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Watching various comedians and pundits pick up the phone or try to log in into the ACA over the last week has been entertaining to say the least. But it serves as a weak segue to a labor interest we rarely hear about these days even though it's huge and growing. Like many industries in America it has been wrecked by short-sighted corporations and the Great Recession. Per usual that burden has fallen inequitably on the lowest paid, least influential employees in that group. We're talking about customer service and support (CSS).

The Bureau of Labor statistic estimates that more than two million Americans work in contact centers. They man everything from help desks for IT issues to cell phone billing. But the CSS reps who only had to worry about phone calls or read off single scripts have quietly gone the way of the dinosaur. More and more these jobs require familiarity with an array of technologies, any one of which would have been classified as a skilled white collar job just a few years ago. At the same time, pay and benefits have been under assault, stranding the vast majority of CSS reps in dead-end jobs with no prospect of advancement or a living wage regardless of their increasing productivity.

There's a bunch of complex reasons for that. But seen from the front-lines marked by rows of cubes and headsets, the focus here is on the less ethical path taken by so many cash-flush corporate giants, including but not limited to:  

  • Replacing veteran experienced employees with temps and younger entry level employees at every chance.
  • Promoting young, inexperienced employees at historically low wages to junior supervisory positions over experienced, educated employees.
  • The use of arbitrarily awarded and usually unspecified "variable pay," i.e., vague bonuses, to gain more leverage over employees and replace greater portions of once reliable and more traditional compensation.

A few words about some of those bullet points below.

Most CSC jobs these days start out at $8 to $14 an hour. Like most jobs, the longer you are employed the more you probably make. Whereas before that would be a plus, today it is a danger. Plain and simple, these days the longer you've worked at a company the more they want to get rid of you and replace you with someone at the starting end of the wage band. This is a lot easier to do in red states like Florida or Texas, so it's not surprising contact centers are located in right-to-be-fired states. Even so, companies know they have to go about it legally, or at least try to make it look legal. So they've cooked up an ugly array of methods to shit-can older and more experienced employees.

The most predominant method is harsh attendance policies. Over the course of a given month the odds that you will become so sick or injured, or have to take care of someone so sick or injured, that you'll miss an entire week are unlikely. But as months turn into years it becomes a growing statistical certainty. Penalizing employees for those absenses regardless of the reason is a built in system to separate more experienced employees. Another way is to harshly enforce workplace policies for more experienced workers. For example most companies have a policy that you're not supposed to be surfing the net and many companies ignore it totally as long as production is acceptable. Simply enforce it on experienced employees and they're out of there.

Another to encourage experienced employees to leave voluntarily is to make it impractical for them to get promoted or earn a raise. There's a whole field of management now dedicated to making that happen. Constantly increase the required threshold for advancement, periodically take the system "down," at least in regard to employees earning greater internal certifications and requisite wages. Lastly, there's the growing use of temps, employees at third-party head hunters hired for a short period, often working long hours including holidays and weekends for no shift differential, no over time, and who receive no benefits at all.

Speaking of wages, in customer service there seems to be an increasing reliance on variable pay, i.e., bonuses. In some cases bonuses might make sense for head honchos and others who affect profitability and make a living base wage to start with. But variable pay becomes an unregulated economic weapon when wielded by senior managers over low paid staff. In large part because the company can play games, like withholding all or part of them for arbitrary reasons, that they can't play with most wages and benefits.

An exec who makes half a million a year base pay won't notice much change in their standard of living if their bonus is zero or a cool hundred-thousand bucks. But the difference four-thousand dollars makes to a single mom earning 20k a year is hard to over emphasize. That lower paid employee has to spend every dime they make pretty much as soon as they get it on direct and immediate living expenses. Even then they're always falling behind. By the time bonus month rolls at the end of the fiscal year, odds are they're late on bills and counting on that bonus to keep the lights on or the roof overhead. It can literally mean the difference between shelter and homelessness, the car or the bus, and in some cases, food versus going hungry.

As surely as effective employees have been economically forgotten or outright exploited in CSS roles, there's been an accompanying wave of younger, less experienced reps promoted to serve as supervisors and mid level managers for reasons no one can seem to clearly articulate. The end result is twenty-something year-old managers, some whom have literally never taken a phone call, tasked with motivating or even coaching veteran subordinates who can run rings around them. To use a sports analogy, watching an enthusiastic 19-year-old kid  try to provide useful pointers to a middle-aged trilingual rep with an advanced degree is like listening to a high school quarter-back try to give throwing tips to Brett Favre.  

We haven't even scratched the surface of the structural implosion in wages in general and CSS jobs specifically. The hardship that temps and bonuses alone inflict on this workforce could occupy pages of text. The systemic concentration of benefits at the top and scapegoating at the bottom, now written into law and policies across the nation could stretch into a book. But for the movers and shakers out and about today, one final point to ponder.

In the end these practices will hurt more than the low paid reps, they'll hurt the business. Companies that stayed in the black through the worst of the Great Recession enjoyed a unique opportunity, the kind that may not come again in the professional lives of most managers and owners reading this. They've been able to hire the most dedicated, educated, hard-working employees for the lowest wage and benefit packages in decades. Wise business people will leverage that windfall on behalf of investors as the nation recovers and businesses flourish. Alas, it remains to be seen how many companies will be classified as wise by this simple, testable metric.


