At AMEX I learned new skills in sales and new lessons in accepting rejection without taking it personally. If you think it is difficult to hassle a sale out of a tough customer to whom you are talking face to face, try selling credit to a voice over the phone. I spent one year on the customer service floor at the Call Center and after months of training on a rigorous Leadership Path Program became a team leader. The job of a telephone sales and customer service representative for a credit card company is not glamorous but the skills I learned there have held me in good stead and helped to temper my knee jerk reaction of snapping back at others when am displeased as well as holding my peace even with the most abusive and arrogant clients I have worked with. AMEX taught me the unthinkable: I could actually take a situation where someone who called me to have a fight left the phone not only feeling they had vented but also in the process committed to spend more with the company which was never their intention in the first place.
Take for example the customer who carelessly gave their card to their teenage daughter for a routine grocery transaction and then later discovers charges on their bill for virtual computer games. The teenager went online, entered the parent’s credit card information and then went to town buying additional lives, virtual points and money worth hundreds of dollars over the month. So when the customer called to complain and wanted the charges removed as fraudulent they were genuinely unaware of who accumulated the charges and they blame the company for not protecting their card from fraudulent transactions. This is usually a very angry customer. My job on the floor would be to calm down the customer, get permission to access their account, explain what the charges were and then get them to answer questions that would jog their memory of who had their card that day other than themselves. Usually after they complained about my accent not being American (and could I please transfer them to the USA;) they would start to remember and once they realized it was their kid who stole from them they were not keen to pursue the fraud process because we would pursue it to the full extent of the law. At this point it would be safe to point out to the caller that they could add a feature to their card to secure their credit rating and give them access to monthly credit reports through independent credit bureaus for a small monthly fee. The embarrassed caller at this point is calm and ready to listen instead of scream. By the time they leave the phone they are happy with the company again and I have earned a commission for selling an additional AMEX product. Everyone is happy.
Nonetheless, most calls did not end that way. I was abused, called all kind of names and may be 8 out of 10 calls my offers for additional products were rejected. This was a lot of rejection considering that we took hundreds of calls a day and at the end of the day I was tired, worn out and psychologically messed up by people I had not even met. The stress was unbelievable and many times I wondered why I did this day in and day out but I earned a lot more than I had earned at a decent NGO job in Bethesda and there were hardly any international development jobs in South Florida. When I became a supervisor and listened to recorded calls for my team I realized that in addition to dealing with stressful customers whose issues the first line of service had failed to handle, I now had the added task of human resources management in a work environment where the turnover was unbelievably high. Keeping a team together even for one month was challenging. And so I acquired skills in people management of both internal and external clients that I am still using to this day in an organization that supports world peace and security.
At 50 I know that some of my best lessons in humility were learnt on the phone at a customer service center proving that there is no job, however humble; that does not impart skills, some that many in high paying white collar jobs will never acquire.