Shady Cable: The Tale of Mr. Tomkins

At Shady Cable, training was a cinch. Because I have grown up in the era of technology, computer prgrams seem to come easier for me. I loathe for the day that I look at something and it completely blows my mind as to what the eff is going on.

That being said, when you go through training at a cable company they neglect to tell you about the caliber of some of the callers. Some of them are CRAZY. I mean tin foil hat crazy. This my friends, is the tale of one such individual.

It was my first week on the floor and I was very green to the situations that I would be subjected to. I heard the beep on my end of the line signaling that I had a caller and I answered with the standard greeting that I was told to use.

“Thank you for calling Shady Cable, my name is Ali, how can I help you today?”

Little did I know that the caller was insane. He began to speak, in a deep velvety voice with traces of James Earl Jones and Tom Waits lulling me into a false sense of security. He then started to tell me about the most fantastic plot ever hatched by C.B.Radio.

He claimed that he was being monitored by THEM. He could never articulate just who it was. After about fifteen minutes of feeling genuine concern over the welfare of the man currently pouring out his troubles to me, I asked for his information. Mr. Tomkins* rambled off his information like it was old hat and it was then that it clicked in my mind. Something wasn’t right.

I pulled open his account and there were literally seven hundred and thirteen comments on his account (each one to signify one call) all regarding the “CB Gang” striking again. I then shifted to autopilot and added another note. After he FINALLY hung up, I stood up and looked over my cubicle. Three veteran employees were taking calls and trying not to laugh. It was then that I realized that I had been initiated.

During my time at Shady Cable, I fielded at least four calls from Mr. Tomkins. FOUR! Think about that. In a call center of at least eighty people on varying shifts, I got him four times. After my second call I spoke with a coworker about how to deal with him. Apparently, his hangup triggers were mentioning God and random noises.

The third and fourth calls were short as I would crinkle a plastic bag near the phone and when he shouted “DID YOU HEAR THAT?” my reply was “hear what?” He would then stutter for about twenty seconds before he said he had to go and released the call.

During a meeting with the local branch of Shady Cable, they confirmed the image of Mr. Tompkins I had in my head. He was an older black man with hair the height of Don King, and had a perpetual look of paranoia on his face. One even told me that when a tech went out to check his cable, there was chicken wire around his house with molded tin foil on the tips. I cannot confirm if any of this is true, but I would really like an illustration of this.

I still think about him and wonder if he’s still calling in.

*The name has been changed to cover my ass.*

Does It Feel Like Customer Service Doesn’t Care? It Should.

You don’t need to speak louder. I still won’t pay attention


NOW WITH RECORDING! That’s right folks! Feeling lazy? Just push play at the bottom of the post! 

I am sure everyone has dealt with customer service at some point in the last week (or maybe on a daily basis). If you are calling, chances are you are not speaking with someone that resides in the same region as you or even the same country.

That isn’t what my problem is. I don’t have a problem with someone answering my calls located in India. It sucks that on some level when you get someone with an accent unlike yours, your buttcheeks clench because you know how the call is going to go. You’re going to have to repeat yourself, they’re going to have to repeat themselves… It’s a clusterfuck of confusion.

Still not my issue. I actually consider myself to be VERY level headed when speaking to someone on the phone because I have been in that position before. Sadly, here is the truth. I am going to slide back into my former self and give you some unfortunate news in bulleted format.

Here are some reasons why customer service calls NEVER go the way you actually want them to. Some of these are strictly meant to explain cable (as that is my area of expertise).

1. The Previous Call – DUMBFACE McASSHOLESON
Regardless of what you think, you are not the first call this person has taken today, nor will you be the last. You may be a completely kind and generous person calling because you have a VALID reason to call, but that is not the case of every caller. When I worked for Shady Cable, the majority of my calls were incredibly abusive.

The calls that follow are then tainted. The representative begins every call with the assumption that there will be screaming, profanity, and blame placed on their shoulders. I don’t even mean the company’s shoulders. I mean that the person the customer has reached is Damian fucking Thorn (that’s an Omen reference for the kiddos).

I cannot tell you how many times I had been told “YOU ARE HORRIBLE AND ARE RUINING MY LIFE!” It would always flabbergast me that a complete stranger thought that they mattered enough for me to RUIN their lives by preventing them from watching reruns of Pyramid on GSN.

2. Personal Lives – ONLY HUMAN!
As much as every place you work at tells you to leave your personal lives at the door, life can hit you with unexpected twists and turns. If you have no ability to act like nothing is wrong, when you’re upset, your tone changes. Even if you are a good actor, if people call and scream at you it does get to you. I spent many an evening contemplating drawing a hot bath, sliding in, then pulling in my DVR and electrocuting myself.

3. This Is Not The Apocalypse – OUTAGES
If service isn’t working and someone depends on cable services to enrich their daily lives there is an extreme sense of entitlement.