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Comment Preferences

  •  A lot of companies (47+ / 0-)

    take the opportunity during economic downturns to freeze  or reduce salaries and benefits.  I've seen it several times during my creer.  Unfortunately, this tends to backfire when the situation changes and their longer term employees leave for greener pastures.

  •  It's not easy out there (35+ / 0-)

    I am a Customer Service Professional, having worked in various call centers over the last 20 years. I was laid off from my last permanent position in April 2011 and have been searching for another perm position ever since. I've worked many temporary positions, making about half of what I was, hoping to get hired permanently. I've been disappointed every time. I've applied for over 100 permanent positions since being laid off, with no success. I keep plugging away, however it's depressing knowing I'm very good at what I do and no one will give me a chance, because there's always someone younger and cheaper out there.

    Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you-Satchel Paige

    by wagster1969 on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 05:47:07 PM PDT

  •  Good Diary, DS. Thanks for it! :) n/t (8+ / 0-)

    Nurse Kelley says my writing is brilliant and my soul is shiny - who am I to argue?
    Left/Right: -7.75
    Social Libertarian/Authoritarian: -4.51

    by Bud Fields on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 05:47:28 PM PDT

  •  THIS is the PICTURE of working America; (26+ / 0-)

    THIS is the reason we need government, GOPigs -- to curb this runaway sociopathy that's running rampant in the executive levels of business.

    Yes, we'd ALL like our government to be "efficient" -- as in "not wasteful" -- but in no way does it need to act "profitably", nor does it mean that the private sector can better do the job -- in fact, just the opposite is true.  The private sector can only incentivize through the profit motive, a sure killer of parity and equality, which is what needs addressed here.

    A CEO does NOT "need" to make a dollar for every employee in the business, and a bonus equal to 10% of the business NDP.  A CEO, in my estimation, can EARN seven figures when no one in the company is on public assistance.

  •  Ever try to talk to a real human at Comcast/ (13+ / 0-)

    Xfinity for technical support?

    Good luck with that.

    They think if they provide a video to watch that's good enough for the their customers,
    or as they like to refer to them;"suckers" and "dumbasses".

    Wouldn't want to cut into those upper management bonuses by hiring actual human beings..........
    or spending any real money on actual content.

    •  that's why I make it my mission... (0+ / 0-) ask to speak to a "live advisor" at every opportunity.

      "I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast, for I intend to go in harm's way." John Paul Jones

      by ImpeachKingBushII on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 08:19:23 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I've gotten a live human every time (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JG in MD, BachFan, liz dexic

      that I've called Comcast. Not that they can ever actually fix my problem (though they have tried, and I've had a service rep out to my house every time I've asked for one) but I've never had any trouble at all getting a human either on the phone or on livechat.

      As much as I loathe Comcast (in oh so many ways), I actually like their customer service. I just hate their business model, their outdated technology, their monopoly in my area, and their inability to figure out what the hell is wrong with my Internet connection.

      "Let’s just move on, treat everybody with firmness, fairness, dignity, compassion and respect. Let’s be Marines." - Sgt. Maj Michael Barrett on DADT repeal

      by kyril on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 09:46:47 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Great reporting, thanks. (8+ / 0-)

    (How I wish you'd check your damn PM's...)

    Anyway, I read this article and nodded my head all the way through.

    The ones in the middle and at the bottom are scrambling. The ones at the top are rolling in the gravy.

    It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

    by karmsy on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 05:50:31 PM PDT

  •  $8.00/hr (17+ / 0-)

    That's the starting wage for the the call center I worked at in Asheville.

    Libertarianism is something that most people grow out of, not unlike, say, hay fever or asthma. Bob Johnson

    by randallt on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 05:50:53 PM PDT

    •  $8.00/Hr. in Las Cruces, NM as well (9+ / 0-)

      We may have worked for the same CS Company-I was one of the top producers at my center (based on metrics) never an attendance ding in almost a year. Was offered opportunity to resign or be suspended for a week while "Corporate" reviewed all my calls to make sure I authenticated properly and offered sales on every call. I liked my coach so I wrote a lovely resignation letter, lost a week of annual leave, and sashayed out the front door. It was the best day I had in the center. Quit smoking, got a part time government job and went back to school full time. Sometimes things work out.

    •  The more things change... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Pariah Dog, randallt, liz dexic

      The call center I worked at a couple summers nearly 15 years ago... the starting wage was $8.25.  I'm lucky I was only there in the short term, and also the barely-supervised night shift.  So I got to miss out on the unpleasantries.  

      But the diary reads just like the stories my mom would vent about when she worked at Williams-Sonoma's call center.  Right down to the inexplicably inexperienced management.

      Republicans have tried to repeal the ACA 42 times now, knowing it would fail. That means we have a party full of people who don't learn from repeating the same mistake 42 times.

      by nominalize on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 10:29:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Boy Are You Right (21+ / 0-)

    Without naming names, I can tell you a few years ago, I was working for a company that handled COBRA claims. Their main source of employees for general calls were temps like me.

