Working in a call centre for Israeli customers, I met many voices talking from the other side of two screens and headphones. I talked to
- Angry voices
- Grateful voices
- Confused voices
- Sexy voices
- Fussy voices
- Friendly voices
I wonder what body these voices inhabit.
How do these yelling, talking or joking voices actually look like?
Would we have something to talk about, had I met them in Tel Aviv, and not in a call center?
Could we talk like friends, if they weren’t yelling You lost my baggage! and I wasn’t replying Sorry, but I really cannot help you.?
The Voices‘ Stories
Many stories arise from the conversations with the voices. Sometimes heart-warming, sometimes heart-breaking.
A ticket to HER HEART
I remember a particularly tender voice of Mr Cohen buying a Business class ticket for his wife. The tone of his voice was warm with love, and he was clearly proud to be able to purchase an XXX-dollar Business seat for Mrs Cohen. Mr Cohen was proud to be HER husband.
This Business class ticket was more than just a plane ticket: it was a ticket to HER heart.
Their LOVED ONES passed away
One day, I received three phone calls, which all had one thing in common: the voices on the other side told me that they had lost a loved one. The voices were broken in pain, but strong. They were calling to ask for a refund.
Three different phone calls, three different loved ones, all in one day. A wife, a father and a child.
The ARCHETYPICAL MAN
A voice of a man called in with a myriad of questions.
He wanted to know all the facts. Be perfectly prepared for every scenario. Be sure not to fail.
Why? Because he’s a father and he has a task: to bring his family safely to their destination. He wants to fulfill this task responsibly.
No wonder he was asking all the questions.
The ARCHETYPICAL WOMAN
A voice of a woman called in with a myriad of questions.
She wasn’t really interested in the facts. What she needed was reassurance.
Afraid of missing the connecting flight to Singapore, she kept asking the same questions.
Why? Not because her memory was bad. But because this was her way of dealing with fear, and she needed someone on the other side to listen to her.
No wonder she was asking all the questions.
An 80-year-old GLOBE TROTTER
I was annoyed when this elderly male voice kept telling me to speak louder.
Then I noticed in his documents (never mind the data protection!):
This man is 81 years old. And he’s flying all the way from Tel Aviv via Frankfurt to New York. And back.
Now this might be an inspiration to those who feel too old to travel!
A woman on her LAST JOURNEY
A woman with a peaceful voice called because she was planning her last journey to say goodbye to her dearest ones in London.
Why? I did not dare to ask.
I loved her way of speaking, though. When I began to inform her that besides your carry-on baggage you can also bring a „ladies‘ purse“ on board, she interrupted me:
A purse? Who the heck uses ladies‘ purses nowadays?! Maybe some spoilt ladies from Herzliya Pituah…[i]
[i] Herzliya Pituah is a wealthy town in Israel, close to Tel Aviv. According to Wikipedia, it is „one of Israel’s richest neighborhoods and home to numerous embassies, ambassadors‘ residences, companies headquarters and houses of prominent Israeli business people.“
This just made me laugh. I could relate to this comment, having spent a couple of months in Herzliya myself.
By her humorous approach, she was telling to the world:
I might be going on my last journey, but I’m still here to enjoy it.
The never ending story of LOST BAGGAGE
Lost baggage is a popular topic in our call centre. Many voices call to ask and double-check and shout about lost baggage.
The two voices below each represent one extreme in their approach to lost baggage.
EXTREME no. 1 Arguing about NOTHING
The opening line of our conversation was as follows:
Hello, I’m going to ask you a question that everyone is asking you. Is the Airline’s desk still located on the right side of the third floor at the Tel Aviv airport?
No. No one had ever asked this question before. Myself located in an office of a skyscraper in Brno, Czech Republic, I really didn’t know what to answer.
The question that followed was no easier, though.
What are the exact numbers of lost bags on the route Tel Aviv-Zürich?
Of course, there are no such statistics. And if there are, then certainly not at the hands of call centre agents sitting in Brno, Czech Republic.
Are you telling me you don’t have access to the exact statistics of lost baggage?!! Then transfer me to someone who does have the answers!
We don’t deal with lost baggage here, and don’t have such data. Maybe try Google? I suggest ironically.
Google doesn’t have the numbers, either! I want to speak with the Supervisor!! This is unheard of!
Long after I had transferred the angry voice to the supervisor, the supervisor’s raised voice could be heard in an argument about statistics that we don’t have.
Stressing about some abstract statistical numbers, this angry voice ruined his flight before it even started. Before even giving his bag the chance to get lost.
EXTREME no. 2 Couldn’t CARE LESS
This voice, flying to South Africa, was so refreshing that it still stands out from the hundreds of other voices I had heard. It was a man with a child’s heart.
At some point during the reservation process, I began to warn him of a possible risk of a short connection: In case you miss your connecting flight, your baggage might not arrive to your destination at the same time…
Yeah, then it will arrive the following day, or the day afterwards! No worries, I’ll pick it up from the airport!
WOW. Some voices can even be relaxed about lost baggage?! I wanted to kiss the voice’s feet and beg:
Please, multiply your descendants as the stars in the sky… (Genesis 26:4)
The voices of COLLEAGUES THAT I NEVER MET
Of course I can’t expect to see the faces of people who are calling me from a traffic jam in Tel Aviv or a beach in Mexico. But what about my colleagues sitting next door from me? Wouldn’t it be nice to talk face-to-face? Maybe it would. However, this is NOT THE CASE.
Guess how I talk with colleagues located in the room next to me?
Yes. Through headphones and two monitors radiating blue light at me.
Have I ever actually met these colleagues?
Well, the answer is:
I don’t know.
I will tell you a story.
The voice of a HELPLINE HERO
Let me give you some background of how it works in our call centre. When a passenger calls with a complicated case – or when we agents have any technical issues or don’t understand something – we can call our own internal helpline. The people working for the helpline are usually helpful and knowledgeable.
I myself use the help of the helpline a lot. A LOT.
It works like this:
- A passenger calls.
- I have no idea what to do.
- I put the passenger on hold.
- I call the helpline. (They are sitting literally next door, or fifty steps from me.)
- The helpline helps me.
- I tell the passenger the solution and wait for them to hang up.
Having spoken to the colleagues at the helpline so many times – but never ever seeing them in person – they had become a kind of heroes to me. Heroes who always save me but are never seen.
Once I went for a break on the rooftop. I saw a girl, and her voice seemed familiar. It definitely rang a bell.
I was a bit shy and my break time was already dangerously exceeding the allowed limit (by one minute), but I decided to go back and ask her. I wanted to find out whether this was the Helpline Hero who saved me so many times.
Yes, it was her. Since then, I could at least connect one voice to a face.
What I LEARNED from the VOICES
The voices from the other side taught me that in the call centre world, physical distance doesn’t matter: I can serve people thousands of kilometres away, and not meet colleagues sitting next door.
Working in this world, I sometimes had to question the meaning of the well-known reCAPTCHA:
I am not a ROBOT.
Right. I am not a robot. That’s my takeaway from the call centre lesson, and that’s why it’s time to take off again.
Photo in title: Elad Ben-Cnaan