So I work at a research call center. We conduct all kinds of studies over the phone (and some through mail)–mostly on behalf of state entities. State Health Department, CDC, Voc Rehab, Office of Traffic Safety, etc.
I can share hundreds of stories (and possibly will share a few of them) where I was left with boiled blood and grated teeth by the end of the call, but I figured my first story should be about my favorite call encounter, or rather, the one that’s impacted me the most. It happened about two years ago.
We operate from 10am-9pm on weekdays, 10am-5pm on weekends. It was 7:53 at the time, and I was calling for a study that took on average 4-7 minutes. I had one of my worst refusals earlier that day, so I was feeling down. It was a rough night. However, I then called this woman. She sounded middle aged and tired. She was curt, and obviously annoyed that I dared to call her at 8:00pm. I, bracing myself for a flurry of insults and complaints, explained I’m calling on behalf of Sponsor, and wanted to speak with Fname Lname. “Oh, that’s my mom,” she said, “I’ll give you to her and she can deal with you.” I let out a sigh of relief (silently, of course) and waited.
Fname Lname had a rather raspy voice–one afflicted by years of cigarettes and ravaged by time–but she didn’t require that I speak up or slow down any, as similar voices do. She was nice, and agreed to partake in the study without any complaint.
We started the interview and after almost every question she’d elaborate. And by elaborate, I don’t mean on the answer necessarily, but rather, she’d simply talk. She would weave stories from her childhood in between the questions as I slowly moved the interview along. She’d talk about her participation in the marches with Martin Luther King; she discussed her view on the current state of the world and her hopes for the future. She shared with me that she was on her death bed. That in a few weeks she’d mostly likely be gone.
At the end of our interviews, we always ask: Do you have any questions or concerns that I can address?
“Yes, well. Not a question, nor concern really, but I really wanted to Thank you. Lately I’ve more or less been forgotten in my wheel chair. People speak for me, over me. They don’t listen anymore. I guess it’s hard for them since my time is coming so close now, but I wanted to thank you for listening, for letting me talk. I know a lot of it didn’t have to do with the survey, but it was nice to speak again and be heard. I hope you lead a good life–pursue higher education and stick through it. And if that’s not your calling, that’s okay! but pursue your dreams–find what gets you energized, what gets you impassioned, and go for it! Be it music, or art, or family, or research,” she laughed softly at this point and I thanked her. “You have a wonderful life ahead of you and its yours to do with as you please. I think I’ll get some sleep now, thanks again, and have a great night.”
I’m not allowed to really show emotion–to show praise or positive feedback, nor negative feedback or disgust. We can’t, as it has the potential to introduce bias in their answers. We are to be realistic robots who must read the questions a certain way and take only the answers listed, to prod respondents along as they answer so that we can get the data needed and hang up. I never hated this more than I did that night. But alas, rules are rules.
I changed my college major after that. (And again, after that.) It’ll be a harder future for me at first, but it’ll be MY future, and I’m excited for it. And I have that raspy voice, now absent from this world, to thank for it.