ‘giving it up as a bad job’ senses tingling.

15 Oct 2004

Pen is from Heaven

The little sticks of Stabilo heaven have arrived! (they are actually 'Niceday' copies)

The first stage of my bid for world domination starts today. Watch out Poland here I come.

I've tested them and they work perfectly, apart from the red. Red? Red. Who thought red was going to be a good idea? A black one is as much use as a red one as it obliterates anything it highlights.

I've ordered some 'gridding tape': not sure what it is, but it sounds useful.

Outspan, the Quandix sun-bed king was impressed, "What a nice shade of orange."

I can see a request going into 'Tantastic' this weekend: "Turn it up to 11 love. I'm going NICEDAY!"

13 Oct 2004

Sadam’s Stock Clearance

‘The Catalogue That Cannot Be Named’ (for keeping my job reasons) has launched its ‘All New’ Autumn Catalogue.

‘The Weapon of Dirt Extraction’ caught my eye, but it turned out to be a power-washer.

It’s pleasing that they are continuing their bid for papal beatification by extending their ‘miracle’ product range. There’s a ‘miracle’ ‘No Nails Coat Hook’ but still no sign of a cure for leprosy. Perhaps they are waiting for spring.

Estimated time of arrival for the highligher pens: two days

11 Oct 2004

Muck and Bullets

The turf war between the Team Managers has transformed the Call Centre into ‘Bedlam, with florescent lighting’.

In one corner there’s Martin (the modern day Robert Owen) whose team is a cooperative based on selling, hard work and self enforced fun. They are almost entirely self-sufficient and peer down their noses at everyone else.

Janice has new contact lenses that make her more severe than ever before. Her team of drones plug themselves into the consensual reality as soon as they walk through the door and don’t twitch until they leave. It’s not so much ‘The Matrix’ than ‘The Mattress’. The only sound is Bess sucking on her teeth.

Ian has a team of temps who are working on … I’m not really sure what they do, apart from wear cropped tops and leggings. Ian strokes his tie and whispers “ding dong” as they reveal their tiny tattoos.

Meanwhile, the nkotb, Quandix, the team who were in-sourced to work on the new outsourced campaign (taking orders for sanitary bins), run their team like they’re galley slaves. I get tired watching them. Johnny Knucklehead wanders through the team and waves his arms at Outspan like the bastard child of John Mcerrick and John McVicar, on speed, while Outspan puts down the scores on a flip chart.

In all the excitement I put in an order for highlighter pens from stationery. I've got some big ideas.

7 Oct 2004

In saucing

"I hear that the Iraq survey group have come back with nothing more than 'wall ties' and 'check the damp proofing'" I said to Ian, feeling pleased with myself; he wasn't listening.

"What on Earth are they doing now?" he said as he furiously stroked his 'Star Trek, The Next Generation' tie while he watched the 'insourced' Team Managers at work.

Outspan and Johnny Knucklehead were pinning florescent, positive affirmations on the wall:

"Imagination makes the world go round"

"Any idiot can paint a picture, it takes a genius to sell it"

"If you don't change, you'll become extinct"

"Don't leave dirty cups on the desk"


Ian shook his head, "I don't even get the last one."

6 Oct 2004

Hockey Cockey

Bernard attempted to explain what in-sourcing was in today’s meeting:

“We’re an OUTsourcing company. Work comes OUT to us, but we can’t get enough people IN, so we have to go OUT and get IN staff through other sources.

I don’t want it to get OUT that we’re getting these people IN – how can you outsource outsourcing – so keep it amongst yourselves errrrrrrrrmmmmm!

They’ll be IN the office while we work OUT how many people we need IN. Then they’ll be OUT.”

Fair enough – but it isn’t cricket.

4 Oct 2004

Source of the Bile

Things aren’t the same in the Call Centre. I think it was that great man of English letters, John Prescott, who said that when the tectonic plates start to shift, everyone moves into their position.

Steadily, over the past few months, Bernard has been moulding the office into his own image, and his vision of a pre-cog Call Centre that’s dynamic, proactive and all those other things he reams off at away days, is slowly coming to pass and everyone is running for cover.

Ian and Brenda used to rule the roost around here but the introduction of Martin and his innovations: “in my last place we used to…. (Fill in the blank)” has knocked them off top spot. I’m sure that Bernard thinks he jogs across the river to work.

I’m sure that he’s has made up the concept of ‘insourcing’ to cover his tracks. We have exhausted the local job market and to avoid recycling the dregs of unemployed, Bernard has contacted Quandix to ‘insource’ staff.

It’s not clear how they manage to get the people that the Call Centre cannot reach, but it appears that they are willing to wallow deeper in the local gene pool for their staff than our lot will go.

Heads turned when their crew shuffled in behind Outspan and Johnny Knucklehead. It was as if a chain linked them as they snaked through the cubicles, gorping at my team, while they sneered back.

There’s been a turf war breaking out over the past week so I’ve been keeping my head down. It’s the most dramatic event since SMAGELL and her legion of undead started hot-desking with my team in the evening.

I’ve put a label on my calculator … just in case.

3 Oct 2004

I’d rather jack …

On Friday, I went on my first ‘corporate’ since I was invited to the Tantazia ‘Stu Francis’ night last year. Quandix have a hospitality box at the MEN Arena and they gave Bernard a number of tickets to see the boxing and all the prawn sandwiches we could eat.

Ricky ‘The Hitman’ Hatton was fighting another schmuck to defend his title and earn Frank Warren another condo in the South of France.

He should not be confused with Pete ‘The Hitman’ Waterman – although I’d pay good money to see HIM getting a good pummelling – “this is for not letting Kylie ‘explore her creativity as an artist” BIFF “This is for the Reynolds Girls” PUNCH “This one is from Cheryl Tweedy.” KO!

My team looked unhappy as I packed up early to get there. They begrudge me leaving earlier than them and the hard stares made me uncomfortable.

John ‘the Moomin’ was silently fuming. Smoke was rising from the foam of his headset muff.

I explained that I would still be ‘on duty’ but it didn’t wash. A debate broke out about the ethics of boxing.

Barney, the Big Gay Bear, cut it dead by chipping in: “Well I think there’s nothing wrong with consenting adults having a good licking in the ring.”

27 Sep 2004

"Thank you for calling. Lines are closed. Please call back on Monday 4th October. Alternatively you can leave a message after the tone ..."

21 Sep 2004

“I’m the daddy now!”

“Who sent in the bouncers?” Janice looked furious.

She pointed to two guys in suits. One of them was outspan orange with a shoe-polish black hair scraped back, while the other was bald and wore a black turtle neck with a thick gold neck-chain. They were eying the cubical desks up and down and nodding to each other in encouragement.

Bernard ushered them into his office before looking around guiltily.

Janice had that eye-popping look she gets when she is in fear of being passed over promotion or spends too long sniffing dry-wipe pens. “Who are they? And what are they up to?”

Ian said, “They are Quandix.”

I thought it was some term of abuse he’d picked up from his holiday in Greece and smiled knowingly.

“They are team managers for a couple of new teams that Bernard is ‘insourcing’ for a future campaign.” Ian said, pulling on his ‘Attack of the Clones’ tie.

The two hoods looked through the window of Bernard’s office as Bernard pointed towards us …

The Krays have moved in on my manor!

18 Sep 2004

Antique Romans

Thank you for participating in Call Centre Confidential’s first two modules of my master-class in how to deal with Call Centres.

A regular reader of CCC has complained that there has been too much negativity, too much ‘black hat’ thinking, and I have turned my blog into a den of grieves.

The usual stuff is back next week and it has been quite eventful recently… let me speak to the yet unknowing world... So shall you hear of carnal, bloody and unnatural acts, of accidental judgements, casual slaughters, of deaths put on by cunning and forced cause, and, in the upshot, purposes mistook fall on the inventors’ head: all this I can truly deliver.

All this and toilet gags!

