Customer service has never really been my strong suit. "Does not play well with others", would have been the sort of phrase you'd have seen on my annual performance appraisal. But it's a skill which I am having to acquire these days, as the commercial arm of Trash City (the bead and jewellery supply side - the bit that finances all the DVDs, trips to odd conventions, etc.) has gone utterly berserk over the past couple of weeks.
It's perhaps no coincidence that this near-doubling in sales volume coincides with the end of the school holidays. I think that once people get their kids packed back off into academia, they can return to gentle pastimes involving crimps, rondelles and other things which this time last year were purely trade jargon to me. Now, while I can perhaps not quite distinguish between Picture Jasper and Picasso Marble, I can identify most US states by their zip-codes, and tell a valid credit card from a dodgy one purely by the sound the terminal makes.
With experience, my telephone manner has certainly improved, even if the phenomenal level of unsolicited sales calls here is something I'm coming to terms with. In Britain, they were a sporadic occurrence, and almost a novelty. In Phoenix, the average day will have half a dozen cold calls, or attempts to send a fax through a voice line, offering us everything from mobile phones to business websites - and I take a pitch for the latter as a personal insult. My favourite approach is "Give me your home number and I'll call you back later"; funnily enough, this usually seems to do the trick.
Fortunately, Chris has been here to help handle the trickier actual customers - largely those from South of the Mason-Dixon line. My basic rule of thumb is, if their state ends in a vowel - Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi and Kentucky being the main offenders (I adopt a relaxed attitude to vowels, please note) - she gets to talk to them, just as soon as she notices my frantically flailing arms and steadily increasing volume OF SPEECH. I'm sure they're very nice people, it's just that every time I hear them speak, I imagine I can hear banjos duelling in the background.
It doesn't help that certain customers seem unaware of the time-zone differences here in the States. Just now, the East coast is three hours ahead of us, which means a brisk 9am call to them is ringing the bell here at 6am. And to someone like myself, who has a questionable approach to customer service at the best of times...well, let's just say that 6am definitely does not count as said best.
This may partly explain the communication difficulties, with a large percentage of the conversations consisting, on both sides, of "What did you say?", "Sorry?" and "Could you repeat that again?" Two countries, divided by a common language - and a couple of weird accents as well. Indeed, accents have a terrible habit of rubbing off on me; after the weekly phone-call home to my parents in Scotland, I unconsciously pick up on their speech patters, to the great amusement of the family here. I fondly hope that somewhere down in the Deep South, a customer who has just placed an order for beads with us is now unintelligible to her friends, as she now talks, at least temporarily, of "lifts", "pavements" and "petrol".
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