    They gave us what I know now was a flimsy, two-week crash course on subjects such as HIPAA, etc. However, the system was built to fail; every week, something like 10+ plus people would either quit or be "reassigned" by the temp company. It was not simple stuff.

    It was extremely complex as every other caller had a one-of-a-kind case that sometimes even the firms' legal team didn't have a clue as to how to solve. Basically, they just kept herding people in and out as needed. Ugh.

    But from experience, companies who run call centers have generally been unconcerned with quality of the work. Its all about keeping up with the volume of calls, and keeping hold times down. Everything else such as actual quality of the work being done is low on the totem pole.

    Message to Dems: We HAVE to start showing up for Midterms.

    by Jank2112 on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 05:54:49 PM PDT

    •  The point is to answer the phone, every time (8+ / 0-)

      It rings, not to provide an answer to the customer.

    •  should be high skill (4+ / 0-)

      Many customer service jobs should be high skill.  The agents should understand the product and how to troubleshoot the product.  This is a high skill position and should be high pay.

      Unfortunately most of the jobs has been made for low skills easily replaced workers using scripts on the computer.  The problem with these scripts is that they usually only solve the most basic problems, and usually waste a lot of customers time.  It would be much better customer service if scripts were combined with knowledgeable agents.

      But I can't blame only management for this.  I hear a lot of people looking for a job complaining that their jobs only give them basic training, or won't pay for training, or require employees to go home and review some training.  While I agree that there has to be a balance, and time must be given during the work day for training, it is reasonable to have some expectation of the employee to learn what is needed for the job.

      OTOH, I am not sure we are if we are ever going to see wages go as high as auto assembly plant worker in the CS jobs.  Although the work and skills are comparable, the cost structures are different.  Management now expects to be able to skim more off the top for themselves.  And if the wages are not 20-30 an hour, how much quality can one expect?

      •  misc comments (0+ / 0-)

        When the product is popular, user to user help (forums) solve much.

        Automated help is good if it allows self-paced type flexibility. So when the self-help doesn't solve the problem, user speeds through.
        I also quickly summarize my status based on the self-help (plus whatever else I know), for the eventual live tech. I think my summary in their terminology more quickly familiarizes the techs.

        ... While I agree that there has to be a balance, and time must be given during the work day for training, it is reasonable to have some expectation of the employee to learn what is needed for the job.

        The center needs to balance ratios of "on the job training" level positions (too few, I suspect) vs expertise to solve majority of customers problems level, vs pay

        ♥ Repeal the Capital Gains, Carried Interest & Dividends Entitlements bequeathed to 'more special' taxpayers.

        by in on Tue Oct 29, 2013 at 03:30:51 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  You may have mistaken who the customer is... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Egalitare, Clues

      ...for COBRA service centers.

      It's not the ex employee who is utilizing COBRA, it's the ex-employer who has to provide COBRA.

      As long as all legal requirements are sufficiently met to minimize lawsuits and government action, neither the COBRA service center, nor the entity that hired them (the company) have any real motivation to provide better customer service -- both parties are motivated to reduce costs, not improve service.

      Even group plan health insurers/administrators have much stronger motivation to provide good service to the end consumer. The end consumer is at least a current employee of the contracting company who is paying the bill. The contracting company is at least somewhat concerned about employee morale of existing employes, not JUST the cost of the contracted service.

  •  Then there are the Customer Service jobs that (10+ / 0-)

    also expect you to sell x amount of that company's product or service while on that call.  There is a particular web hosting service that expects $200 worth of sales per month where the basic product sells for less than $10 a month.

    I've done some CSS before....(there was a definite dip in productivity when it was announced that George Burns had passed - it was scrolled across all the ticker screens in the building).  It's definitely not a job that I'd want to do for the rest of my life.  Some of those customers are just out and out rude..... and you can't sass back and they know it.

    •  No you can't sass back, (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Flying Goat, nchristine, annan, mmacdDE

      but you can put them on hold and go make a pot of coffee; or, if you're booking them flights you can email them their itinerary with their requested seat assignments and then after you finish the call reassign them in the middle seat in the last row by the toilets.

      Not that I would know by personal experience of course ;)

      The Democrats care about you after you're born. --Ed Schultz

      by micsimov on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 06:13:58 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yeah, like the idea of making a pot of coffee. (0+ / 0-)

        But, when your job states you must take/solve x calls per hour, you can't afford to go make coffee!!

        •  I hear ya; I only did that once to someone (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          annan, nchristine

          who was very very rude.  I serviced calls for a travel agency so we didn't have quotas on amount of calls although in order to qualify for the monthly incentive payouts our average handle time had to be 13 minutes or less per call.  Of course, some of this criteria was meant to foster better and faster service, but it could backfire as well; I know of a few people who if their average talk time was over the 13 minute threshold and it was close to end of the pay period, they would take and then immediately drop calls to push their average back down.

          The Democrats care about you after you're born. --Ed Schultz

          by micsimov on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 07:56:31 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  There's nothing wrong with using service calls... (0+ / 0-) a sales opportunity. As a customer, I can't say I love it (and it's never been successful with me), but I just say "No, I'm not interested" and move on and never had a problem with that.

