Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Why this was a good day

There's been stress from multiple directions throughout the last few months -- the usual challenges, as well as a sense of things unfinished, unaccomplished, and stalled.

Overtime (more on that later) is basically what keeps me afloat financially.  Some afternoons I simply cannot stand to be in the office one minute beyond clockout, but other times it's refreshingly peaceful to have the place to myself for a couple of hours, with the quiet necessary to think and finish tasks.

Wednesdays, I never work overtime.  This is mainly because the cleaning crew comes in and I just prefer to leave them to their business without making them feel like they have to chat with me.  I'd rather they didn't anyway -- I don't need any new friends -- so to make life easier all around, I just go.

Due to this early arrival home on Wednesdays, I've scheduled this as the one day when The Phone Folks can reach me.

The Phone Folks (a name I made up) sell a product that enables you to make robo-calls.  My neighborhood association bestowed this system on me so that I can contact local residents with announcements of meetings, special events, and problems such as crime alerts, etc   I first acquired the apparatus (including the laptop that contained the software) late last summer.   First I had to set it up with everyone's phone number, but  that didn't take very long.  Then it was time to test it out.  I didn't even have the slightest idea of how to activate the system, and neither did the two ladies who hooked it up for me.  The system was purchased a year or two ago, but the former president of the association never bothered to use it, claiming one problem or another.  So finally it ended up in my house.

Another week or two passed, in which we were waiting for the non-profit to give us the contact info for tech support.  Finally, I got it, and called them one weekend, figuring I'd get an answer, or at least a call back, right away.

Nope.  Nada.  It was Thursday before they called back, leaving a voice message.

This began an odyssey of approximately 4 months, in which I discovered that their customer service was eerily similar to that of PayPal.  They have their own particular hours, which are very limited indeed, and getting help from them consists of them calling you when they damn well feel like it.

I did get one support guy, who gave me the basics of where to go on the screen to make calls.  Great.  I hung up, recorded my little test message, and proceeded to call the executive team to see how well it worked.

It didn't.  The screen said "dialing...calling..." but nobody reported getting a call of any sort.  No hangups, no clicky noises, not even ringing.  Okey-dokey, it was back to tech support.  Silly me, expecting them to pick up or call back.  A voice message got me a response mid-week.

This went on and on, week after week, straight through the end of the year.  Email turned out to be the best mode of communication, at least in terms of scheduling.  I was very careful to cc: the nonprofit that works with our neighborhood association, since they're the ones who shelled out for the equipment.  For several weeks in a row, I was promised a call on Wednesday, and then something would happen and we'd agree to try again.  "You can solve most problems online; just visit our website!" they suggested.  Where have I heard that before?  Aaaagh!  I did try the website, but as expected, they only had answers for common questions.  Nothing to fit my situation.  I knew some wire had to be crossed somewhere, or perhaps a configuration needed to be tweaked.  If I could only get a reasonably sentient being on the horn in real time... but December was destined to be a month spent playing Phone Tag with the Phone Folks.

They'd call me when I was within a block of my house; I'd rush in the door (literally -- I am not making this up -- shedding my coat, purse and shoes in the hallway leading to the room where the equipment is installed, while poor, patient, obsessive-neatnik Carl trailed behind me, picking them up and putting them away), and call them back, only to get voice mail and no communication until the following day.  Or, I'd get home in plenty of time and then sit by the phone like a high school sophomore waiting for a call from her dream date.  At least, thanks to their ridiculous schedule, I never had to wait past 7pm, because that's when they ceased their service hours!

A couple of times I couldn't be home, even though I had planned to be.  Especially toward the end of December when the pace at work picked up and I would have fallen irretrievably behind by leaving early.  Besides, I rationalized, the Phone Folks weren't paying me overtime.  Or anything, for that matter.

At last, hallelujah, the stars aligned and they called me tonight, when I was actually home.  Turns out, the problem was a little more complicated than the reps had tried to make me believe.  The initial setup involved two cords, a pink one and a green one, which were simply in the wrong position vis-a-vis one another.  Then, once we got a dial tone and the sound of numbers being dialed, it required several minutes' worth of further investigation to find where some of the settings needed to be adjusted.  So the system works.  It really does.  I called a few of my neighborhood cronies, who of course couldn't understand why this strange mechanical voice was talking to them.  Oh, well, that's for me to work out.  I can handle it from here; just needed some guidance for the first steps.

...But that wasn't the only thing that made this a good day.

If there's a feeling that's even better than accomplishment, it's vindication.  Today at work, the regional manager ("Manny") was on hand to help us with the last hanging threads of year-end reporting.  Manny's a really good guy, not the corporate type.  At least, not yet.  He's actually learning the processes that have had all of us stymied, and cheerfully shares his new knowledge with us anytime he visits.  He's an energetic, positive force and I find myself getting a lot more done on days when he comes around.  Not because he hovers and nags like so many managers do, but because he genuinely wants to help and knows how to get things done more quickly and easily.

This morning Manny came in to give us our new-year pep talk  We could all hear sprinkles of corporate-speak in his words, the usual crap about how the top executives "give so much" and the least we can do is "help them achieve their goals" (of getting their kids into Harvard and adding onto their garages to accommodate the next two Jaguars, but I digress).  The guys in the back got one lecture, and the front office got another.  Manny, who I hope never loses his spontaneity, said "Well, I realize everybody's working hard.  We're all giving 100 percent.  But then, we're also getting fair pay for the work we do.  Except Volly.  Volly isn't getting paid fairly, but I think we're gonna see what we can do about that."  

Finally.  The truth.  That I'm one of the lowest-paid employees in the company for my job description, beyond anything they might say about "how bad the economy is."  He didn't say "Sorry we haven't given raises in two years," which is common knowledge in the company.  No, he mentioned me specifically.  Vindication.  Just thinking about it right now gives me this crazy little thrill.  I had suspected that my pay rate was lagging, even before the economy started to tank and over 100 employees were laid off.  One of the VPs was canned a couple of years ago, and he was known for unusually generous raises and bonuses (good for us), and overall wild spending (bad for him in the long run).  But since it's a private, family-owned company in a very red state, it's not that easy to get information about what you should be earning, compared with others in the field.  Other places I've worked publish the salary ranges for every job category.  Not this one.

The fact that they can even mention this tells me that the economy must be picking up.  It also explains why no one has said a peep about me putting in the kind of overtime I have been.  They probably suspect I'll go under without it.  Other employees are admonished to avoid overtime except at the busiest times of the year, because their wages are within realistic limits.  But I could probably pitch a tent in the break room and live at the place 24/7, as long as I had something to show for it in terms of work getting done.  I'm not complaining about the overtime.  But Manny's little throwaway line gives me more of a sense of someone's having dropped the ball, rather than a "let her eat cake" attitude.  It will be interesting to see what transpires in terms of correcting this little problem.  And when.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

How you didn't take a baseball bat to the Phone People is beyond me!

Skepticat said...

Good for you! I used to work for a "private, family-owned business in a red state" too and it is indeed hard to get information on anything. Genuine praise and reasonable compensation is often even more difficult to get.

I think those filthy, no-sun-ever-shines-here, corporate accounting offices really hurt my fight against mood disorder. I hope I never have to work somewhere shut away from the light again.