A few of my favorite calls at Vector

Another call came through a few days ago from everyone's favorite Tourette's tyrant, Mr Angel. Round Two was more of a fair fight, and maybe I almost tamed the tiger.

There are eleven questions to be asked of every caller, and Mr Angel always interrupts before the first question, during "Thank you for calling Vector," to unload a solid minute or two of nonstop words. He speaks very very quickly, of random matters like plastics in the oceans and last night's episode of Matlock on the reruns channel, but also includes the answers to all eleven questions.

The software, though, requires each question be answered in order. There's no place to input the info until each scripted question's been asked, one by one. I jotted what I could onto a piece of scrap paper, which — if I'm confident I got the information right — might allow me to skip the 4th or 9th question. But everything I couldn't jot down had to be asked later.

So when Mr Angel finally finished his filibuster, he'd told me about windstorms on Pluto and everything about the first ride he wanted to book. He was starting on the details of his second ride, when I interrupted to loop him back to, "What's your address and phone number?" 

That's when his mild insults begin. "I already told you that. What's wrong with you?"

Ignoring that, we made it through several questions, me speaking extra slowly and with long pauses to annoy him, and him speaking endlessly. Then I   very slowly   asked him what time he wanted to be picked up from his destination to be brought back home.

"I already told you that, too. I already told you everything you're asking, told you twice. The grasslands of Brazil are called pampas, you know. Why do I have to say everything twice, three times? Come on, it shouldn't take ten minutes to book two rides…"

"You're right," I said, "it really shouldn't take so long. Your calls take much longer than most calls."

"Oh, it's personal? Long I've suspected. Look, I tell you everything you need to know, tell it over and over, and all you do is ask it over and over. You should be better than this. You aren't trying hard enough. Can we move through this stupid process please? In the last ice age most Spaniards who survived hid on the Iberian Peninsula where it was slightly warmer, and again like I've said already, I need to be picked up at 3PM, I will be riding alone, I have only a cane but will need the lift, Mercury and Venus do not have any moons…" I was clicking around through the software and screens trying to input everything except the Spaniards and lack of moons, and when I said nothing he added, "You aren't trying hard enough. And why do only my calls take so long?"

"Because I can't think as fast as you talk," I said.

"Think faster," he said. "Try harder," but then he was quiet for a few seconds, a sound I hadn't heard previously from Mr Angel.

For the rest of the call, he still rambled all over tarnation, but he paused after most of my questions, and answered, before more meandering. Things progressed more quickly.

And at the moment I'd read aloud his last scheduled pick-up time, he hung up the phone. No farewell pleasantries, goodbye, have a nice day, or any of that. He was gone, and my next call started ringing.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Same as with my bus stories, remember please that 97% of callers to Vector are ordinary people, either pleasant or bland, but simply not the stuff of an amusing story. It's that last few percent that I laugh about later, and hope you will, too.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

Same day as Mr Angel's second call, I had my first operator disconnect — me hanging up on a caller. 

She was an angry woman whose name, sadly, I don't remember. Should've written it down, kept it handy so she won't blindside me next time, but it was bland and white — Judy Moore or Sharon Jones or something. Soon as I answered the phone, she started with, "You guys really stink," and started telling me about several bad experiences she'd had with Vector.

I can't fix whatever went wrong on yesterday's ride, though, or a ride last September. All I can do is book tomorrow's ride.

And anyway, she was the kind of person who attracts and collects bad experiences, so I gave her another.

Even at my first question, "May I have your name please?", she was condescending, and said her own name like a curse word.

But she still could've gotten a ride. We book rides for rude people, too. It's my second question that stumped her, though:

"Could I have your address, please?"

"I've been riding Vector for eleven years, told you my address too many times, it's probably right in front of you on a screen —"

"It is," I cheerfully agreed. 

"So what's the point of asking me to recite my address for the thousandth time? After eleven years of shitty buses and shitty drivers and shitty service, you know my address."