      If some CSS reps are more successful than others at upselling while providing acceptable service, why shouldn't the best upsellers be retained and the least successful be replaced? Sales, either explicit or in the form of customer satisfaction (vs. actually solving the customer's technical problem), is central to customer support.

      Customers are demanding and are not always polite. That's a fact. I've been on calls and meetings with very demanding executives at customers and prospective customers in my field. It's my job. It really doesn't matter -- their personality is their problem, not mine; the technical problem (if it is real) is mine. I don't need their validation to make my life complete -- I try to identify the real problem and, if MY CEO thinks the customer is worth the effort, I fix the problem.

      •  The company in question is a technical company. (0+ / 0-)

        I can do the tech side with one hand tied behind my back.  It's getting customers to buy more that I'm not good at.  Then to have my job dependent upon selling stuff instead of solving the customer issue isn't a good mix.  In a way, I'm glad I didn't get the job, as I'd be too stressed out from being told I'm not selling enough, even though all of the customer's questions had been satisfied.

  •  Customer service is becoming an oxcymoran. (5+ / 0-)

    More and more companies are making customers be proactive in how they deal with the company.

    Example: This week I got a text message from my cell company. They want me to tell them if I still should get the 10% group discount I get. The text said to fill out a e form or send a check stub to xyz address.

    Here is the part that is that makes me mad. If they had a question in the first place send me a letter, with a return address envelope. Making me dig through more then 3 page of the cell phone companies BS just to find a USPS address is BS .

    •  Change companies if you don't like that. (0+ / 0-)

      You are getting a discount, they want to verify that you still qualify. Why not just fill out the e-form?

      In a sense, the discount is contingent on you being willing to do what they requested. If you don't like it, forgo the discount or find another company that is willing to kill trees and increase their carbon footprint and waste money AND is willing to provide the underlying service for the same price.

      Get used to it -- increasingly you are going to find a stronger push to online only service. First, you will begin to see more monthly "administrative fees" for customers who don't meet certain revenue requirements -- but those who accept "online only" service will see a "online service only" credit on their bill which magically matches the new administrative fee. Over time, the "Snail Mail Option" will become an explicit "extra cost" option.

      My bank has, for a long time, had various forms of cheap "no teller" accounts where you pay if you visit a human teller. That seem fair to me - someone visiting a human teller costs the company more money than alternatives, just as your neighborhood auto mechanic doesn't fix your brakes for "cost of parts" only but includes a labor charge (which includes facility overhead).

      My discount brokers have, for many years, charged a premium for placing a trade through a human (and, now, even charge a somewhat smaller premium for placing a trade via the "phone tree" telephone system) vs. placing the trade via their web interface.

  •  In today's "free market" vulture capitalism .... (10+ / 0-)

    , greed trumps wisdom at nearly every turn. Ask Alan Greenspan (and he admitted it only because he had to).

    Labor today is far behind in the power-sharing curve and government is not going to change that till workers reorganize from the bottom-up, inside-out.

    21st Century America: The distracted, superficial perception of a virtual reality. Gettov Milawn

    by geez53 on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 06:06:34 PM PDT

  •  It's why we need a functioning economy (3+ / 0-)

    Nothing like needing people to keep your business going to open up hiring and pay policies.

    LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

    by dinotrac on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 06:06:58 PM PDT

  •  Re ACA 'navigators' supplying customer service, (7+ / 0-)

    even in states that have their own websites like CA, we were told by Shockwave that they are woefully ill prepared in California. One day training. 850 in California, a state that easily could use thousands to help the un/under insured. The few who may have some informed information about insurance are (surprise!!!) insurance brokers. Don't get me started on the weasely perspective a broker may bring to the table...
    Straight up navigators who are not working for broker's commissions are (surprise!!!) getting paid peanuts.

  •  Another awful trend is outsourcing. (12+ / 0-)

    I rarely speak with a css agent from this country, whether it is getting my satellite tv repaired, or making a hotel reservation.

    •  outsourcing is a bread and butter issue... (3+ / 0-)

      My late aunt Flo retired from AT&T in the 90's. She was an upper level manager in charge of a 600 CSS call center in Norfolk, Virginia. She was ordered to "permanently lay-off" (the operative word here : fire) all but the top performing 5%. Guess where the remaining 570 jobs went? Hint: Not in the US of A.

      "I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast, for I intend to go in harm's way." John Paul Jones

      by ImpeachKingBushII on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 08:40:22 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Some companies do much better than that, but (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JerryNA, BachFan

    they are not in the majority.

    I know that my daughter once got so frustrated talking to a customer service rep for a printer that she returned the printer and bought another brand.  Enough of that, and companies with good customer service will tend to get more and more of the sales.

    I know that I am inclined, for example, to buy electronics from Costco.  They are rarely the lowest priced source I can find, though generally their prices are quite good. Thing about Costco is their concierge service for electroncs purchases.  We have used it and it transforms the tech support experience.  

    LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

    by dinotrac on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 06:11:59 PM PDT

    •  Nope. Well, maybe... (0+ / 0-)

      Company "a" upsets just as many customers as does company "b."
      As you switch from "a" to "b," wave at all those people switching from "b" to "a."

      Gresham's law is pretty general.  Costco is likely just behind the curve.

