Monday, July 30, 2012


Part of my duties for my new company is to update credit card details for people who have bought something from us. A hot water system, say. Or a set of solar panels. We offer a fairly simple repayment plan whereby the customer gives us a couple of hundred bucks and then pays the system off with monthly instalments over two years.

One of the conditions attached to this is that the repayments can only be set up to direct debit from a credit (or debit) card. So if someone wants this instalment plan option they can't make the payments over the counter at the post office, or via bpay. This is a fairly popular scheme so this means; lots of credit cards, lots of updates. People call in because they've changed banks, or their credit card has expired. Or...

THEM: Yeah, I got this text message from you asking me to call in.

ME: Oh yes?

THEM: Yeah.


ME: And what was it about?

THEM: Hey?

ME: What was the message about? We send a lot of those out, for lots of d-

THEM: Yeah, some shit about me credit card.

ME: Ok, right. So did you purchase something from us?

THEM: What's that?

ME: Did you purchase something from us? Did you, you know, buy something from us.

THEM: Yeah.

ME: And you're still paying it off?

THEM: Yeah.

At this point I get a few of the person's details and look them up in our accounts system.

ME: Right, so the reason we sent the text message was because the most recent payment hasn't come through to us.

THEM: How'dya mean?

ME: Well, we tried to debit a payment on the 13th and it was rejected by your bank.

THEM: (instantly hostile) Well why's that happened then? Whatd'ya mean rejected? There's nothing wrong with me card! What the bloody hell is going on?!

ME: Just like I said, we tried to take a payment fr-

THEM: Well there must be something wrong with your system! Or the bank.

ME: -om... Sorry, if you just let me finish. This has probably got a really simp-

THEM: My credit is good! I've never had a problem in me life! I wish I'd never got caught up with you people. Nothing but a fuckin' hassle from day one!

ME: -le explanation. Well, don't take it that way. One payment hasn't come through, there's no need to panic.

THEM: Oh yeah? That's easy for you to say. That's easy for you to say, mate, when you're not the one being accused of something. I don't know what you're tryin' to say about me credit rating or me account or whatever but I don't like the way this conversation is going.

ME: Well... (lost for words, brief pause)... Er... I'm not trying to say anything except we didn't get your last payment. I mean, most likely there's just some change with your card? Normally it's just that you have a new expiry date or a card number.

THEM: Mate, I haven't had any fucking changes with me card or anything else. Everything is exactly the same way that it's always been. Same card, same bank, same details. Same everything!

ME: So there haven't been any changes to anything with your credit card?

THEM: Nup.

ME: Everything's the same?

THEM: Yep.

ME: Well.... Yeah well, I guess it is a bit confusing then.

I double check and confirm from the info in our system that the most recent debit has not come through. This system that we use is very reliable.

ME: Or maybe there wasn't enough money in the account wh-

THEM: Fucks sake mate, there's plenty of money in that account. Plenty! So what else have you got?

ME: Well... let's recap. There's money in the account?

THEM: Yeah.

ME: And nothing has changed with the card?

THEM: Nup.

ME: No changes at all. Nothing different?

THEM: (angry) No, I said.

ME: You haven't changed cards or gotten a new card?

THEM: Well yeah, I got a new card.

There is silence at this point. At least on the phone. I've hit the 'mute' button on my console so he can't hear me going 'You fuck faced fuck head! No fucking changes!! What's a new fucking card then!!!'

I then unmute myself and, in a tone of sober derangement, continue:

ME: New card?

THEM: Yeah, I lost me old one a few weeks ago.

ME: I see... (another session in mute, more yelling)... Well that'll explain it then. You'll have a new card number and your old card will have cancelled so that's what will have stopped your payment with us.

THEM: Really? I thought the bank would have just told everyone my new number, automatically.

ME: Fuck me. What planet do they do that on?

THEM: Huh?

ME: No they don't do that.

THEM: So I have to tell everyone myself? Fuck me! That must be a new policy.

ME: No it's always been like that.

THEM: Is that right? That's a bit shit on their part. I suppose you want the new number then.

ME: Yeah, new card number thanks.

THEM: I'll get me wallet, hang on a sec.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Dinosaur Head

At the desk next to me, I can hear a conversation getting out of hand.