16 Sep 2004

Selling - The Love that dare not speak its name …

Module Two: Part Three in my master-class in how to deal with Call Centres

As I think I’ve said before, common turns of phrase circulate call centres quite quickly. There’s no real training. These phrases are not taught. They come into being through years of evolution in a great chain, preserved for future generations on laminated sheets of paper.

I honestly believe that a phrase like ‘bear with me’ originated in a call centre 10 years ago and it has passed around the country like chlamydia on a Club 18-30 holiday.

Why else would any one else need to say ‘bear with me’? (Unless you were a chubby chaser caught in a cottage in Camden, as in “I’ve got a bear with me officer.”) I hear someone say it a thousand times a day.

Those verbal tics are okay compared the weasal words and double speak invented in Call Centres to cope with things that we don’t like to say. It’s enough to warm the cockles of Peter Mandleson’s heart (we’re back in Camden again) when you consider the spin that Call Centre’s create in order to avoid saying that we sell things.

To help you, here are some favourites:

“We have demonstrations in your area …”

What they really mean “You’re the next in the phone book”

“Some time ago you requested some information …”

What they really mean “You’re the next in the phone book.”

“I’ve been reviewing your account.”

What they really mean “You’re the next in the phone book. Please ‘bear with me’ while I fumble around trying to work out why I’m calling.”

“This is a Courtesy Call”

What they really mean “I’m about to sell you something.”

“I have some information for you”

What they really mean “I’m about to sell you something”

“I’m about to sell you something”

What they really mean “I’m new here and do not know how to lie yet.”

15 Sep 2004

Wrapstar says “NO”

Module 2. Part Two in my masterclass in how to deal with Call Centres

We all yearn for that golden age when you could ask for the time without having to listen to someone flogging you a watch. We all want to turn back the sands of time when we could order a pizza without being offered a slice of bread with garlic on it. We want to buy a holiday without being sold a policy that we’ll probably never be able to claim on any way. And we want to watch Bargain Hunt without the fear of interruption.

I remember when all this was fields etc. etc.

The fact is – we don’t want to be ‘sold to’ and the people selling don’t want to sell to us in the first place. There’s only 2% of the world’s population who are willing to be mithered into buying something they didn’t want, but trouble is; they’re letting the rest of us down, because until the revolution, we will be mithered into submission.

Like nuclear weapons and Kendal mint cake, sales have been invented and can’t be uninvented so we need to learn to live with them. At the risk of sounding like Zammo or, worse still, Nancy Reagan, it’s time to “just say no.”

Call Centre agents are armed to the teeth with ‘objection handling’ techniques that have been finely honed over centuries and are so effective they could turn the undead. Every time someone refuses their advances, they consult a laminated matrix in front of them, and come back with some tried and tested reply: “May I ask why you are not interested in saving money?”

These choice phrases are seldom delivered with any conviction; nevertheless they can befuddle and confuse the unsuspecting punter.

There’s a sure-fire manner of dealing with unwanted telesales calls. It works and comes free with this master-class. Until the next lesson, I want you to practice the following approach in front of a mirror:

1) Listen politely and wait for a pause …
2) Say politely: “Thanks for telling me about that (name). It sounds really good. Goodbye.”
3) Put down the phone.
4) Continue watching Bargain Hunt

The adviser will be so confused (“were they interested or not?”) that they will make sure you are never called again.

13 Sep 2004

For Whom the Whistle Blows

Module Two: Part One in my masterclass in how to deal with Call Centres

Every time you pick up a phone to a Call Centre you become ‘an opportunity’.

Isn’t that a beautiful thing?

By merely talking into a plastic handset you suddenly become fecund with potential.

No – I know it isn’t convincing – but Call Centres all over the world are attempting to convince their staff to treat people in this manner… and failing miserably.

Have some sympathy for people working in Call Centres, most of them would rather stick pins in their feet than sell anything to anyone. Most have applied for this work because they thought it was something to do with ‘customer service’. Somewhere on their role statement, between donating their organs to medical science and an obligation to conduct a tour of duty in Afghanistan, there’s a sentence that briefly mentions that they may need to do some selling.

Either they have been fooled into it, or they have been redeployed from a back office function that disappeared when the operation was centralised years ago and they haven’t had the energy to escape.

There is no escape, because everything from a cashier to a dishwasher is expected to up-sell or tag a sale on to every interaction. You may think that they are raking in commission, but they are more than likely trying to fund a Hasbro Fun Bag habit and there is a promise of a fizzy cola bottle hit if they sell something.

12 Sep 2004

The Hardest Word to Say

Conclusion of Module One of how to deal with Call Centres

Students, in short, when making a complaint to a Call Centre: polite tenacity always wins.

Remember - life's short - take it easy - there's probably a policy of submission at some point and it's better to get there calmly rather than blowing a gasket.

Here is some help decoding some of that Call Centre double speak:

"I can only apologise ..."

What they really mean is : "I'm getting bored of you now and will repeat this over and over and over until you give in."

"You'll need to write in."*

What they really mean is: "I can't be arsed sorting out your problem"

You'll never actually get a response to your letter because the correspondence department will think, 'it's better to deal with these matters on the phone' and they'll probably send you a letter asking you to ring in again.

*This will usually be followed by "If you get a pen I'll give you the address." Because it sounds helpful.

"I'm sorry you feel like ..."

Well done. You have reached a black-belt numpty. This is the art of Call Centre jujitsu. A compliant art, where the operator uses the customer's strength against them - it appears that they are apologising, but in fact they are not admitting to anything, merely acknowledging that you are pissed off.


Remember, these master-classes are not available in the shops, and are exclusive to Call Centre Confidential. Coming Next: Module Two: Sales, selling and saying "sod off".

9 Sep 2004

Numptys of the world Unite!

Part Three in my master class in how to deal with Call Centres

When making a serious complaint you need to keep going … and I mean REALLY serious (how angry can you get over a trouser press – come on – it ain’t that bad) - keep going until you coax a senior manager out of his hermetically sealed office.

It is quite tough and it requires a significant degree of patience and you need to feel that your complaint is significant enough.

To use a rather fishy analogy: Call Centres are like drag nets – if your query is not picked up, then who cares? There’s always another customer waiting. If you behave like a herring, then you’ll be treated like one. On the other hand, if you see your complaint like a majestic whale that is worthy of a massive harpoon, then you’ll need to make sure that someone is worthy of wielding the weapon.

Unfortunately, you’ll need to make do with Captain Birdseye rather than Quint from Jaws.

Behind the scenes, the Call Centre will be thrown into a tizz. Panic alarms will be pressed and a huddle of Team Managers will be drawing straws to determine who will tell the Office Manager that they need to speak to a customer.

He will draw a diagram on a sheet of A4 to get a ‘pen portrait’ of the situation and come up with some glib response and send one of the Team Managers on the phone to say, “I’ve just caught him on his way to a meeting, he’s agreed to the following …”

If you are still not satisfied… keep going.

Eventually he’ll speak to you with the telephone technique of Ozzy Osbourne playing Wembly without a microphone, or else will sound like he’s speaking through a heavily togged pillow. Half way through the conversation he will press the wrong button and cut you off.

When/ if he phones back, start asking for HIS manager. In the words of Mr White in Reservoir Dogs, “… after that he’ll tell you if he wears ladies underwear.”

8 Sep 2004

I've Told You Once

Part Two in my master class in how to deal with Call Centres

If you are getting nowhere with the numpty who answered the call, you are probably tempted to ask for “someone in charge”. It’s the same impulse that encourages people to support hanging, there’s a sense of retribution if you are bending the ear of someone who you think matters.

The trouble is, the numpty who answered the call is not trained sufficiently to deal with your query, but they have mastery of deflecting complaints that are about to go higher. Like Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, the killer instinct suddenly kicks in and there is no way that you are going to speak to their boss.

Stick to your guns. When they say, “Well, I am a customer/account manager, I can deal with your query,” don’t give in; they are stretching their job title to its limit.

