I used to work for the call center of a well-known confection company in southern Wisconsin. I went to the local college by day and some evenings and weekends I worked their call center in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. There was about 30 of us crammed into a dingy shed-like building that basically had three rooms; the main room which was the call center, a room in the back that was a break room, and a room for the manager off in a corner near the break room.
This was back in the early ’90s when there really wasn’t online commerce – the company would send out catalogs every month. In the middle of the catalog was the order form plus envelope you could put it in, and the front cover always had a “place an order and get some free chocolate!” offer. When we took orders the customer would either tell us the offer or the code for them and we’d add that as part of the order. We were supposed to only put in one code per customer but the system never tracked it and there was room to put in at least 16 freebies.
The routine was pretty simple; every day you would come in and put your lunch/dinner in the fridge, login to the system at any desk with your username/password, and then you’d take calls. There’d always be a massive ‘sampler’ tray or two in the fridge or on the break room desk and for a poor college student that was often my lunch – cheese and sausage, or bon bons and petit fours. Not bad! Also posted to the wall in the break room were the weekly stats – how long your average call was and how large your average order was. I was always the top of the “average call length” as I was pretty chatty with customers. I still am today but work in IT. I was also always at the top of sales – my guess is that I kept people on the phone longer and they’d always throw in more stuff as we spoke. I’d always get disapproving stares from my manager about my chat times and asked to “keep them shorter” but since I was pretty much their top seller despite this I never really suffered any recrimination.
One evening I get a call from a lovely, elderly woman. As we spoke she placed a large gift order to multiple people – some grand children in college, her adult children’s families scattered about the states and if I recall one in the Navy. It was probably the biggest order I’d ever placed! I told her, “Wow, Christmas must be a crowd at your house!” and she broke my heart by telling me that none of her children ever visited her. Ever. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas she’d call us and have us send them gifts of cheese, ham, chocolate, and little cakes and she’d often not even get a call back from them. I thought I was going to cry right there.
Needless to say I stayed on the phone and we just chatted about when her kids were smaller and around the house. I shared stories of what my plans were for the Holiday and we laughed about some of our mutual traditions (watching the Rudolph movie on TV and taking a drive to a local park that had a massive holiday display). I think by the end of the call she was cheered up and she finally had to turn away as it was really late where she was.
When she hung up I sat there for about ten seconds and then pulled out my cheat-sheet of bonus gifts. She’d not got anything for herself so I filled all sixteen slots of free gifts with the best ones for the past few months.
I’d like to think she got them.