When you speak to the general public on the phone for a living, you get the opportunity to speak with some pretty weird people and hear some pretty weird things. I spent the past three years working for a medical call center until I switched jobs in December. Now I work in a call center for a large bank chain, and throughout all of my years on the phone I thought I had heard it all.
I've heard people fart, burp, use the bathroom, and vomit while on the phone. I've heard mothers smack their children and husbands verbally abuse their wives. I've been yelled at and screamed at, told that I was incompetent and ignorant, and one time this one guy even wished that I would get hit by a car and die. Life in the call center definitely isn't all clear sailing. It's a roller coaster, just like any other job out there. Just one call at a time, and after the thousands of calls I've taken, I thought nothing could faze me.
And then I got this one gentleman on the phone.
Our conversation started out pretty normal. He was just another guy on the phone looking for his account balance, and everything was progressing smoothly. I was just about ready to read back his balance to him when he cut me off.
"Hang on a sec," he said. I heard him pull the phone away from his mouth. In a muffled voice I heard him say, "What are you doing? What?" He paused for a few moments. "Why do you have to do that while I'm on the phone? Can't you just wait a minute?"
A brief burst of rustling static and he was back on the line with me. "Sorry about that," he said. "My wife has had a bit too much wine tonight and is feeling a little bit fris-" The phone dropped down again. "Stop that!"
I sat there at my desk, trying my hardest not to picture what was going on. "Sir?"
"Yes, I'm here, sorry," he apologized, "it's just my wife. She's... well, whatever. So what's my balance?"
"No problem, sir." I was eager to get this call over with. "Your balance tonight is-"
"Will you cut that out?" he cried to his wife, not bothering to lower the phone this time. I winced and pulled my headset away from my ears. "Now? You can't wait thirty seconds until I'm off the phone?" A mumbled response. "No? Well, don't just stare at it. Do something with it." More scuffling of the phone, and then he was back. "Sorry again. My balance?"
"Yes, sir. Your balance is-"
"Don't just tug at it!" he demanded. "Fine. Suck it, then. Suck it."
I sat back in my chair, stunned and grossed out. Is what I think is happening really happening?
A shuddering sigh confirmed my suspicion. This call needed to end. NOW.
"Hello, sir?" I called out.
"Yeah, I'm... here," he said loosely, clearly distracted. A low groan came through my headset. He pulled the phone away again and spoke to his wife again. "Suck it. That's good..."
"Your balance, sir?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah. My balance. What is my balance?"
"Seven hundred and thirty-two dollars and seventeen cents," I said. I aimed my mouse over to the Disconnect button on my telephone and prayed for this call to be over. My customer, though, had other things on his mind, and wasn't paying attention. It was my suspicion that there was more blood going to a different region of his body than to his brain.
"Slow down, slow down," he said quietly. Another sigh. More phone scuffling. "I'm sorry, what'd you say?"
"Your balance? Seven thirty-two seventeen."
"Oh, okay." To his wife again: "Slow down, slow down... Slow... yeah..."
"Anything else I can help you wish tonight, sir?" I asked quickly, seizing any opportunity to end this call as quickly as possible.
"No, I'm good. I'm really good." He sounded like the happiest man on Earth.
"Alright, sir. Have a good night."
"Already having it," he said, again in that loose, distracted voice. His breathing increased and he started to grunt. I hit Disconnect and ripped my headset off, wanting to distance myself as far as possible from the conversation that had just taken place.
I felt used. I felt wronged. I felt disgusted. I felt so many things, but most of all I felt that I could have gone through my night just fine without having had that conversation.
Have you ever wanted to pour hand sanitizer in your ears?