Keep going. Ask for a manager.

“Well, they are only going to say the same thing, he is in a meeting at the moment, can you call back later.”

Keep going. Ask for a manager.

Tip: Under no circumstances should you say at this point: “Don’t worry duck. I haven’t got any complaint about you, I want to speak to someone in charge to let them know how angry I am.” It’s a sign of weakness. Another numpty will be briefed ready to take your call. “Hello, I am the most senior member of staff available at the moment …”

This almost certainly means, “I am the most senior person available within the nearest 5 foot radius of where I am sitting.”

Keep going …

7 Sep 2004

“Is this the right room for an argument?”

Part One in my master class in how to deal with Call Centres …

“I wish to register a complaint…” thus begins the Dead Parrot Sketch, a cornerstone of British comedy, and the staple part of the repertoire of every pub bore in the country, and not without reason, for the British are notoriously crap at complaining. This is compounded by the fact that customer service workers are crap at dealing with complaining customers.

Cultural commentators tend to put this down to innate British politeness, however they are missing the point: when did complaining and ‘not being polite’ become mutually exclusive? The British are poor at complaining because they feel the need to be nasty and people working in customer service respond in kind.

Politeness disarms even the most ruthless Call Centre worker. It may seem obvious, but I speak to 100’s of people a month who think that being a complete and utter twat is the best means of achieving success in getting a refund on that ‘jumper de-fluffer’ that was bought on impulse.

They’re wrong and I have the scalps to prove it …

6 Sep 2004

I am a mole and I've been in a hole ...

I’ve been getting complaints. I’m sorry that I have been an unreliable blogger over the past few weeks. Zoe makes the point that Call Centres are dull places to work, and she’s right, over the past few weeks I have been too caught up with the day-to-day dullness to notice anything. Perhaps I have said all there is to say.

Besides there’s a whole plethora of blogs based at work out there:

Natural Born Liars at an ad agency, a Morrison’s employee, a teacher, a NHS workerand another set in a Fast Food place.

They all manage to end their posts with a pithy comment.

I must try it some time.

Reading these blogs made me realise that I am a whistle blower. I’m like Russell Crowe in The Insider, but without the unconvincing grey wig, letting the outside world realise what goes on beyond the receiver. I hadn’t realised my special powers and the potential to provide a service for people.

The Call Centre industry has been like The Magic Circle for too long, keeping its secrets from its customers. For the next few days I’m going to be like Ali Bongo after taking a truth drug, although I expect the first thing he would say after taking a truth drug is “My name is not really Mr Bongo.”

- insert your own pithy comment here -

31 Aug 2004

Bank Holiday Blues

New research by the Investors In People says that people don't like going back to work after their holidays. I know. It's remarkable isn't it.

Here's looking forward to the outcome of their "Where to bears go for a shit?" research.

Apparently, bosses should make an effort to say "Welcome Back" as 44% said that it would make a difference.

Some of my team came back today looking tanned and disillusioned after their Summer break.

I nearly welcomed them back, but given that there's less than half a chance that they'd give a toss, I couldn't be arsed.



26 Aug 2004

P-p-p-p-lastic!

The Ron Tikki Man was on full volume today, giving me grief about the inordinate laminate use in the office. Apparently the Bolton office uses as many laminates as the rest of the sites put together.

He muttered, mumbled and stumbled over dire warnings about the landfill time bomb and my responsibilities to future generations, “do you realise that the plastic will last for a 100 years, while paper will rot in a year.”

It’s a sobering thought when you consider that our office is to leave a legacy of pointless signs for our descendents. There are splendid laminated examples of Word Art on every wall:

“Leaving this door open causes a draft and is a Heath and Safety issue that may lead to dismissal.”

“Please leave this photocopier tidy – your mother doesn’t work here”*

“Please flush and brush before you rush.”

And of course there is my wipe-clean Dannii Minogue collection. I’m sure that the people of the future will forgive me.



* John Doe’s mother actually does work here (in accounts). I suspect he ignores this message.

25 Aug 2004

It’s not easy being green

I’ve been busy this week. The Ron Tikki Man has been on a visit from Birmingham. He’s the ecology representative and he’s been sat with my team wearing a little ethnic hat and smelling of essential oils.

He’s given me a ticking off about the rate the office goes through plastic cups. He pointed to Martin’s “The Best Boss in The World” cup, complete with its layer of grime.

“That’s more like it. You should all have one of those.” He said.

“I think you’ll find that if we all had one it wouldn’t be grammatically accurate and “the Better Boss in The World” doesn’t have the same ring.” I replied.

Being green brings out the worst in me.

19 Aug 2004

Venus the Fly Trap

Simon, the Craig David looky likey, spent the morning flicking rice crispies into the fly zapper.

It kept him amused between calls for hours until he started to get over confident and used an elastic band and a paperclip.

A misfire hit Bess from Janice’s team square on the arse.

It caused a diplomatic incident that rumbled on all afternoon.

I don’t think I helped matters by saying “I think the lady doth protest too much.”

There are times when Hamlet doesn’t help matters.

18 Aug 2004

Can Can

When I tentatively presented the SELL-A-THON to my team they were uncharacteristically enthusiastic about the idea.

Unfortunately, they misheard what I said; they thought we were having a STELLA-THON and launched in to an impressive flurry of sales expecting to be furnished with lager.

Simon, the Craig David looky-likey, was enraged as I handed over a mars bar for his efforts.

“Reassuringly inexpensive…” I added.

17 Aug 2004

The Prize is Right

Bernard is opening his cupboard this week to fund Martin’s SELL-A-THON with prizes.

Martin has calculated that we can boost our sales by tempting the staff with various goodies. Bernard is excited at the prospect and he has transformed his office into a cornucopia of sales incentives.

Martin looked disappointed at what was on offer. Bernard’s cupboard has not been open for quite a while, nevertheless, I expect sales to soar when they find out what they could win:

First Prize – Hear’say (Popstars) CD – Their first (and best) album.

Second Prize – A Dairy Milk Easter Egg.

Third Prize – “As many Refresher chew bars as you can carry”

It’s a winning formula.

16 Aug 2004

Now I could drink Hot Blood

I watched Hamlet at Strafford over the weekend. I don’t know why I’m drawn to a drama about an overly introspective genius who is stalled by in-action while being surrounded by manipulative, corrupt fools, but I do find it compelling.

Ian was wearing a Garfield tie today. The orange cat was being squashed by MONDAY carved out of stone. He laughed off our ‘living in the eighties’ jibes, “It’s the only one that the dry cleaners didn’t mangle. Besides, he’s back in fashion.”

Martin spent the afternoon in Bernard’s office plotting something or other. It turns out that he has convinced him to have a SELLATHON week to shift the latest promotion: battery operated Fly Zappers.

They have been testing them out in the office causing an ultra-violet glow to radiate from the office like an overactive sun bed.

Martin was grinning from ear to ear as he emerged with the plan.

Smile, smile and be a villain!

10 Aug 2004

Sod’em and Tomorra

From one extreme to the next. After yesterday’s mugginess the heavens opened and poured a river through the Call Centre.

Everyone was clamouring for a seat at The Fridge yesterday, today people were quietly steaming by the radiators.

I was drenched. Soaked right through to the undercrackers. I squelched in my socks throughout the day.

“Wet enough for you?” Thrush said as I wiped my specs on my tie.

Tune in tomorrow for the locust.

9 Aug 2004

Sweltering Sky

It’s been really hot in the call centre. Fans have been clicking and paper has been wafting in a bid to compensate for the poor air conditioning. A missive from the premises manager did not help matters. They said that the problems with the air conditioning was caused by the inconsiderate use of monitors.

A memo has been sent to all Team Managers to insist that any unwanted monitors should be switched off.

What am I meant to do? How can I constantly shuffle my in-box if my monitor is not on?