      "Our problem is not that the glass is half empty or half full, but that the 1% claims that it is their glass." ---Stolen from a post on Daily Kos

      by jestbill on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 07:09:50 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I have experienced decent customer service and I (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JG in MD

        have encountered people who believe that it is a business asset.

        Chaning buzzwords like "Gresham's law" doesn't add anything to the conversation, especially as it doesn't apply here.

        Ordinary business sense:

        You make money you must attract business.
        To keep getting paid, you must keep business.

        Please note the recent history of Best Buy.
        Last year: imminent demise predicted.
        This year: after improving the customer experience and making some savvy retail choices, rebound.

        LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

        by dinotrac on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 07:30:05 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Bad behavior drives out good behavior. (0+ / 0-)

          There is very little customer service ANYWHERE.  There is almost no training because workers are all temps.  You'd be training your competitor's help.

          Home Depot drove most of their competitors down the road.  Is their CS still as good?  No.

          Best Buy is still in business?  What do they sell that you can't get at Walmart?

          "Our problem is not that the glass is half empty or half full, but that the 1% claims that it is their glass." ---Stolen from a post on Daily Kos

          by jestbill on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 08:04:20 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Lots of lemmings into the fray, for sure. (0+ / 0-)

            But your lazy assertions don't mean anything.

            And yes, Best Buy is still around.
            In case you haven't noticed, WalMart is struggling lately.

            LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

            by dinotrac on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 08:26:35 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  best buy ... two words ironically placed together (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              their prices are not terrible ... they are the same as their competitors and have been for years.  their customer service is totally non-existant.  i'd have to assume that their workers are low paid and poorly trained since they are never helpful.  

              •  They are a story this year for having risen from (0+ / 0-)

                the near-dead.

                LG: You know what? You got spunk. MR: Well, Yes... LG: I hate spunk!

                by dinotrac on Mon Oct 28, 2013 at 03:18:27 AM PDT

                [ Parent ]

              •  I think that might be more (0+ / 0-)

                the store than anything else.

                Our Best Buy has pretty decent customer service. At least, I've found it decent when I needed it, which admittedly is seldom.

                But there are always people on the floor, and I've never had a problem getting somebody to help me or give me info if desired.

          •  Gresham's law applies when (0+ / 0-)

            the price of a commodity is significantly higher than its value.  General applications can occur when the buyer is in the dark about the actual value (like with used cars).  But an established labor purchaser is pretty much the opposite of in the dark about the value of the labor they're buying.  Especially since they, through training, can increase the labor's value on their own, justifying its price.  

            The thing is that dinotrac is talking about labor purchasers that purposely increase the value of their labor (which multiplies via productivity increase), and pay the according price.  Jestbill is talking about labor purchasers who purposely sabotage the value of their labor so they can drop the price (which makes up for productivity inefficiency).

            Republicans have tried to repeal the ACA 42 times now, knowing it would fail. That means we have a party full of people who don't learn from repeating the same mistake 42 times.

            by nominalize on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 10:40:31 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  You've got it. (0+ / 0-)

              My lazy generalization is based on my belief that that sabotage is more common than any other option.

              I use the term Gresham's Law in a more amateurish sense: if you have a new crisp dollar bill and an old wrinkled dollar bill in your wallet, you're more likely to spend the old one.
              You don't have to talk about "value" so much as "perceived value."  So the "saboteurs" just jump to the conclusion that saving money is "good" because it has immediate results while training people is a waste because they'll either quit or demand higher wages.

              "Our problem is not that the glass is half empty or half full, but that the 1% claims that it is their glass." ---Stolen from a post on Daily Kos

              by jestbill on Mon Oct 28, 2013 at 11:45:31 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  Customer service was NEVER... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Lucy Montrose

            ...good at Home Depot compared to a decent hardware store.

            The consumers, in a majority, voted they wanted a wide selection of cheap crap at cheap prices with minimal customer service. If enough consumers had decided they were willing to pay more for better stuff or better customer service while accepting less selection, Home Depot's competitors wouldn't have been "driven down the road".

            In reality, there are still a lot of decent hardware stores sprinkled around.

            •  You're right. On those terms. (0+ / 0-)

              My (local) experience was with other chains with wide selection.  They tried to compete by just putting product on the shelves and making the customers serve themselves.

              I remember one day looking for a product and finding TWO employees in a huge store.  One to answer questions and the other, a newbie, to run the cash register.  Disaster.

              Home Depot (at that time) was amazing and wonderful, sort of what Loews advertises itself to be.

              "Our problem is not that the glass is half empty or half full, but that the 1% claims that it is their glass." ---Stolen from a post on Daily Kos

              by jestbill on Mon Oct 28, 2013 at 11:33:55 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

      •  how does Gresham's law even apply here?... (0+ / 0-)

        ..."bad money drives out good money.” I'm not sure I get your meaning. As it applies to running a business, I didn't know there's such an animal as "bad money". I've never had a creditor refuse my payment or any business refuse to sell me their wares saying, "I'm sorry sir, we can't accept your bad money".

        "I wish to have no connection with any ship that does not sail fast, for I intend to go in harm's way." John Paul Jones

        by ImpeachKingBushII on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 08:58:59 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Union. It's the (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    geez53, peregrine kate, DuzT, Farlfoto

    only way.  What's holding these people up?