My neighbour on that side, Simon, is a young bloke, 22, who normally seems disinterested enough in what he's doing to not get too upset with our customers. But he's clearly struck one that's getting to him. 

Even though I haven't really been paying attention, I know he's been on the call for some time. And his voice has slowly been rising in pitch. And he's been using some of the tell-tale phrases:

'Yes I know that, but...'

'If you'd just let me speak...'

'No, that's not correct, it's actually the other way around... '

Which communicate to the rest of us in the universal service industry language that he's stuck with a right cunt.

Finally, after several more minutes of this grim one sided conversation, he admits a minor defeat.

'All right, well, look, I'll need to check that with my supervisor. I'll just put you on hold for a moment.'

And he flicks the relevant button on his phone, pulls his headset off and lets out a groan. 

'Faaarrrk,' he says with feeling, running his hands through his hair. 'This guy is killing me.'

It takes me a second or two to realise that he's probably addressing this remark to me. I'm the one sitting closest to him and no one else in range is paying any attention. 

'Oh yeah?'

'Yeah. He's got all these old bills and he's arguing over every charge on every single one. I spend five minutes arguing with him about one charge on one bill and then when I finally start to talk him round to the point where he can understand it, he then jumps onto the next charge and we start all over again. And his bills have been recalculated and reissued any number of times, probably because he keeps ringing up and complaining, so that the whole thing is a mess. I'm confused now!'

Simon gets up and goes in search of a supervisor, a person referred to in our current office as a Senior. The Seniors fill a middle role between the regular floor staff and the actual team leaders and offer advice, assistance, do the rosters and field complaints. Leaving the role of team leader somewhat obscure, as these would all be tasks done by the T/L's in other offices I've worked in.

In any case, Simon disappears for a few moments and then comes back with Cara, one of the Seniors who sits nearby. Cara is in her thirties, a bit overweight, and is friendly, if always appearing harried. She listens patiently while Simon sputters out the situation:

'... high bill... doesn't agree... recalculation... charges... can't understand... not listening... ombudsman... threats... won't pay... refuses... demands... yelling...'

Cara nods.

'I see. So, in a nutshell then... what does this guy want?'

'Well... I guess he wants a reduction in his bill. He thinks it's too high.'

'And what do you think?'

'Well I think it's probably right. It's a bit confusing, but I think it's right now. It's just hard, with all the revised bills that have been issued, to explain it to him easily. There's lots of cancelled charges and miscellaneous adjustments and stuff like that, that are on the bill that I'm having trouble explaining. But those things are on there to get the balance right, and I think it is right now.'

'Well if you think it's right then you just have to tell him that.'

'I have been telling him that. I've been talking to him for forty minutes now.'

'Well that's too long. And he's been on hold for five minutes,' Cara stares intently at the display on Simon's phone, 'and that's too long too. You need to get back to him and explain it, then get him off the line. Okay?'

'But how?'

'You need to explain it him.'

'But I need you to help me find a solution.'

'Look, that's not my job, to help you find a solution. You need to find the solution, that's your job. That's what we pay you for.'

Simon looks a bit stunned by this. His mouth opens slightly but he doesn't say anything. You can almost hear him thinking;

'Then what's your job?'

And maybe also,

'You fucking bitch! I hate you! I hate all of you! FUCK YOU!!'

But he doesn't say this, or anything at all. He nods his head, looking very unhappy, and turns back to his headset and his console. From where I sit I can see the hold button blinking on his phone, red, very ominous. 

Cara says, 'If you need me to find something in the system or you can't get all of the information you need, then come and ask me, but I'm not here just to break bad news to people when you've already worked out they owe us money. Just be firm, concise and get him off the phone, okay? That's it.'

Simon nods.


As that does appear to be it, Cara returns to her desk and I go back to what I was doing, which was staring out the window. We're on the 8th floor downtown and have a fascinating view of the roof of a conference centre, which is strewn with a bizarrely varied array of garbage. People who sit on my side of the building spend hours trying to work out what each individual item actually is.

'It looks like a plastic dinosaur head. But it couldn't be a dinosaur head, could it?!'

'I fucking hate this place,' Simon says.

Friday, July 6, 2012


An older woman calls up to apply for the Government concession that's available on electricity bills.