5 Aug 2004

From the chaff

Thrush alternated “Glad you’re back?” with “I bet its like you’ve never been away,” throughout the last couple of days.

I have been a man on a mission since my return. I have been clutching my luminous ‘Things To Do’ pad as if my life depended upon it. I have been switching on my empathy too and trying to get to grips with the various neurosis of my team.

I don’t like to make light of these matters, and if you are suffering from stress yourself, you have my ‘empathys’ – but bleedin’ hell - I think the world is going mad.

Consider my team: a few months ago Joan needed to blow into a bag to calm her down; Fido through a wobbly at the canteen manager because there was too many carbs on the menu (I had to go and break it up – he was off for three weeks because he was ‘tired and emotional’ following the incident); even Barney, the big gay bear, left his previous job at tetrapak because he couldn’t hack it, “I could never get into a box” he said.

Tizzy came back into work again today following her ‘stress related illness’ that was brought on by losing her little grey book. “I don’t think it was just that,” she said.

“What do you think it was?” I said, managing to resist saying ‘get a grip’.

“Dave brought home a Warburton’s toastie loaf and I think it triggered my wheat allergy.”

I am glad I’m back.

3 Aug 2004

Waking Up!

I’m back.

I feel refreshed following a week lapping up the sunrays in Rhyl (you should see what they’ve done to the prom – it’s fantastic – (irony free brackets)).

But, I was tossing all night prior to going back to work; I had a dream about work and I never dream about work.

I dreamt that I had my own office. I had a dream that I had my own cupboard full of goodies with Team Managers queuing at the door while I doled out sweets in exchange for sales statistics. I had a dream that I listened to daytime radio all day under the illusion that I was listening to calls ‘for training purposes’. I had a dream that I could sign off stationery expenses and had top of the range ‘Paperchase’ stuff.

I am resolved. I’m no longer content trying to become a ‘made’ Team Manager – I want to become a capo-regieme - I want to have Bernard’s job.

I’ve had a dream.

While I’ve been off, Tizzy lost her little grey book full of contact numbers. It’s the second time this year and as a consequence she’s been signed off with ‘stress’ for two weeks.

Ah well. I’m sure that Martin Luther King had similar set backs at the beginning.

21 Jul 2004

It Could Be You

“Three of our customers have already been lucky!” Insisted one of Martin’s team to a customer.

The latest promotion that we need to tag on the end of the call is a ‘Lottery Number Generator’. It is a miracle, timesaving device that takes the effort out of choosing six numbers for the National Lottery. It comes with a ‘lucky’ scratch card scraper too.

“He can’t say that!” I said to Martin.

“Seal the deal.” He said, tapping the side of his nose with his finger.

“It’s misleading.”

“It’s not always about what’s best for the customer.” Martin replied.

Spoken like a true mercenary. He’ll go far.

20 Jul 2004

Flooding Back

Ian was in a foul mood.

He had sent some of his most precious ties to the dry cleaners and they have come back ruined. “My favourite Star Wars tie looks like it has been through a bleeding mangle. Bastards. I’m going to write to them. I’m going to give them a piece of my mind.”

He spent the afternoon composing a letter. “I’m going to drag them over the coals for this. They’ve met their match this time. I’ve worked in customer service for ten years, and you can’t kid a kidder.” The desk seemed to rattle through the office as he got more and more passionate, “I’ve turned a blind eye for too long. I want compensation.”

At lunch time, I finally plucked up some courage to ask Janice about the Away Day and my role in the debauchery. “It was quite boring actually. Ian did his usual air guitar and you fell asleep in a corner dribbling and groaning.”

That’s a relief.

“Bernard did a fireman’s lift into your room. He dropped you twice – on your head – you should put a claim in.” She said.

Call off the search. There’s no scandal. I went to my desk ready to compose my first ever entry in the Accident Book.

19 Jul 2004

What the Butler Saw

Over the past week have been trying to retrace my steps. I need to sort the false memories from the real thing. A whole week has passed and there’s still a nasty taste in my mouth; I mean ‘the taste of unease’ rather than Brenda’s tuna and onion sandwiches.

I know that I am prone to exaggeration and, in the words of Hans Blicks, like to use an exclamation mark instead of question mark, but something wicked this way comes.

‘Aftershock’ always has an unpleasant effect. It tastes like a benevolent Benelin but it’s a liquid of mass destruction and in my head all my nightmares are coming true: Bernard discovering my blog on Fiend's Reunited dot com; me, SMAGELL and Brenda appearing on Spit Roast dot com, or wrestling naked with Ian and Martin, in jam on Willy Wanker's Jelly Factory dot com.

I feel like the Men In Black have erased my memory and I need your help.

Keep your eyes open – I’m the fat, speccy bloke in the middle with a spotty arse.

15 Jul 2004

The Longest Post

I’m back – I’ve not been away – I’ve been in a state of flux and inactivity following last Friday’s Away Day. Sit back, get yourself a coffee, find your slippers and adjust your seat according to your latest workstation assessment, as this is going to be a long one.

The Jolly Boy’s Outing

As a Customer Service Adviser on the phones, way back in the Dark Ages, I used to envy the Team Managers when they went on their Away Day meetings. We never saw anything happen as a result of their day away from the cut and thrust of the office, but we heard the stories of debauchery: bed-hopping, drunkenness, broken bones and shattered egos.

I would not go so far as saying that it was a motivating factor, you have been here long enough to realise that self-motivation is not a natural skill I possess, but I naturally was excited at the prospect of taking part in one of the events when I was promoted.

Like most things in life, they did not live up to expectations as they are usually a mixture of Sun Tzu bullshit and power point presented nonsense that’s the fuel of modern British industry. At least there’s always been alcohol to fall back on.

In previous years we have worked together to build bridges from drainpipes and caught each other as we fell backwards, in order to create trust in the team, only to have it ripped apart later in the bar when the Aftershock and Bailey’s kicked in.

This year promised to be no different. Bernard had prepared us for a Treasure Hunt – Brenda was looking forward to playing Wincey Willis to his Kenneth Kendel – we were due to hot-foot around city centre Manchester looking for cryptic clues and shopping for unusual items (Kola Kubes, 3B pencils and out of season vegetables).

Instead, Bernard had other plans. When we met in the Trust House Forte car park he revealed our mission. We were to spend the day clearing a derelict area of a park and plant flowers. Brenda got excited; “I’ve gone from Wincey Willis to Charlie Dimmock in one swift move.” HONK! Honk! HONK!

“Do us a favour Bren,” Ian said, “leave your brassier on.”

We all honked at that.

Drive it like you stole it

We were bundled in the back of a van, fitted out in Billy-Bob-Hill-Billy overalls and handed a spade.

The morning passed quickly as we thrashed through dandelions, “They make great herbal remedies, it is a shame to waste them.” SMAGELL said.

Ian rolled his eyes and wiped his hands on his “I’ll Have a Guinness” Tucan, T-shirt. “I can’t believe we are doing this. What’s the bleedin’ crime? We’d get less for robbin’ a beamer.”

It was at that point we both noticed that Martin – the Shaolin of Sales, the Son Of Bernard, The Best Boss in The World (according to his mug) – was not served with the same Community Service Order.

Public Enemy

Martin was back at the hotel preparing for the next stage of the Away Day- the afore mentioned power point presented bullshit – he was the ‘facilitator’ for the afternoon session and was ‘tasked’ with reprogramming us for the next six months.


After a packed lunch we were bundled back into the van and sent back to the hotel to listen to Martin waxing lyrical about predictive dialling and process re-engineering. Our resolve was broken following the morning’s exertions so we were glad to sit and listen to his Sun Tzu nonsense.

But I started to contemplate my job. I’ve started to realise that I work in one of the most despised professions in the modern world. Tax Men, Traffic Wardens, and lawyers are famously hated because they are seemingly employed to administer arbitrary fees on unsuspecting people.