    The banks have a stranglehold on the political process. Mike Whitney

    by dfarrah on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 06:13:14 PM PDT

    •  It's not bad enough yet. (6+ / 0-)
      What's holding these people up?
      Hopefully the next labor movement movement won't get to the stage of real violence when workers were truly starving and living on or near the street the last time. Their working conditions were daily life threatening, while the ownership class were sitting on top of the greatest wealth disparity in or history. Only half of that equation is fully exposed today.

      On our side, the bread line has been obfuscated and camouflaged by a snap card and fewer workers are actually killed or maimed on a regular basis.  But the biggest deterrent is self inflicted. Too many have bought the BS that being poor and underpaid is our fault. We should have gotten a degree or a degree in a better field or the rich truly are better humans.

      Way too much self doubt.

      21st Century America: The distracted, superficial perception of a virtual reality. Gettov Milawn

      by geez53 on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 06:39:27 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Jobs as something gifted to you by a boss (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        peregrine kate, nathanfl, Farlfoto, geez53

        I feel sorry for all these high school and college kids, busting their asses to get good grades and burnish those resumes. Because getting a good job is going to come down to luck for them. Whether they're lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, with a boss, or an HR department, that likes them enough to give them the gift of a job, to let their whim smile on them.

        A livelihood should NOT be something the Job Fairy leaves under your pillow! It should NOT be a lucky four-leaf clover. How is anybody supposed to develop any skills or make any real contribution to the world?

        Real Democrats don't abandon the middle class. --John Kerry

        by Lucy Montrose on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 08:17:34 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Hey DarkSyde (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nominalize, Farlfoto

    can you provide us with stats and links on those points on  wage and employment machinations and manipulations? I'd love to bring that up to someone in our community governance when a call center is touted as the next great jobs boon (we have two already).


  •  There has to be some kind of revolution. (4+ / 0-)

    We can't live like this anymore.  I'm so disgusted with the whole system.  Politics/business in collusion to fuck the middle class.  How low can we go?

    •  Oh, the fix is coming. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      JG in MD, libnewsie

      As soon as they can get a computer to tell you how to find and watch that instruction video, the humans can all go home.

      Have you tried shutting your machine off and turning it back on?  Be sure to keep your anti-virus program up to date.  Have a nice day!

      "Our problem is not that the glass is half empty or half full, but that the 1% claims that it is their glass." ---Stolen from a post on Daily Kos

      by jestbill on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 07:14:25 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Sort of like... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        ...telephone operators were mostly replaced by self service? Would you really rather have to go through a human operator to call someone across the country?

        It's inevitable. Just as it was inevitable that technology was going to reduce the number of individuals working in agriculture from well over 80% of the working population to well under 5% today -- while producing more food per capita in the deal.

        •  Yeah. (0+ / 0-)

          I've been saying that's inevitable for 40 years.  The problem with it is the transition period.  Foresight is evermore in absence.

          Hindsight says that the farm programs were necessary--contemporary judgement not so much.

          Modern programs that would pay people not to grow things are silly.

          "Our problem is not that the glass is half empty or half full, but that the 1% claims that it is their glass." ---Stolen from a post on Daily Kos

          by jestbill on Mon Oct 28, 2013 at 11:20:21 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Lost Mine in the Late 90's to Worker Half My Age (10+ / 0-)

    it was computer tech support so it paid at the high end of that range, though it was for the state and per an offer made to me by a private contractor my state pay was definitely under what I could've gotten privately. The state was indeed purging older workers for younger even then. So there was no way I was going to be employed again after that.

    I love the artisan work I do now, it's unique and appreciated by my small market. But I have to do it sitting alone in the house. I did customer service over 20 years because even though I'm not especially outgoing, I enjoy working with people and helping them solve problems and where possible make themselves self-sufficient.

    The pay was better, the benes definitely better, and all told I'd be better off going back to my craft as a small volume paying hobby and rejoining the workforce and community doing customer service.

    I even liked my CS 1st job which was nontechnical, it involved taking phone complaints from people who'd run into law enforcement issues. I was sworn at 4 hours a day. I decided to take the customer side which they never expected. Then we'd move right on to the resolution process. I never got upset or frustrated more than around once a month; any job can do that to people.

    I don't understand the style of corporate customer service designed to stymie the customer. When I started doing my artisan work full time my volume went up enough that there arose a certain rate of problems. Having had the experience in CS I just took the position that the customer is right, and I'd either offer advice or make an exchange or refund. If the piece was sound it'd go out to the next buyer, if problematic I'd fix it but I wouldn't be spending 20 minutes arguing and getting an acid stomach. Plus it generates great word of mouth marketing at no cost.

    Oh and my complainers are almost never wrong. Sometimes they're misunderstanding something but if they feel like complaining there's virtually always a sound reason for it.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 06:18:57 PM PDT

    •  That makes too much sense, Gooserock (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      raboof, Pariah Dog

      That kind of common-sense business method is so 20th century.  Instead, you should  re-synergize your output strategies to capitalize from information asymmetry, and maximize your revenue generation in the short term.  

      Then, you sell the business at a high price to some sucker out there, who'll be begging to sell it back to you at pennies on the dollar when the customers stop coming back.