Let me clarify. Cable services are considered entertainment and NOT a utility. Utilities are things like electricity, heat, water, phone. THOSE have priorities. If a telephone pole goes down and the cable and phone are knocked out, electric lines have priority. Following their repairs is telephone. The cable company is not allowed to work on their lines before the telephone company UNLESS the subscribers in the area have VOIP (voice over internet protocol – that is phone through cable lines). Nowadays, most people have at least one cell phone in their homes, so it is still not a priority.

A call center rep cannot say “I’m sorry you can’t watch Dr. Phil to prove to yourself that you’re more of a winner than someone else.”

Oh and for those of you reading this and going “I run my business from my home”, DO NOT mention this if you are calling a cable company. They will then say “You are paying for cable on a personal level. You should not be running a business from that. I can connect you with our Business Sales Department if you would like.” As a customer service rep, I was ELATED when I got these calls because it left the petty bitch in me with a humongous smile on my face. Fuck you. You were mean to me. You’re going to have to pay three times what you’re paying now. Ha… ha ha… ha ha ha.

4. Lend Me Some Money? – THEY DON’T PAY ME ENOUGH FOR THIS SHIT!
The amount of money that someone is being paid in these positions is downright fucking pitiful. When I started, they offered me $10.50 an hour (in 2005). Coming from a video store where I was making $8.50/hr as an Assistant Manager, I was all “Fuck YEAH! LET’S DO THIS!”

Little did my naive mind know the amount of screaming my brain would have to endure. This “Psyche Warfare” (I’m gonna go ahead and pat myself on the back for that. I deserve it.) was only assuaged by copious amounts of alcohol. I would even try to feed my sadness at Denny’s, as my shift ended. So not only was I miserable, I was miserable WITH DIARRHEA!

5. I Understand Your Frustration – I’M NOT PAID TO CARE!
When you work at a call center, you are taken off of the phones for about fifteen minutes a month for something they call “QA”, but I call “Let me spend fifteen minutes telling you why the company thinks you are useless.” Think back to your last company review. Take that and multiply it by 12 and condense all of the hate. Your yearly review was far easier to endure than the monthly “Quality Assurance” meetings that I was required to suffer through.

“Quality Assurance” doesn’t mean what you think it does. “Quality Assurance” to Shady Cable has nothing to do with the quality of service that the customers receive from the representative. They focus on the amount of time you spend on a call, the amount of time following a call that you are unavailable to take another call, and your ability to upsell.

The amount of time I was supposed to spend on a call was around five minutes. They wanted me to verify customer identity, verify their services, then take care of whatever issues they were calling about, try to sell them something new and get the customer to release the call (because we were NEVER allowed to disconnect a call). Obviously from the length of this post, I like to use words. I typically enjoy talking to people. I really do. If they’re not total assfaces, that is.

The idle time following a call is meant to record in the customer account what it is you discussed, what the issue was, whether or not it was resolved with you, and if it was not what resolution is to follow and what steps you have taken to remedy the issue.

They liked to call the ability to upsell “bonuses” in which if you reached sales quotas that were determined by your shift, you got a little bit of extra in your paycheck that was taxed heavily. However, the sales department were the ones to get the majority of the sales as THAT WAS WHY THE CUSTOMER PUSHED THE BUTTON FOR SALES. When someone is pissed off that there is an outage, I’m pretty sure that they don’t want you to talk about the wonder of the premium channels. “Oh hey, you can’t see anything on your TV right now except for ‘NO SIGNAL FUCKWAD’? Let me tell you about Six Feet Under. A family with a funeral home! … … I can hear you flipping me off right now.”

Then you got the overwhelming joy of listening to a random call you had taken throughout the month – EVEN THOUGH you were the one speaking. They then tear down everything that you had done, have you sign a piece of paper in blood that you were aware of your shortcomings and send you back to take more calls.

6. Heh Heh Heh Heh – SOMETIMES I LIKE TO FUCK WITH YOU
Taking calls is boring. When you work 8 hours and field 90+ calls a day, you need something to take your mind off of the hum drum. Or, you had just had the call from hell and wanted to confuse the hell out of someone.

There was this guy in a cubicle near me who would take every call in a different accent. It was endlessly entertaining. His goal was to not break the accent, but if he ever did and the person on the other end of the line called him on it, he would snap at them in a completely different accent. Shortly thereafter, the call would end. I’m pretty sure the customer turned to their significant other and said “We need to find a new company. I’m pretty sure the dude I just spoke with is insane. We can’t have cable from psychopaths.”

I was contemplating sharing stories of fuckery with you in this post, but as it is ridiculously long I will post a few when I have time. The names will be changed so as to not get my ass sued.

Also, I will not tell you what cable company I worked for, as I really don’t want to poke the bear.

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