Outbound tele-sales people, on the other hand, are despised for mithering people who are watching Eastenders.

Tax Men and Traffic Wardens have inspired songs by The Beatles; Steven Spielberg named the shark in Jaws after his lawyer and killed the lawyer in Jurassic Park to cheers from the audience.

Now it’s time that these artists were inspired by Outbound tele-sales (I understand Spielberg’s latest film features a killer robot known as ‘mithering-predictive-dialling-bastard’, although I may be wrong, don’t post it on IMDB yet).

I need another life.

After Shock

I was feeling down when we met in the bar for the evening session. Brenda came up close, she’d glammed up for the evening, complete with her feather boa (she’d picked out the bits of sick from the last do), she came up close …

I slipped into a coma.

8 Jul 2004

Holy, Holy, Holy

Another day; another entry in the Accident Book.

Simon, the Craig David looky-likey, has had more holes put into his face. He’s got hoops, rings and studs poking out from every loose bit of skin.

He was in the middle of a sale today when he looked suddenly alarmed.

His head-set became hooked to a lip-ring so that his head looked like one of those metal puzzles you get in Christmas Crackers. Thrush and John Doe came to his rescue while Simon tried to maintain a conversation about the surface area of beach towels.

He’ll have four days off because of this incident.

Could have been worse. It could have been a tangle with his Prince Albert.

5 Jul 2004

Bernard’s Love Child

Martin has been keeping a secret from us all over the past few weeks. I’m not referring to his lunchtime drinking, although even that it is getting more and more obvious, I’m referring to his origins. He didn’t work as a training officer in the Birmingham office at all.

He’s a Shaolin Monk.

A Shaolin of Sales. Trained to break balls with his bare hands.

He addressed Tony’s team for the first time today:

“You are who you want to be. If you want to be a winner then you’re on the right team. You were put on this Earth to be in this Call Centre, at this time, for a purpose. Your aim in life for the next week is to sell towels and I don’t want to hear any flannel…”

Titters.

The team love him. This is what Bernard has been getting at - he's created in Bernard's image - he's a SOB - Son Of Bernard.

He wrote, “Seal the Deal” on the white board. “Get them chatting. Build RAPPORT. Use open questions to ENGAGE their interest. Use OPEN questions rather than CLOSED questions. Okay team – give me some examples of open questions you can use with customers for the board?”

“When are you going on holiday?” Rachel, the swotty one, said.

“Love it!” Martin wrote it quickly on the board.

“What are you wearing?” Brian, the sleazy one, said.

Enjoy the tribunal Martin.

2 Jul 2004

The Hat

Like most initiatives in the Call Centre, the Big Brother ‘Wacky Races’ game has fallen on its arse. The sales board has not been updated for days and some joker has drawn a tash on Nadia.

Tizzy was laughing and talking at the same time, which is always alarming, but she was telling Joan, who doesn’t watch Big Brother, how Stuart wanted a cowboy hat so they gave a massive one followed by really small one, “it was really tiny.”

Barney, the Big Gay Bear, chipped in, “Well, let’s face it, it’s not the first time he’s had a little head in there.”

30 Jun 2004

They’re coming to take me away

The invitation to the forthcoming Away Day landed in my inbox today. It has been scaled down somewhat as a result of Project Long Beach. Instead of Camalot we are going to a Trust House Forte in the morning followed by a treasure hunt in the afternoon then a meal in the evening.

It’s supposed to help us build the team but we’ll end up killing each other instead.

The invitation has been done on Power Point by Bernard and is littered with clip art and phrases such as “Motivation”, “A will to win”, “Creating the vibe”, “Going for it” and “Making a Real Difference”. I think that he says these things in the hope that one day one of us will twig what he’s getting at and spring into action.

It’s not happened yet but you have to admire his faith.

Martin was looking forward to “having a few slurps” and getting to know me better. “You hold back too much’, looking forward to seeing you with your hair down,” he said, “after some sherbets.”

He then started humming “Cococabana”.

29 Jun 2004

Heat

There have been problems with a ‘Deluxe Patio Heater’; the suppliers can’t get them out fast enough. They were at a cut down price and it has resulted in an unexpected demand. Call after call has been a complaint. People are getting impatient.

The headset has been out of the velvet-lined box.

Customer: “Do you not realise that the summer solstice has passed and the nights will be drawing in. I’m going on holiday soon, I won’t get the benefit if the heater does not turn up; summer’s going to be over before I get it.”

For goodness sake – if you are on your patio and it starts to get cold - GO INSIDE.

Me: “If you are going on holiday, why not buy one of our beach towels, they’re only £10.99.”

No sale.

28 Jun 2004

Throwing in …

Martin is still breathing down my neck. The mentor period is due to end this week, but he does not seem any further forward.

Tony has been gone for ages and his team are performing better than ever. I will not dwell too long on the theory that the teams seem to get along better without a manager. I’m not sure what they’ll make of Martin – they are a tight knit group who dine together, have an active social scene together and actually share their stapler together.

Brenda called me over today looking excited. “New this week,” she said, “your team is on a special promotion. You are targeted to shift 1000 towels at £10.99 each. After every order I want to hear the sound of selling, selling and selling. Honk! Honk!”

They are ‘St George’s Flag’ towels. “Brenda, these are about two weeks too late! We’ll never sell them!” I said.

“Less of your negativity. People are going on holiday. There’s Henmania. You’ll have no trouble.” She insisted.

Martin was humming “Young Guns (Go for it)”.

24 Jun 2004

Ingerland

I followed SMEGELL through the car park barrier again today. In addition to her ‘Baby on Board’ sign, she has decorated her car with those England flags; one on each side and another stuck to her car aerial.

I have a theory. I think that the flags have been sold to the unsuspecting public by a criminal mastermind as part of a car robbing scam; there are cars up and down the country with their windows open enough to get a knitting needle into them. We’ll wake up tomorrow and all the cars will be gone. Mark my words.

We were speculating the headlines tomorrow when Wayne Rooney collects his inevitable yellow card: “Stop taking the Mickey, Rooney” “How Roo-de!” “He’s on the Wayne.”

Its terrible how the papers build people up in order to knock them down, which reminds me, appraisals start again soon.

23 Jun 2004

The Exorcist

Martin has been humming “Vicar in a Tutu” by The Smiths; it could be “I’ve got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts” it was difficult to tell.

Along the walls of the Call Centre are low-level cupboards with roll-up doors that nobody ever opens. They contain the ghosts of advisers that have left ages ago. They haunt these dusty shelves and the skeleton frames of worn out wire-baskets. A graveyard of stationery:

A headset without a muff, six pens tops, a ball of rubber bands, files of tatty plastic wallets filled with out of date process maps, an umbrella, induction packs for people who lasted a week, a Christmas bauble and a thousand bent-out-of-shape paper-clips.

Project “Long Beach” is going to be our salvation.

22 Jun 2004

Slimming World

Martin has been humming “There’ll always be an England” today.

Much to my horror, Martin has been co-opted into the Sales Stream (The Secret Rulers of the Call Centre). He’s got in without having to earn his stripes.

In the meeting today, Ian was equipped with multi-coloured post-it notes and yards of paper. He is famous for coming up with stupid names for projects: “Project Top Hat and Tails – A Feasibility Study into a Call Centre Uniform” for example. He’s trumped himself this time with “Project Long Beach – Slimming Down the Operation”.

It’s a familiar theme. We are going through a period of expansion, but we need to slim down the costs and do it on the cheap. An example of cost cutting is the changes that have been made to our forthcoming ‘Away Day’. We were going to go to Camelot Theme Park for fun and frolics; instead we are going to a local park and taking a packed lunch.

During a brainstorm, we went through six packets of post its and came up with a groundbreaking initiative: A Stationery Amnesty.

Hand in your staple guns – no questions asked.

21 Jun 2004

A Hell-Shaped Room

Thanks to all those potential stalkers who have been concerned about my disappearance over the past 4 days. Your concern is touching, but you really should get out more.