      After that success, you re-brand with something sounding like integrity, and voilà!  Repeat the cycle.  People forget the old brand ever existed, and if they remember, you can just blame the sucker.

      Oh, and try to get out of paying taxes while you're at it, and be sure to tell people that taxes punish your hard-earned success.  It's only the American way!  

      Republicans have tried to repeal the ACA 42 times now, knowing it would fail. That means we have a party full of people who don't learn from repeating the same mistake 42 times.

      by nominalize on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 10:46:45 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Late 90's eh? (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Yep. The first thing that popped into my head concerning this diary was that this problem has been going on way longer than the recent Great Recession. As I recall, customer service started slightly sucking back in the late 80's. By the late 90s it was all but non-existant, having largely been replaced with "if this, push 1, if that, push 2 NOW."

      Still there are situations that simply don't lend themselves to push 1, push 2, and therefore require actual human beings. And that's where the "hey all they have to do is anwer the phone" mentality of corporate MBAs came into play. First we off-shored the jobs to India until enough customers started bitching about not being able to understand what the customer service reps were saying. Then it was Mexico. Now most of the jobs seem to have returned to the good old USA, but has service improved? Not much.

      Thanks to this diary I now understand why.

      My phone company is one of the worst. Every time my net connection went to hell (which is often enough to be annoying) I'd get some kid whose basis of expertise obviously came from RPGing on their own comp.

      I found a little out-of-the-way FB post by a former employee who revealed most of the reps came directly out of McDonalds with no further training at all. I actually had one tell me the company didn't support my OS and I needed to upgrade - even after I told her I'd been online just five minutes before! Didn't phase her a bit. Obviously my system had crashed and I should go out and buy a new computer.

      This company finally understood their equipment is for shit a year or so ago. Now when the connection fails we're back to "push one, push two." The connection is reset and presto - you're online again.

      Meddle not in the affairs of dragons... for thou art crunchy and good with ketchup.

      by Pariah Dog on Mon Oct 28, 2013 at 05:11:17 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  We live in the mountains (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DuzT, peregrine kate, Pariah Dog

    our connection sucks... until the fiber optics that President Obama made a priority out here in the boon docks start up next year.... the phone company's computers say we do not have dsl service available here, even though we tell them our neighbors....farther down the road... have the service we want... not even the supervisor can help....they tell us to flag down one of their trucks when we see one!

    "Compassion is the keen awareness of the interdependence of all things." Thomas Merton

    by createpeace on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 06:28:33 PM PDT

  •  Yay DarkSyde. Spot on. To our detriment. :( n/t (0+ / 0-)

    "Daddy, every time a bell rings, a Randian Libertaria­n picks up his Pan Am tickets for the Libertaria­n Paradise of West Dakota!"

    by unclebucky on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 06:37:27 PM PDT

  •  Precarity (4+ / 0-)

    In many European countries, call centers are also the centers for organizing against precarity, which encompasses most of the phenomena you mention.  Unfortunately,unlike European working people, American workers are generally unfamiliar with ideas like class consciousness, social solidarity, and the existence of the proletariat, never mind the precariat.

    “Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral. ” ― Paulo Freire

    by ActivistGuy on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 06:41:26 PM PDT

  •  CS jobs (5+ / 0-)

    Boy, you really hit a nerve.  My job was going to be outsourced (off-shored they call it) to India. My wife took a great position so I was able to resign. We had to train our replacements that had no experience. 5 hours a day for 4 months before they went live.  I could train an illiterate high school drop-out  from the worst part of the inner city if I had the same amount of time.  Oh, and a few years ago the city gave our company a multi million dollar tax break not to move.  Recently I heard that the Swiss (my company was Swiss) government was thinking about giving every Swiss citizen the equivalent of USD 37,000.00 yearly.  See where our tax money went?  You are correct.  You could write volumes about this subject.

  •  Young mgrs for older employees (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kkkkate, libnewsie, liz dexic
    Promoting young, inexperienced employees at historically low wages to junior supervisory positions over experienced, educated employees.
    Boy, have I blamed myself for years on this one. Years ago I worked summers at McDonalds, and I was back in the kitchen. After I mastered the kitchen I wanted to learn something new, so I asked my manager if I could be trained on the registers. He said "People skills. You need more of them."

    At the time, I wondered: what made him so sure? What made him just look at me and decide I wasn't good enough for registers or drive thru?

    After a few more similar experiences in jobs and life, I began to internalize it. There was something wrong with my personality, I decided. There had to be a reason people weren't going out of their way to offer me leadership opportunities. And when I got shot down a lot for having the temerity to ask for more; mainly on the grounds of some subjective, intuitive reason on the part of the person making the judgment.
    How many times have employees yearned for more at work, only to be told they're not ready? And if they press the issue as to how does when know when one is ready, they get some message about mindset or intangibles or "You just know"?

    Sure, I was a fast learner-- I had taught myself just about everything in the kitchen by observation, and I was already in college by then. But here were authorities at work, treating me like none of that mattered. That their subjective evaluation of my people skills was more important.

