Friday, 26 July 2013

The Chimp & Gibbon

I posted lots of stuff on the internet this week.

I read somewhere (in another internet blog about the internet) that the US Library of Congress stores all tweets.
So, I tweeted:  “Dear US Congress, please take a couple of minutes out of your busy schedule of arguing about whether gay people should be allowed to have pets or whatever, and consider spending some money on the ravaged cities of your fading nation. Just a thought.”
(I didn’t, of course, I was being ironic, ‘cos that’s 250 characters, and Twitter only allows 140. And NOW I KNOW WHY.  To SILENCE the Dissenters.)

Anyway, the thought of everything on this particular medium being archived and readable by anyone in the future reminded me of another medium where that was the case…

About ten years ago (yes, ten) I worked in a call centre for a catering supplies company.  I took orders over the phone.  It was the kind of place where all time not logged-in to the phones is noted, as is how long employees spend on toilet breaks.  One day I arrived two minutes late, and the manager said I’d have to “make up the time at lunchtime”.  I chuckled politely because I thought she was joking.  She wasn’t joking.  What a fucking horrible place to spend eight hours a day.  (I did write a few songs in that time, mind.)

Every customer had an account to record their orders.  If they had a query, I would make a note of it on the contact log.  Customers could ask to see this log at any time, so we had to be professional and not write things like “cust is an utter twat.” although we were permitted to use the shorthand “cust” for customer. 
None ever did ask to see their contact log, as far as I know.

In training for the job, I was shown how to set up a new account and use the contact log to send queries to other departments, like Returns, Complaints and Specials (not the 80s two-tone band, unfortunately), who could source large and one-off items like industrial-size deep fat fryers.

These accounts, and the contact logs, would be stored for all eternity, according to the woman who trained me.  Contact logs would be sent to the relevant department anytime a customer called to enquire, complain or whatever.

In my training session, I set up an account and gave it the name Chimp & Gibbon, imagining it to be a pleasant country pub serving traditional food.  With a pool table and a dart board that I would play on all day.  And a world-class jukebox.  (I was a young man of modest ambitions.)

So, when my friend Dan got a job in Specials, we started sending each other contact logs about customer enquiries.  Here are some of the best:

cust needs deep fat fryer to get rid of evidence, any ideas?

cust called to ask if we have a blender strong enough to turn a fully-grown male bengal tiger into a spicy sauce

cust called to ask why we only use crackhead couriers who break everything

cust called to complain about “The Socialist takeover of Kent County Council”, slurring the words. cust seemed to have been drinking heavily.

cust called to ask if i’d heard the new radiohead album. i said i had, but felt it wasn’t as good as the rest. cust became angry, shouting that I “had no fucking idea about rock music”, which I felt was unfair. have been previously advised to hang up if custs become abusive, so ended call when he accused me of liking the stereophonics.

cust called to ask if we could supply a shallow fryer which could also be used as a time machine, then spent several minutes speculating on which era she would like to go back to. finally settled on pre-revolutionary france.

cust called with a question: “how come women use sex as a weapon, then?”

In the end, a couple of others joined in and it provided light relief for all of us, and the few we told about it.
I hated this job until the Chimp & Gibbon contact log gave me an opportunity to express myself, and then every day, for a few minutes, I enjoyed myself. 

Although I thought this a completely innocent exercise of my right to have a laugh at work, when our managers found out they went absolutely mental, suspending their rational thought processes and throwing all the toys out of the pram.
Being on a temporary contract, I was completely disposable, so they sacked me. 
Dan and the others got a bollocking, maybe some sort of disciplinary, I can’t remember.

The best part of the whole thing was when they called us into the office to shout at us about it.  My personal highlight was a manager reading out the following gem from the collection:

cust needs olive oil to stop fat legs rubbing together and chafing

It was very hard not to laugh at that, especially as the manager reading it was overweight…

The management had two main problems with our jokes: we were “wasting company time” (ouch), and these contact logs could be seen by customers and senior management, who would presumably take a dim view of our lack of professionalism.

If they are right, and their antiquated systems mean that accounts cannot be deleted (seems unlikely, mind), that account is still there.  In fact, long after I was invited to leave the company, people were telling me that they still occasionally went to the Chimp & Gibbon account to cheer themselves up.  This was our gift to our bored, harassed and under-valued former colleagues: it stayed there forever.

So, I try to use twitter wisely, but when I tweet, I wonder who might read it in the future – and the workers of that North Bristol call centre.

Clayton Blizzard

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