I have not been away. Bernard has locked me in a bed-sit where I’ve been watching the Call Centre on a plasma screen for 24 hours a day. I’ve been able to watch my colleagues and listen to what they say about me behind my back. Much to my annoyance, they have not noticed my absence. Bastards.

Seriously, the Call Centre over the past couple of days has been locked into two camps: fanatical Euro 2004 supporters on the one hand, and Big Brother obsessives on the other.

The feeling from both camps has been unanimous: “what did they expect, putting hyped up drunken people together – a tea party?”

15 Jun 2004

Cyclops

Martin’s ‘Best Boss In The World’ coffee cup has a lining, a centimetre thick, of coffee stain. Honestly. I’ve not seen anything like it. “I’ve never got round to washing it.” In defience to office convention he has turned his back on the vending machine and started to bring a flask of hot water and a catering tin of Nescafe.

Every hour on the hour he fills his cup with two heaped spoons of coffee and stirs the potent brew, a little too loudly, before slurping the contents like a camel in a drought.

He’s never less than a foot away from me and whistles “Me And My Shadow” at intervals.

In an otherwise uneventful day the lens fell out of his glasses. He went to scratch his eye and poked the lens out of the frame, “Shit! Shit! I’ll need a dog or a stick now to find my way home.”

I think I’ll stick to the vending machine.

14 Jun 2004

Belle End

Gentle reader, I can hardly bring myself to write my diary for the love of my life has gone away. Belle, the keyboard cleaner, nymph of my orisons (whatever an orison is), has left the cleaning company.

Two young boys who have one eyebrow between them have replaced her. They whiz round the place like Thing One and Thing Two. They do not give my fluff the attention it deserves.

Come and wipe away the tears from my keys.

11 Jun 2004

Ice, Ice Baby

“Warm enough for you?” If Thrush has said it once, he’s said it a thousand times, and if he says it again, I will be forced to kill him.

The usual complaints about the air conditioning have started early this year. The rattle of ancient desk fans mixes with the sound of sighs and muttering.

In winter the air conditioning is blamed for churning germs and in summer it is accused of not working.

The annual “Gentlemen May Remove Their Ties” message has been circulated and Ian looks naked. He looks castrated without a ‘Whistling Foghorn Leghorn’ swinging underneath his chin. He’s even gone as far as unbuttoning his shirt to allow little black hairs to poke out of the top.

Martin is a big bloke and was clearly uncomfortable in the office heat. I offered to sit the desk known as The Fridge so he could cool down.

The air conditioning has created its own version of the Artic in a corner of the office; it's ideal for fat blokes, pregnant women and penguins. Once we sat at The Fridge Martin looked much happier and goose-bumped.

“Cool enough for you?” Thrush shouted over to us.

Pass me an ice pick.

9 Jun 2004

Hob Nobbin’

Martin is really quiet. He’s not really got much to say for himself, but he stinks of ale.

I am his mentor and have the task of ‘Inducing’ him into the ways of the Call Centre, as Penny puts it. I’ve tried to find some common ground with some ‘off the shelf’ small talk, but it didn’t work.

He became animated when we started to talk about biscuits, of all things, he seems to be a world authority on them, “I like a hob nob with my afternoon tea. Where’s the kettle? I’ll make us a brew.”

“We can’t have one. Heath and safety won’t let us,” I explained. “But, we have a great vending machine; it makes everything taste like hot dog sausage brine.”

He looked wounded and carried on with his biscuit lecture, “You know, I’ve never been one for ginger nuts. It’s really weird because I don’t not like them nor do I like them.”

Martin, that’s not weird, its just indifference.

Welcome to my world.

8 Jun 2004

Barstool

Bernard took us for lunch, on expenses, to mark Martin’s arrival. We went to one of those imitation pubs, filled with imitation ornaments, and imitation staff selling imitation beer.

There’s a tacit understanding at these lunchtime events that we will not order anything too lavish and certainly no alcoholic drinks. I’d like nothing better than a pint of Speckled Hen to set me up for the afternoon and despite Bernard’s mock insistence “to have something a bit stronger’ we all know better.

‘I’ll have a diet coke, “ said Janice.

“So will I,” added Nigel.

“Make that three,” Ian said.

“I’ll have a fat one,” I joked. Bernard looked puzzled. “A normal coke. I’ll have a normal one,” I thought of explaining the joke but realised it wasn’t worth it.

“I’ll have a pint of John Smiths with a whisky chaser please,” Martin said.

We all laughed. Bernard realised that he was being serious and placed an order.

Mmmmmm Martin’s Wankerdaq price is about to crash, he’s a man after my own heart.

7 Jun 2004

Mugged

A big grey box has arrived from Birmingham. It can only mean one thing: Martin is on his way.

Brenda gingerly picked through the contents and started to lock them into Tony’s old desk. There was a library of management books (Bernard is going to love him) and a big mug with ‘The World’s Best Boss’ written on it in purple.

Janice seems to have a bit of a downer on Martin already, “I bet he bought that cup himself.”

Opening price on Wankerdaq: £1.59.

3 Jun 2004

Watching the watch man

Barney, the big gay bear, has been busy completing his Big Brother display. He’s blown up the faces of the housemates and stuck them to little cars. It ‘s quite effective, but Nadia’s big square, bo selecta head is particularly alarming.

Each of the housemates represents a member of the team and as they make a sale they move around a track.

Tizzy was excited, “I haven’t had my hands off the remote all week, I’ve been flicking from Hells Kitchen to E4.”

“Bean flicking?” Barney said, “I’m glad you are taking matters in hand.”

2 Jun 2004

Soft Cell

John Doe is still doing a great trade in Tesco Value Baked Beans. I can see that it’s going to be a great atmosphere to work in over the next few days as the race to beat the sell-by date kicks in. I considered asking for the air conditioning turned up to eleven in anticipation.

According to Tizzy, John is replenishing his stocks in his bunker, because “you can never be too careful.”

He saw THE DAY AFTER TOMORROW and thought it was a documentary. I had a worrying thought: what if my team were the last people on Earth?

Caught on the call monitor today:

Customer: “I bought one of those Eco-Clocks that you plug into a potato. Tell me, is the spud okay to eat after it has been used?”

Thrush: “Yes. And it has less calories.”

Our future is safe.

1 Jun 2004

Bully Beef

Last year, John Doe created a shelter in his garage in anticipation of the global war following the conflict in Iraq. The sell-by dates are coming up on some of the items in his store, so he has started to take orders. Tizzy seems to be his best customer; her and Dave will be eating corn beef hash until Christmas.

Fido was excited too. He’s in a state of apoplexy any way due to the Death Wagon rolling into town and selling bacon and sausage barms at the gates of the Call Centre. Bernard had Chris, the owner of the Death Wagon, hounded out of town by some hired gunslinger from the council, but he’s back with a new line in artery-lining products all wrapped up in recently defrosted bread.

Thrush, who has to have the last word in everything, was encouraging John with his enterprise, “You want to get some of your stuff on e-bay. You can make a fortune.”

I look forward to seeing a former member of my team appearing in a Sunday Times Rich List: Corn Beef Baron.

30 May 2004

Every home should have some …

Moss Remover

The Door To Door Catalogue That Cannot Be Named is crammed full of helpful potions and lotions, such as, ‘Moss Remover’, ‘Tea Stain Cleanser’, ‘Plug Hole Shine’ ‘Rim Rub’ (bumping up hits from Google as you read) and ‘Skirting Board Scrub’. For goodness sake, relax, watch a bit of telly; who cared about what might be lurking in the toilet until the ad-men made us worry. There are enough things to stress out the human race without worrying about moss on your patio.

On the face of it, this collection seems to be an Al-Quida chemistry set, but on closer inspection, you realise most of them are just bicarbonate of soda in water.

