“If you tell me to call that eight hundred number in Ohio, I swear I'll jump over this counter and wring your neck,” said the blonde soccer mom.
This level of anger and type of personal interaction was de rigeur
every day at the mobile phone company I worked for a year out of
college. Being a front line customer service representative was awful
and so draining. I didn't have a vision yet for what I should be
doing (writing), so I stumbled along for months. I wore out the
managers-on-duty with my requests for them to break the news to
customers: your phone is out of warranty.
Finally, one day one of them said, “You've got to do this on
Some time later, I found this watch, which reads “Bloom Where
You Are Planted.” I bought it and wore it to work. It became my
mantra. I was determined to grow in this position.
Without calling it this at the time, I used my words to improve my
circumstances. I devised scripts that could help me deliver bad news
to customers. I learned how to reframe their situations, to tell them
what I could do, what their options were, while also setting the
boundaries of the company's policies.
As luck would have it, the scripts worked. Once I'd tested them
and refined them, I shared what worked with my colleagues. It gave me
a surge of pride when I heard one of my meeker co-workers using my
This high-stress, low-pay job is where I began finding my voice
and learning to navigate how to operate without freezing in conflict.
One day toward the end of my tenure in this position I called the next number
and a man approached my terminal. “I have been fighting my bill
over the phone for hours without any success. I'm just warning you,
I'm not leaving until this gets fixed.”
He thought he was threatening me, but he hadn't met the soccer
“Well, you haven't worked with me yet, pull up a chair and let's
get to work.”
The company had put an erroneous $300 charge on his bill. Call
center folks had told him to pay the bill and he'd be credited later.
Stellar customer retention plan. Wisely, the customer wasn't agreeing
to that conflict resolution strategy.
Together we poured over months' worth of bills. I called my
colleagues in the call center and began advocating for this man.
“I'm authorized to give a credit of $25,” said one person
after I'd explained the situation.
“Well, clearly that's not going to work, the error is $300,” I
said. “I need to speak to your manager.”
I explained the scenario to the next person. When I received more
push back about crediting the high amount, I said, “Look, we made
the error, not the customer. If we don't correct the error, he's
going to close his account and tell everyone he knows about his
dissatisfaction with our company. That will cost us a lot more than
the $300 we rightfully should be crediting his account. The error is
There was a pause.
The manager returned to the line. “If you'll refresh your
screen, you'll see the $300 dollars has been removed from the
“Thank you so much. This was the right thing to do.”
The customer left satisfied and still a customer. I left my shift
feeling proud of my day's work. I had come a long, long way.
I have the opportunity to talk to high school students about my
career path—my achievements, failures, and my experiences, in a few
weeks. I'm excited to share a less familiar career success story:
how seemingly aimless jobs can be the building blocks of a solid
professional life. Those miserable face-to-face interactions with
cell phone customers honed skills that I have used at every job
Not long after that two-hour customer interaction, I left the
company, exhausted, and returned to nanny for the family I cared for
the year before. Again, not a pleasant experience, but fertile ground
for more learning opportunities. I'll gather up some of those stories
and share them soon.
I'm sifting through my personal items and the stories attached to them. I'm deciding what I want to keep and what I can let go of. The lessons of tenacity, perseverance, as well as knowing when enough is enough are firmly planted in my head and heart. Not only did I bloom where I was planted, I grew out of the space. I've replanted myself in places with bigger space for dreaming and becoming more of myself. I don't need this watch anymore. The watch served me well.