    Hell, in dating we are taught that lack of a response is a response. And if people are not offering me opportunities, if they don't just automatically think me qualified; then I'd better treat it like dating and consider myself unworthy. Because I felt that in order to shed a possible reputation of being socially awkward (a death sentence in the career world) I had to go above and beyond the call of duty to prove I wasn't. And that meant beating myself up more, self-denying more, walking away from opportunities more.

    I wondered how they arrived at their decisions. Was it the way I looked? (Maybe-- even when young, I was never conventionally attractive or particularly gender conforming.) Could they feel my whole life experiences on me-- could they feel I hadn't dated in high school, had been kind of a loner since middle school? Did I have to have a perfect social life in order to be thought worthy of working with the public? Because mind-body connection, one person's negative moods spoiling the morale of a whole group, etc. And because those criticizing me sounded so certain.

    So I came to the conclusion that those younger people were simply better with people. That they radiated some kind of socially desirable aura I didn't have. Which led to my mistrusting my own instincts... because I would compare myself to the fortunate ones, and more of them were like me than not. But my bosses were more experienced, in life as well as in the workplace; their certainty came on sounder footing than I wanted to admit, I told myself. I didn't matter that I saw little difference between the fortunate employees and me; that had to be a blind spot, a lack of self-awareness on my part. The world saw me as lacking in the intangibles department, lacking fundamentally as a human being; and no amount of education or skill was going to overcome that.

    It killed my hustle and my belief in myself. To this day I lack the ability to present my strengths and weaknesses in a tight elevator pitch. Because I don't want to know what my strengths and weaknesses are. I'm afraid to choose a path and be locked into it, discouraged from picking up new skills, and withheld the opportunity to pick up new experiences because of some well-meaning boss or HR person believing "it's just not a fit for me" or "not being myself".

    Over the years I came to see that locking employees into one skill set is a labor problem-- not a personal problem. That if I had been a socially irresistible person, always put out in the public eye; eventually I would have gotten tired of that too, and longed for some time in the back office. A little of everything-- that was all I wanted. To get good, through practice, at as many things as possible. Apparently for corporations that's too much to ask.

    Real Democrats don't abandon the middle class. --John Kerry

    by Lucy Montrose on Sun Oct 27, 2013 at 08:03:52 PM PDT

  •  Companies focus on new sales (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    not customer service.  They never hire enough CS people.  In the last 2 years EVERY single time I've called Customer Service or Tech help I've gotten "We're sorry, but we are experiencing higher than usual call volume..."  Sorry, but that's clearly false.  They've made a conscious decision to not hire enough people and the few they hire, they pay poorly.

    I distrust those people who know so well what God wants them to do, because I notice it always coincides with their own desires. -- Susan B. Anthony

    by bluestatesam on Mon Oct 28, 2013 at 04:24:29 AM PDT

    •  You got that right (0+ / 0-)

      I don't think I've called CS once in the last two years without having to listen to a sales pitch BEFORE getting around to the reason I called.

      Meddle not in the affairs of dragons... for thou art crunchy and good with ketchup.

      by Pariah Dog on Mon Oct 28, 2013 at 05:20:27 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  It Happens In Blue States, Too (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Specifically, New Jersey. My first "serious" tech job (and the quotes will make sense in a moment) was in 2002-2003, doing internal tech support for a very major electronics company who may or may not rhyme with "bony". We supported every employee at the company for all of their general tech support needs (printer issues, viruses, software support, dial-up VPN problems, broken hardware, turning it off and on again). We were often supporting them on systems and software we had never seen or used in person. No training or tools were provided. Some of them only spoke Japanese. None of us did.

    The thing is, we were not technically employees there. We were subcontracted through another tech firm. The employer paid them, and they issued "weekly" contracts to work at the job. Now, we were re-upped perpetually. So the "weekly" thing was bullshit. But it meant that they could get rid of anyone whenever they wanted by simply not re-upping their contract. And did they ever.

    We were also being paid very low-rent wages (because the company they subcontracted us through was taking sixty-six cents on the dollar for placing us, a fact we were not supposed to know). There was no such thing as a raise or a bonus, because we were weekly. And in the time I worked there (a year and a half, almost to the day) I know for a fact that they started paying less and less to the newer folks.

    Our only health care option was through the subcontracting company, because we were not technically employed by the people we worked for every day. The plan was so insanely expensive that it was cheaper for me to be on COBRA. Seriously. Re-read that last sentence.

    There were seven slots (to support every North American employee of one of the largest electronics companies in the world) for us to fill. I lasted eighteen months there. In that time, I saw well over twenty other employees cycle through those other slots. None of them even approached the time I spent there. A few were gone in months or weeks.

    Now, granted, a few of them were woefully unqualified. But many more might have made it with any training. And most just burned out. In the end, brain-fried apathy is what got me. But hey, that subcontractor could always just fill that seat with a new slab of phone-answering meat. So no one in charge really cared.

  •  Quick anti-sexist language tip! (0+ / 0-)
    They man everything from help desks for IT issues....
    Try "staff", "operate", or "run".  

    (I learned these helpful tricks from some old-school feminists back when we were working (unsuccessfully) to get the ERA ratified.  It's been helpful for 30+ years now!)

    "Push the button, Max!" Jack Lemmon as Professor Fate, The Great Race

    by bartcopfan on Mon Oct 28, 2013 at 11:24:39 AM PDT

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