"It's a rule. We need to hear your address from you. It's one of the ways we know we're talking to the right person."

"Like someone's going to impersonate me and my wheelchair to ride a bus?"

And you know, if she'd said it less Godzillalike, I might've chuckled and agreed. Asking the caller's address and phone number is almost always a tedious and repetitive waste of time. Certainly it's useless as a security measure — how many dozens of people know your name and address and phone number?

But also, fuck you. This lady had worked herself well under my skin already, and breathing fire on the phone doesn't get me on your side.

After refusing a few times, she finally, angrily sputtered out her address, but with one digit wrong — instead of 14263 Whatever Road, she said 14293. Whoops.

Many of our riders are old-timers or tend toward mental malfunctions, so we offer a second chance to get the address right, and if they still can't remember it, we'll ask their date-of-birth as a substitute confirmation that they're who they say they are.

But when I told this lady the address she'd recited was not the address on my screen, she went from angry to radioactive. She repeated her address, louder and still wrong, and every time she re-repeated it she got it wrong, and along the way I kinda forgot that date-of-birth could be asked instead.

We're not allowed to book rides for callers who can't provide two out of three confirming pieces of information — address, phone, date-of-birth. And the software won't let me change or correct a client's personal information — Customer Service does that, so I twice offered to transfer the angry lady's call to Customer Service, and twice she furiously refused.

"I've spoken with your so-called Customer Service before, and they're garbage people..."

And so it came to pass that I said, "Ms Moore or Jones or whatever, I can't book your ride unless your address matches the address on file, and it doesn't, and you refuse to talk to Customer Service, so I'm ending this call. Have a splendid day, and please call back if you're willing to let us book a ride for you."

I pushed the lovely red "disconnect" button, and in three seconds the next call rang through to me.

It was 4:49 PM when I hung up on her, and our phone lines close at 5PM. We can't book same-day rides, and she'd told me she needed a ride for a medical appointment the following day. Which means, unless she called back instantly and was much more cooperative with a different operator, that loud lady is screwed, and missed her appointment.

A better man might be saddened by that, but I'm not a better man.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

All our calls are recorded, and I've been told that any time there's a customer complaint or a booking error, management plays the call back to determine whether it was operator error. There've been a few calls where someone demanded a supervisor, but nobody's yet tapped me on the shoulder to tell me I'd gotten something wrong, done something wrong, or been rude or unprofessional.

Which isn't bragging, by the way. I was so shaky and unsure during my earliest early days on the job, I'd be startled if I didn't book a ride wrong or skip one of the eleven questions. But still, I'm waiting for that first shoulder-tap, and it wasn't Mr Angel, nor Ms Moore or Jones or whatever.


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  1. Doug, you've found your job: You're helping people who really need help and are, for the most part, grateful for the service you are providing. You're helping people who, most likely need help through no fault of their own. You are saving lives by getting people to doctors and treatment specialists.

    I had a sort of a call center for a decade or so, and I hired the people who staffed it. The questions were not as important as the ones you're answering, but the setup was not dissimilar. Nobody had all the right qualifications on day 1, so I had to decide which ones I could most easily teach and hire people who didn't have THOSE qualifications. I had a sign up next to the phone on my desk: "YOU CAN'T TEACH ATTITUDE". Son of a gun, it was true every time.


    1. It's mostly fun, or its cousin a kick in the head, and I like it so far. There are clouds in the distance, so we'll see.

      Weirdly, we had a "continuing training" session a few days ago that ended with a quote on a screen that added up to "You can't teach attitude" but muddier and with 30 words instead of four. Briefer is better but it's true.

  2. Great work, Doug, I'm impressed. Treat yourself to a bubble bath, candles and soothing music tonight.

    - Zeke Krahlin

    1. Jeez, even when there was love in my life, nobody ever treated me to a bubble bath, candles, and soothing music. Closest I ever got was the movie of my choice with no compromise, plus popcorn and a blow job.


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