From other jobs I've had, I think of this as a pretty simple bit of business. All that should be needed is to note the woman's pension card number on her account, and the concession gets automatically subtracted from her bill each quarter.

And this is the case here too.

But what I'm not expecting is this 'script' that I have to read out to her, as part of the process. A little prompt box flashes up on my screen telling me I can't save her concession details until I've read this thing out.

'Script?' she says. She sounds about 108 years old, her voice throaty and harsh. 'What cha mean?'

'I mean... Well.... it's kind of like a statement, I suppose. Almost like, terms and conditions?'

'I see.'

The 108 year old says 'I see' in a way that conveys very precisely her view that the world long ago went completely mad.

'So you just listen to this statement and then tell me that you agree at the end.'


Now I've never read this particular script out before, so I look it up in the computer and I get a pop up with what I'm supposed to read. A note, in heavy bold type, at the top tells me that it needs to be read out VERBATIM.

Which, from a quick scan of the document, is going to be problematic. I mean, it's three lengthy paragraphs for a start. And even from skim reading I can tell it's couched in inpenetrable gibberish speak, so the old duck I have on the phone is not going to have the faintest about what I'm saying anyway. But still, I don't make the rules.

Please be advised that the following statement is a convenor of, and forms part of, a binding oral agreement, to the effect of which you are indicating your wish to apply for a concessional rate of electricity supply, this and all subsequent concessions to be applied to your account from the State Government of Victoria, but applicated via standing business agreements with individual electricity suppliers under Section 13 of the Human Service Act of the Commonwealth of Victoria 1981.

I pause for breath.

The old duck goes, 'Hmph' again.

Further, by indicating that you wish to enter into the aforementioned agreement for concessional electricity supply, you also accept that your electricity retailer or the State Government or the Federal Government or any other affiliated agency may use your concession card information, or any other information that may be relevant to matters at this time or any other future times, access to this information overseen by the relevant department secretaries or the corporate governance officers of your electricity retailer or any other third parties who may have access to the aformentioned information, third party access as outlined by the Federal Privacy Act 1992.

'Well I don't really unders-'

'No, no! I'm not finished yet. But we're nearly there.'

Deep breath.

Further, by making this application for concessional electricity supply you agree that you are also making a declaration that neither you, nor any other persons at your residence, whether related to you or not, nor any other people related to you, whether sharing your residence or not, nor any other person known to you in any capacity, whether related to you, or not related to you, or residing with you, or not, or living here or elsewhere or living at all, or dead, or existent, or not existent, or wearing a hat, or bare headed, or owning a cat, or any sort of pet, or not, or time travelling to the past, or using portals to access other realms, or not, or following the football because they love it, or just taking an interest to pass the time, or eating cake at breakfast, or walking down the street, or reading magazines, or not, or doing none of any of these things, or all of them, or any combination therein, that none of these people, to the best of your knowledge, will try and access your concessional electricity supply on your behalf or without your knowledge or in any way do anything that may be constituted as the doing of things, under penalties as stipulated in the Commonwealth Doing Act, 1989.

We pause here.

'So.... do you accept?'

'What?' And it comes out like a harsh squawk.

'The, er, terms I just read to you. Do you accept?'

'Do I accept... what? That... thing you just read out?'


'If I don't accept it then I don't get my concession, is that it?'

'That's right.'


'Well then I accept. But I don't understand any of it.'

'Well look, I don't want to be one of those people that says, 'It doesn't matter if you don't understand it as long as you say yes,' but... it doesn't matter if you don't understand it as long as you say yes. I mean, I didn't understand it. I have no idea what I just read to you!'

'I see.' And this said with the same connotation as previously.

'But I do know that if you accept then you'll have fifty dollars off your next bill.'

'All right then. I accept.'

Some of my new colleagues have told me that they have this concession script memorised, so they don't have to look it up anymore. I hope I never get to that point.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


The company I work for has been in the news a bit.

In Queensland, the newly elected conservative Government has vowed to freeze electricity prices, at least for twelve months. As company's like mine factor these annual price increases into their profit projections, this is a big deal for us.