Miracle ™ Carpet Cleaner Kit

There’s a ‘Before’ and ‘After’ photograph to prove the results. As far as miracles go it isn’t that impressive, it doesn’t rate with feeding the 5000 for example, because the stuff is made from the same kind of acid that courses through the veins of the Alien.

Sure, it will clean your carpets, but after three wipes you’ll be varnishing your floorboards.

Shoe Tree

“Finally, there is a solution to keeping your footwear in order.” Thank goodness someone is thinking about these things on our behalf. Instead of tripping over your discarded shoes you can trip over this instead for the princely sum of 19.99.


29 May 2004

Bank Holiday Bargains

Nobody reads this rubbish at the weekend, so for all the diehards I have a bank holiday special. Over the next couple of days I am going to take a break from watching the live-streaming of Big Brother (Jarvis Cocker has smuggled himself in dressed as a sailor-boy lesbian and a Martin-Bashir-a-like keeps mooching around like he’s going to kill them all as they sleep) and transform CCC into an infomercial.

The Catalogue That Cannot Be Named (for keeping my job reasons) is producing supplements galore at the moment with such tantalising titles as “The Garden Supplement That Cannot Be Named” and “The Heath and Fitness Supplement That Cannot Be Named”. If I throw “The Door To Door Catalogue That Cannot Be Named” into the mix it makes a heady cocktail of tat.

Summer is in the air and their customers cannot get enough of their life enhancing products. These are the All Time Top Five products that are doing brisk business this week:

Luxury Garden Hammock:

“Be the envy of your neighbours as you laze away the summer days…” it says in the catalogue.

Barney says, “I’d hate to spend the summer spread-eagled in a huge truss … not after the last time!”

The Head of Buddha:

There are various ‘garden sculptures’ available on a page that has quotes from actual historians; they really should know better than adding any authenticity to ‘Aztec Indian in Repose’, or ‘an Hindu lord making a blessing’.

These are neo-gnomes whose pseudo-religiosity cannot disguise the fact that they are crap. A gnome is a gnome and people who buy ‘garden sculptures’ are fooling nobody but themselves.

More follows

28 May 2004

The All New Call Centre Tony

Martin, from the Birmingham office, is to be Call Centre Tony’s replacement. He used to be in training and he now wants to work in an operational area for his ‘development’.

He came to visit today. Brenda acted as his chaperone, breezily introducing us to him, “Martin is joining us soon – for his sins.” Honk HONK Honk

He didn’t say much. There’s something creepy about him. Janice agreed, “He’s like that German cannibal …”

“Yes. Armin Meimes!” I said.

He was the guy who ate another guy that he met on the Internet. Apparently, as a child in Germany, he fantasised about munching on the boy who played Sandy in the TV series Flipper. I like seafood, but I can’t recall feeling peckish at the sight of the dolphin.

“’Armin’ can be his nick name.” I suggested.

Janice shook her head. “He’s already got one. In Birmingham they call him CTP.”

“CTP?”

“Chocolate Tea Pot.”

Great.

27 May 2004

Eyes Down

I got the inevitable missive from SMAGELL about the state of the area following yesterday’s cutting and sticking:

“I don’t think that it is conducive to a good working environment to have all this clutter on the walls. I will tolerate it for the duration of the present campaign, but no longer.”

She might have a point, because the eye that Barney has created is terrifying. It could out-stare the team mascot: the scary gnome, with one eye and a ‘head set’ muff eye-patch.

Muff eyepatch? I cud make something from that, cun’t I?

No.

Sorry. I'll try again.

26 May 2004

Innovation Station

In his determination to transform the Call Centre into a genuine ‘Sales Environment’, Bernard has given Janice a budget for buying sugar paper. She has created a huge, laminated, light bulb to hang outside of his office so people can pin their ideas and suggestions to it when the mood takes them.

I have decided to have a Big Brother theme for my team. Barney, the Big Gay Bear, has been cutting and sticking all day. He has created a huge eye and reconstructed a Diary Chair with some off-cuts.

Despite our best efforts, it looks like a reception class.

“Oh this year life inside the house is going to turn nasty,” Barney did his jazz hands, “there’s a stripper, two dykes and …”

“The cook, the thief, his wife and her lover.” John Doe interjected.

I can barely contain myself.

25 May 2004

“We’re knights of the round table …”

Bernard was wearing his new blue-tooth earpiece in the management meeting. In his flouncey shirt and glasses he looked like Morrissey circa 1984. He can’t sit down; he circled the table talking aggressively to someone laying his patio.

Once he calmed down he smiled at us all. “I know it’s a big ask, but I need an extra 20% from you all at the moment. We need to increase our FTE in double quick time and in the meantime we need to increase our throughput. Martin is going to join the team from the Birmingham office. I have decided that we need to spend some time off-site to re-build the team and re-create a genuine sales call centre. We need to refocus so we will be going to the theme park Camelot for the day.

“Camelot?” Janice repeated.

“Camelot.” Nigel said grandly with his index finger in the air.

“Yes, Camelot.” Bernard confirmed.

It’s only a model.

24 May 2004

Feng Sushi

My team has just about got used to the idea of sharing desks with the evening team. Thrush, however, is still on top form; he’s taken to locking away everything at the end of his shift: mouse mat, calendar, keyboard and mouse. Following a terse e-mail from Sarah Magellan, the evening Team Manager, I gave him the feedback. He insisted that he was only obeying the ‘clear desk policy.’

SMAGELL (as the system calls her) has hung a ‘dreamcatcher’ above my head.

I can’t pin up Dannii Minogue, but she thinks a hoop of tatty looking string and feathers is okay.

Dream catcher my arse - Dust Collector more like.

23 May 2004

Brought to Book

Joan had a panic attack in the middle of the office. It is not right for me to make light of such a traumatic event, so I’ll ask you to picture a middle-aged woman blowing into a grease-stained, paper bag from a pie shop and make up your own jokes.

I acted like a responsible adult and did the full Florence Nightingale role, and sat by her side as she lay in the medical room. While I was waiting I decided to have a browse through the Accident Book.

These are my favourites:

“Bill sneezed, something popped and he fainted.”

“During a focus session, Katherine was in the lead in a game of ‘Swivel Chair Races’ when the winning flag poked her in the eye.”

“When messing with a super-clip, Colin trapped the end of his tongue.”

One from Bernard: “While on company business, I ordered a flaming Zambuka and scolded my lips and upper palate.”

Move over Joan. I need a lie down.

20 May 2004

Screw Loose

A ‘skin job’ broke into the Call Centre yesterday. A real-life customer – in the flesh – appeared at reception demanding to speak to a manager.

Brenda went into panic and insisted that I went down to deal with the situation as she was dealing with an important ‘HR matter’. Years of training had not prepared for such an event and I was trembling, but Brenda insisted that it would be, “… good for development.”

A woman in an M&S mackintosh was clutching a Morrisons carrier bag.

I had barely introduced myself before she launched herself at me, “Right I’ve had enough of dealing with bleedin’ monkeys; I need the organ-grinder.”

I was armed to the teeth with platitudes that work on the telephone; something told me that they weren’t going to work when I could feel the heat glowing from her cheeks. Eventually she calmed down enough to explain her complaint. Her owl-shaped cotton-bud dispenser was catching the buds in its beak as she pulled them out. I made vague promises and sent her away.

I got back to my desk to grind a few more organs.

18 May 2004

The Last Post

Subject: How do son!

Greetings from Wigan,

You missed the big speech – I’ve got my feet up. It’s been cigars and deckchairs over here.

I’ve got my own kettle – no more ‘65 normals’ for the machine – I’ve brought my ‘Eric the King’ mug from home.

The canteen is free. I can have all the pies I can carry – it’s a good job that there is a hole in the top of them, because I pick up four at once.

Are you having that one son?

Tony


Tony’s gone.

Someone has moved the sweet-wrapper.

Too much change!

17 May 2004

Who’s on first base?

