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What happens when you call 485-RIDE…

September 27, 2011

I went through three pages of notes in my two hour shift.

If you called the GoTriangle Regional Call Center on Wednesday, September 14th you might have noticed that the operators weren’t as, shall we say, “confident” as usual. That’s because from about 10am-12pm some co-workers and I took over for the regular crew so that they could attend a staff development session. Did you notice?

When the customer service manager asked for my help on the Tuesday before, I was anxious. You see, I hate phones. It’s the fear of the unknown, I think, that most turns me off. I’ve chosen avoidance to deal with my issue. The ringer on my desk phone is so low that it should probably just be turned off. Surprisingly, I’m actually quite good at dialing out and I don’t mind calling people; I just hate it when people call me. Emails, texts, IM chatty things, those are all fine. The ringing phone though, even with caller ID, is just too mysterious. I don’t trust them. Phones are staticky, temperamental little things.  So naturally, with all that baggage, you see how a stint in the Call Center, a whole room of ringing phones and urgent questions, would not be high on my list of favorite things.

Still, despite my misgivings about the phones, I was curious to see what happens in the Call Center. It’s a busy place and I didn’t think I could hack it. Brian, the customer service manager, assured me I would do fine, and I finally agreed to help. On Wednesday morning I went to my desk and started my day, unaware of when I’d be summoned for duty. A little before 10, my co-workers and I got the call. We made our way to the Center.

I was given a brief tutorial. The setup was pretty straightforward; a call would come in on my line and I would pick up and try my best to answer the question on the other end. Aeren, my trusted trainer, pulled up the GoTriangle Trip Planner, gave me a list of frequently requested phone numbers, told me her strategy, wished me luck, and left. I took my first call… and I totally knew the answer! BAM! Another call came in, I knew that answer too! Another call, another answer. I was feeling pretty good, when I got a call that tripped me up. Lucky for me, I had discovered the Hold Button by then. When calling the Call Center, please know the operator can hear every sigh and every breath you breathe into your phone. All those overheard sounds increased my anxiety when I didn’t have a quick answer, but the Hold Button quieted everything enough to let me figure out the appropriate response.

The calls came in so quickly that I started confusing my current call with a previous one. A caller would ask about the CAT 2 route and then when I went to find out information on that route, I’d look up CAT 12 because an earlier call had asked about that. The other pinch operators described their experience as “intense” and I have to agree. I soon had a strategy– I’d write down the route the call was about and take notes. It kept me and my calls on track. I went through three pages before the professionals returned. When I was relieved for duty it was hard to believe I’d been on the phone for two hours; it felt more like a 45 minute shift!

I left the Center with one piece of advice for callers– tell the operator where you are. Most callers I spoke to assumed I was in whatever city they were in and that’s just not the case. Identifying the city you’re in and the nearest cross streets will help the operator narrow down the options when you ask when the next bus is coming by.

I’ve always respected the work that goes on in the Call Center, but my two hours on the phone left me with a better appreciation for just what they do and the special pressures that the operators experience. So much of my work involves convincing people to give the bus a try, it was great to interact, albeit briefly, with the people who use it every day.

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