Am I talking to a robot or a real person?

I work for a company that produces a certain medical device, and a while ago we couldn’t deliver. For months. All due to the higher ups decided to bust open a new market without having a new production line ready. Thing is that the company already has a contract with the health care system in my country, and people get these things as a kind of life aid.

So, tens of thousands of people with a chronic illness are not getting the help the have a right to, and I represent the company whose fault it is. You see where this is going, right?

On top of taking about four times as many calls as we had the capacity for, we also were not allowed to tell the customers that we were out of stock, just that we had delays (which isn’t holding up when someone is calling in for the fifth week in a row). No idea why, but that’s how it was.* It was absolute hell.

I have a lot of stories from this period, but there are two that stand out in my mind.

Me: Opening spiel

Customer: Am I speaking with a person?

M: I’m sorry?

C: Am I talking to a robot or a real person?

My first thought was “I’m not even sure anymore”, but that’s not what I said. I think it was the way we turned into monotonous automatons from taking the same call a hundred times a day, and the recorded message he heard before the call that made him unsure, but it was still the most interesting question I’ve gotten.

The other story was someone calling at the end of the day just sounding desperate. The call started out just like all the other calls, and then developed into the conversation below.

M: Sorry, we have a problem with shipping at the moment, and the delays are a consequence of that. There is nothing I can do.

C: I really need it. Can’t you make an exception?

M: I can’t. If I could, maybe, but at the moment no one is getting their product.

C: I called in. I understand that people are waiting for their stuff, but if one is calling in perhaps that shows that one is in need.

M (with a somewhat less pleasant tone, possibly even sounding offended): To be frank, C, but I have taken this exact call at least 70 times just today, and hundreds of times this week. You are not the only one who is desperate, and far from the only one calling in. I know it’s hard, but there is nothing we can do for anyone, even though we want to. You will just have to wait until we can deliver, just like everyone else.

C: Oh. Okay. Thanks for your time.

Now, I get the guy. Calling customer service is a last resort for many people, me included, and they often know nothing about our lives on the other end of the call. In the moment I was just shocked by the sheer audacity of thinking he was the only one with this problem, that him calling in should grant him a special treatment.

At least it’s over now, and somehow I survived. Still looking forward to having my last day in that hellish place this August.

*I did anyway, just a week or so into it. At first a bit hush-hush, looking around to make sure the manager didn’t hear me, but gradually getting less and less careful, and finally just telling just about everyone all about it, why it came to be this way, and that we should be happy that they even pay our salary (which was another problem we had about a year back, but that’s another story). By then everyone was so tired that no one cared, and I’ve never heard a word about it from anyone in management.

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That’s an interesting name you have