And so the company comes up with an alternate plan. If we can't put up the price of electricity then we'll jack up the cost of having the electricity connected to each person's house, what's called the 'Supply Charge,' a largely overlooked fee on every electricity bill in Australia (so overlooked that even the Queensland Government ignored it in  their price freeze policy). My company decides to put this up by nearly 50%.

The Queensland Government responds to this by telling the media that they're going to cancel any contracts they have with us for electricity supply to Government projects. To which we respond by telling the media that in that case the Government had better lawyer up, for we're not just coming back for our $1500, we're coming back for everything. Nasty things are said on both sides, threats made, ultimatums given, talking heads consulted, and all of it given daily front page treatment by the Queensland media.

Which is where I come in.

For as well as answering a few basic questions about solar electricity systems and occasionally tapping a button to release a pellet of food, while I'm on the job I'm also expected to be a mouthpiece for the company I work for. A kind of minimalistic spokesman with no real investment in the organisation, but who is nevertheless expected to defend it's every decision to the death.

Like jumping the Supply Charge in Queensland by 50%. Somehow I'm supposed to explain this. And with the amount of media attention it's had there, I get plenty of opportunities to do so.

'I just read in the paper that you lot are going to put our bloody electricity prices up by 800%!'

'The Premier vowed to fight what you're doing and I think he has to. He can't let you people get away with this!'

'I can't believe what you people are doing with these prices. I think it's disgusting!'

'How can you people justify putting prices up by that much when the consumer price index only shifted by 2.6% last fiscal year?'

These type of complaints often seem to have some reference to 'you people' in them. 'You people' are doing this and 'you people' are doing that. It's such a common turn of phrase that I often forget that they're actually referring to me. I'm one of 'you people'. But when it's early in the day and my first Coke hasn't kicked in and I'm only sort of half absorbing what they're saying to me, it's easy for me to start day dreaming about 'you people'; imagining a kind of shadowy army of sinister corporate operatives in suits and 50s style hats, like the cast of Mad Men only gone bad, all of them working discretely and relentlessly towards their overall goal of over charging people for their basic services. 

But I can't day dream about this indefinitely. After all, I'm being paid to say... something.

'I just read in the paper that you lot are going to put our bloody electricity prices up by 800%!'

Well that's just not so. The price increases we've put forth are only going to be 50% across the next year. So this actually represents a cut in prices.... That's right, a cut.... A substantial one.... Well,  we're looking at a cut of 750%... That's right... That's calculated on the forward projections of your own estimates based on the figures that you've just given me as quoted by the media in today's press and ignoring all other assumptions and configurations.

'The Premier vowed to fight what you're doing and I think he has to. He can't let you people get away with this!'

The Premier and the State Government actually regulate utility pricing... Well, they control all the levers of the pricing mechanisms... Right, so when the Premier says he's going to fight us, what he's actually saying is that he's going to fight himself.... I know, it doesn't make much sense to me either.

'I can't believe what you people are doing with these prices. I think it's disgusting!'

I certainly understand where you're coming from and I know exactly what you mean... Well, I have to cope with the same price increases myself.... It's something that effects everyone in Queensland... I live in Red Hill.... Yeah, that's right, Brisbane.... Well that's right, the city is expensive... Yeah, this increase doesn't help!

'How can you people justify putting prices up by that much when the consumer price index only shifted by 2.6% last fiscal year?'

Dude, I get paid about a dollar an hour to field these questions. Watch Q and A if you want some answers.

And so on into the afternoon.

The point is, that my employer has me there really as a kind of roadblock. A deadend. Something for people to butt their heads against. A lot of the customers who ring up would know more about the pricing mechanisms and regulatory framework around electricity costs than I do, but they still want to hear the company line.

And as long as I say something, and that something isn't 'suffer in yer jocks,' then they just seem to accept whatever I've told them. They grouse, they complain, they grumble, they say 'you people' and then they say 'Thanks very much' and hang up. Some of them might take their business to another electricity company, but those other company's are pretty much like mine with prices essentially the same. So while it might make them feel better, it doesn't actually change their circumstances.

The whole thing conforms to a very set pattern; company announcement, government announcement, government threat, company threat, media, media, public complaint, company gibberish (supplied by me, in this instance), status quo. You can see this everywhere, playing out across every industry. It seems like an awful lot of time and energy, for not very much result...