My cold has gone into remission. I felt well enough to go back to the jug again.

“It’s not like you to be off,” Thrush looked serious.

Simon, the Craig David looky-likey has come out in sympathy. He’s been off the phones for the past few days because his RSI of the jaw has been playing up. He’s been communicating by some strange semaphore all day.

Illness has been playing on everyone’s mind. Tizzy reported on the latest on her soap opera, “Dave did a test on the Internet last night and it said that he had that Asperger’s syndrome. He has problems relating to other human beings, knows the shape and name of different trees and should take up train-spotting.”

John Doe has been winding her up all day by doing the “who’s on first base” routine from RAINMAN.

Joan, who’s back from long term sickness, missed the point completely, “I don’t like asparagus; it makes your wee smell.”

13 May 2004

Sniffle

I feel terrible. My head's thick (no change there then); I have a fever; my ribs are sore from coughing and I feel very sorry for myself.

It is impossible to call the Call Centre – I know it seems ironic – but, years of preventing people from calling in sick has made it impossible to contact anyone. I tried to get through to Brenda to let her know I would not be able to make in to work and I was diverted to four different departments before I reached Bernard.

By the time I spoke to him, my croaky voice had worn off. I imagined him at the other end, dressed as an Amish elder, disapproving of my lack of industriousness.

Sod ‘em. I’m going back to bed until they find a cure.

11 May 2004

My precious …

The car did a limbo under the barrier as I entered work today. I was half asleep, as usual, when I noticed the car in front had one of those yellow signs in the window saying “Baby On Board”. I thought to myself “I have a half-eaten sandwich on board, I don’t see the need to tell everyone about it.”

I smiled to myself as I parked up the car.

“Hello,” the woman in the car seemed to recognise me. I quickly disguised my private smile as a response to the radio and trawled through my mental Rolodex. It whirred around and around until I remembered that I hadn’t bothered to fill in any of the little cards.

“I’m Sarah Magellan, from the evening team. I was on a course with you a few years ago.” She said.

I turned on my best patter; “I keep your seat warm for you.”

Not a titter.

She went on and on about how she had come in early to introduce a new initiative to increase the average speed answered for the advice lines. She referred to every little detail of the rota and tagging system she wanted to introduce as we walked to the office and she continued while I bought coffee from the machine, hung up my coat and picked up my mail. Her gums were still mashing as I went over to my desk and switched on the computer.

I was dying to say, “Baby, I’m bored.”

10 May 2004

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe …

Call Centre Tony leaves on Friday to work in credit control. Janice has been preparing for his send off and she collared me in the corridor in hushed tones, “You were close to him, would you like to say a few words as part of the valediction?”

He’s not bleeding died - although, after a few weeks in the Wigan office he may wish he had died - he’s moving on to better things. He’s mithering people who haven’t paid up for things they wanted to buy rather than mithering people who don’t want to buy things they can’t pay for. He’s shovelling up our mistakes.

Janice’s request got me thinking about some of Tony’s best moments:

… he rode around the office on a unicycle, in an Elvis suit, wearing a sign saying “Team Slave – use and abuse me” and collected coffees from the machine for the people on the phone…

… he devised a ‘feel the fear, but do it any way’ session for the Team Manager ’Away Day’ involving a dozen eggs and a tennis racquet. Janice made him pay for her dry cleaning …

… Bernard was impressed as he ‘revved up’ his team with a motivational rendition of Agadoo, failing to realise he was still leathered on WKD from the night before …

… the infamous butt-head incident …

… he made a citizen’s arrest of the bog-blocking terrorist and dined out on it for 6 months …

Credit Control Tony doesn’t have the same ring. We’ll never see his bike again.

6 May 2004

c off

The Assessment Centre is starting to come to an end. It has been a good junket while it's lasted because I have been out of the office, provided with a free lunch and seen people so bad that it makes me feel better. There’s only so many stringy spring rolls you can eat and I am dying to know what has been going on in the office while I have been away (have the cleaners found the sweet wrapper and picked it up? As anyone noticed that I still haven’t dealt with that important document that I have been keeping in my drawer? Has Thrush resigned yet? Well, I can hope.)

Some candidates have been recalled for interviews and I acted as ‘a scribe’ for Brenda today. The term ‘scribe’ makes the role sound important, but it is just ‘taking notes’ while avoiding dribbling as you fall asleep while some bloke in an Asda suit tells you about his career history in local government, trying desperately to make it sound interesting and dynamic.

Brenda worked hard to break the ice, “So, lets start with something a bit informal: what’s you favourite flavour of crisp?”

The candidate smiled, “I don’t eat crisps.” He patted his belly, “I’m trying to stay fit.”

“Don’t worry it isn’t a deal breaker.” Brenda laughed HONK HONK Honk

He started to tell us about how he once visited a call centre and it looked exciting, challenging and target driven, and he likes the idea of having a team and working in a dynamic environment (of course he does). Brenda looked across at me and indicated that I should be writing some of his answers down. Looking at my notes, they said “Doesn’t like crisps.”

I desperately tried to catch up, making up bits here and there to compensate.

A consumptive janitor walked into the room. He coughed, scratched his head furiously, and coughs again, before walking past us – as if we weren’t there – to put a sign on the glass door at the opposite side.

It said, “Interview In Progress. Do Not Disturb.”

4 May 2004

Boxing Bernard, Part Two

"I liked them." Bernard said at the 'drains up' about the Assessment Centre, "They showed some get up and go."

I tried to change the negative scores that I'd given on my sheet without Bernard noticing.

Wendy was unsure, "Why do you think they were so good? I'm interested in exploring your positive reaction."

Bernard put his hands in his Showaddywaddy-undertaker jacket, "I liked the way that they came up with interesting ideas - leftfield, off the wall - they were thinking outside of the box."

"Maybe, but their box was very small." I suggested.

Silence.

29 Apr 2004

Lord of The Flies

The Discussion Session is designed to replicate a team meeting without the biscuits and the distractions about last night's Eastenders. The difference between these meetings and the real thing is they are conducted under the gaze of ‘observers’ and the participants have the knowledge that they need to jump through hoops.

Everybody knows that they are being watched. Everyone knows that they have to ‘score’ points. Nobody wants to stick their neck out too far.

“You are a group of five, call centre, Team Managers who have been left stranded on a desert island… In 15 minutes you need to decide, who stays, who goes and an action plan of quick wins.”

Candidate One: (Snort, Snigger) OK, that seems straight forward enough. I suppose we need to start thinking about what skills we all have…

Two: Do you not think that we should appoint a timekeeper?

Three, Four and Five: Yes. Yes.(Mutter, mutter, something about “Keeping on track”)

One: Yes … err …

Three: Yes. And do we need to assign tasks?

Five picks up the laminate. Reads it over and over and writes notes for the rest of the session.

One: So …

Four: Should I take notes on the flip?

One: So ...

Three: Five minutes.

One: So ...

Four: Should we use different colour pens?

Repeat until the will to live has all but disappeared.


Robinson Crusoe would have been okay, if only he’d found a flip chart and some pens.

28 Apr 2004

Eeeny Meany Miney Mo

“Studies have shown that Assessment Centres are 4% better than using a pin to select your management team.” Bernard addressed the assessors in today’s debrief. “The state we are in, I need that margin.”

Janice, Ian, Tony and I looked at each other, not sure whether or not we were being insulted.

Bernard went on to explain the ‘role plays’ he had devised and what we should look for from each candidate.

It doesn’t require a great deal of skill to be a Team Manager. All you need is common sense and a sense of fair play.

Assessment Centres were devised by an HR guru who enjoyed pulling the legs off flies when he was a kid. It’s a cruel process. The combination of role-plays and personality tests favours actors, mountebanks, charlatans, bull-shitters and pathological liars.

The last qualities that an Assessment Centre is able to assess are common sense and the candidates’ humanity.

Those that have mastered the art of the Assessment Centre have mastered the art of life itself.