Spiritual Adventures in the Workplace

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Praying in the Call Center

I told you last time about my experiences praying about my work as a student and then as a professor.  However, in the fall of 2000 I suddenly needed a day job.  During the previous two school years I had been teaching full time at Xavier University in Cincinnati, but I was there only as a Visiting Assistant Professor, replacing tenured professors who were on sabbatical; my contract ran out and I was unable to secure an appointment at any other school for the fall season.  Because my wife didn’t have a full-time job and our daughter was only a year old, I sought any kind of employment that would allow me to get insurance for my family.  I had been a manager in a call center before graduate school, so that’s the kind of job I tried to obtain.  After months of searching, I was offered an entry-level position in customer service at the call center of a local bank.

I knew nothing about banking. I had always left the financial side of things to my wife, who’s an accountant.  But now I was forced to learn.  Although we were given rigorous training over the course of a few weeks, I still felt I knew very little by the time I started taking customer calls.  So here’s what I did: I kept up a running dialogue with God throughout the day.  “Lord, I can’t remember which screen shows me pending debits”…. “What’s it called when an account’s inactive and we have to send the funds to the state?  Oh yeah, escheatment.  Thanks”…. “Lord, I don’t even understand this customer’s question.  Can you help me?”

This was an extreme case, of course, because I had never felt so helpless in any job I had ever had.  My ongoing dialogue with God was just my way of getting through the day. But it had an unexpected outcome.  Although this was a living nightmare for me—ending up in a call center instead of at a university—it turned out to be an adventure.  I soon realized that being a CSR (a customer service rep) gave me lots of opportunities to minister to people in concrete ways. 

I spoke with a young man who was dazed from the recent death of his wife.  He, too, had left the banking to his wife, and now, for his children’s sake, he had to learn how to manage his finances.  I was able to assist him.

I spoke with an elderly man whose son had stolen his debit card and was using it at a casino.  Even though I offered to put a block on the card, the old man hesitated.  He told me about his rocky relationship with his son, and he said the money didn’t matter.  He wondered whether he would ever be able to repair the relationship.  I asked him, gently, whether he’d be serving that purpose by letting his son continue to steal from him.

I spoke with lots of people who were angry and frustrated about charges on their accounts.  In some cases I discovered bank errors and corrected them.  In other cases, I was able to educate the customers and show them how to avoid those errors in the future.

But through all of these discussions, I kept up that running dialogue: “Lord, what shall I say to this person?  How can I help them?”

Before I had been there an entire twelve months, my department named me “CSR of the Year.”  Other awards followed.  I was asked to mentor new employees and to serve on a committee to improve quality in the call center.  And after I had been there only a year and a half, I was promoted to the Resource Center, a special team that CSRs called when they had questions or needed advice.  I had started out totally lost, but God had helped me to learn the job well enough to teach others.  But I never stopped having that dialogue with God, even when I was a member of the Resource Center.  And every day was an adventure.

Do you maintain a running dialogue with God about your job as you’re performing it?  If not, I invite you to try it… and watch what happens.

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7 thoughts on “Praying in the Call Center

  1. This is one of the coolest things about you, Ron; you are absolutely willing to follow God’s lead in loving others whom you don’t know from Adam/Eve. We who have to call such centers deeply, deeply appreciate that kind of response.

    • Thanks for saying that, but that was the one thing that saved me. Everything inside me was raging against my being there–“I’m a professor! How did I end up here?”–but my heart went out to my customers as they told me their problems, and that gave me a sense of mission.

  2. I’m glad you got named employee of the year.

    In my brief stint with the mail-order catalogs, one of the most personally satisfying aspects was helping elderly people. One woman told me a wonderful story about her husband of 60 years who had just died. A number of people thanked me for being patient with them.

    I think, though, that had I been a permanent employee, I would have had black marks because we were only supposed to average 4 minutes per call and giving these people the time they needed to place their orders often took 15 to 30 minutes. The stats were posted up on the wall and there was no distinction between customers. I’m fairly certain that a number of the permanent employees hung up on people in order to keep their average minutes below 4.

    • Hi, Pam! I’ve been wondering what kinds of insights you gleaned from your recent call center experience, so it’s good to hear from you. People who work in call centers have many constraints placed on them that the general public knows nothing about. You’ve mentioned one of them (the time restriction), and there are plenty of others. I plan to talk about that in greater detail later this spring. Thanks for sharing that.

      • I’ll be looking forward to reading what you have to say as you have significantly more experience at this than I have!

        I’m glad to have found this particular blog, by the way. The other one was way above my head!

      • Thanks for that feedback about my Mythic Adventures site, Pam. I’ve been praying for direction about that blog. It’s aimed at a different audience than this one is, but I’m not sure how to get it out to the people for whom it’s intended.

  3. Pingback: What Does God Do All Day? (Part 2) | Spiritual Adventures in the Workplace

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