... and then the customer hangs up and goes and watches some daytime TV, I take my next call, my company's share price moves 1/7 of a point on the Dow and it's secret army of Mad Men operatives continues their nefarious work.

Monday, July 2, 2012

4 to 8

The previous Friday, it sounded very straightforward.

Subject: Move to 8th Floor

Please be advised that on Monday we will be moving from the 4th to the 8th floors. You should all have been given your new seating assignments but a copy of this is attached. Any work related resources - files, folders, manuals - that you wish to have moved can be placed in one of the marked boxes at the end of each row. Please ensure this material is labelled - Name, Employee Number, Seat Number - clearly. This material will be moved over the weekend and should be on your new desk next week. Each new desk will also be set up with a PC, keyboard and mouse, multi line phone and a headset. While we anticipate a smooth transition on Monday, we request that staff arrive 15 minutes early, if possible, to ensure that the day gets under way with as little disruption as possible. 

Have a great weekend!

So it probably comes as no surprise that the above description of our move to the 8th floor bares about as much resemblance to reality as Game of Thrones does to the history of Europe; all the elements are there, but scrambled and rearranged to a point where they become something other.

When I walk in at 8.55 - five minutes early, so not a bad effort for me - it's to find not a smooth transition, and not a day getting underway with little disruption, but something resembling the last day of school before the Christmas hols. Kids... sorry, my co-workers mill about in groups, giggling and chatting and eating chocolate. A lot of traffic is moves on the walkway to and from the lunch room. There's a general hubbub in the air, the kind of excitable noise that comes from seventy different overlapping conversations. No one that I can see, at least initially, is sitting at their desk working.

A number of workmen in overalls are dotted amongst my co-workers. Some of them heft the boxes of gear that had been collected on Friday (the ones that were meant to have been delivered over the weekend), while others appear to be engaged in setting up workstations, connecting desks to cables and cables to sockets (as was also meant to have been done over the weekend). One of my team leaders hustles past with a grim look on their face, carrying a wad of brightly coloured wires and a manilla envelope.

So there's not much for it.

I know where my new desk is so I go there and sit. Or, rather, I go there and sit after I nick a chair from an unoccupied desk having found mine missing. My phone appears to be missing as well but I figure I better not just appropriate one of those, as I'm sure they need to be set up in a certain way or assigned to my desk or coded in or something. Instead, I flag down one of team leaders rushing past and ask them what to do about it.

'Just grab a phone from a vacant desk, eh?' they say, before scampering off, head down.

Which serves to remind me of yet one more way that public and private organisations differ.

In the public service, everything is mapped out, planned, structured. You wouldn't be allowed to pick up a phone, much less attempt to carry it to your desk, plug it in and start using it, at least not on your own. There would be technicians for that sort of thing, specialists. With a rigidly proscribed work manual to follow. And regardless of how long this might take and how long you might have to wait, this would be the only way your phone could be installed. In the private sector it's very different and very much everyone for themselves, anything goes, survival of the fittest. If you don't have phone you better find one, and quick! Before the bloke next to you grabs it.

So this is what I do.

And I'm not the only one.

Word is spreading.

We have staggered starts in my new office, anywhere from 8 to 11, so a good number of staff on the 8th floor still haven't arrived. And there's no one, no authority, to prevent these poor buggers from having their new desks looted. For while a lot of desks haven't been set up at all, a number of them do have equipment on them, possibly left by the previous occupants, like a defeated army abandoning their weapons in their hurry to flee the city. And these desks quickly become the focus of attention.

With each passing minute you can see more and more people at it. Swapping keyboards and snaffling wireless peripherals and unscrewing document holders. Anything that's lying about is fair game. Not wanting to work very much but also not wanting to have a non functional work station and so be assigned some even more degrading task as a fill in, I quickly join the fray. In a few minutes I have not only my phone but a new headset, mouse and a weird kind of illuminated plastic bubble that has our company name on it and whose function remains obscure.

'Are you ready to go?' still yet another T/L asks me, indicating my plunder.

'Yeah, I think I've got everything.'


And they look very relieved before they hurry off again.

Of course, no one has yet shown me how to log into the phone system and register for the queue so I can get some calls, but I don't mention this. Not yet.

One thing at a time.