In the control room Jason laughed out loud when he saw the first ten customers walk into Stage One.
“This is dope. We did it!”
“It’s going to be a fun day,” Phil replied.
“And we got green uniforms this year instead of the red ones, more low key for lunch outside.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Phil said, sounding impatient to get things moving.
Phil was Amaze’s Chief Experience Designer, why he took things a bit too seriously. He picked up the microphone, “Good morning Amaze Loyalty Program Customers. We welcome you to the first day of the Amaze loyalty seminar.”
It was Jason’s second year producing the Octopus game. The team called it that because Customer Service had a chance to reach its tentacles out once a year, and pull a few customers back in.
Jason was stoked about designing two of the stages this year. Their CEO said they needed to be original every single year.
Phil was still going with his opening statement, “Ninety-seven million people called Amaze’s Customer Service line this year. Today we gathered the 10 customers rated lowest by our employees. Every call is recorded at Amaze, and we have checked and doubled checked your ranking, and you’re all in the right place.”
The customers glanced at each other left and right. Jason loved the wtf-is-happening part of the session.
“Hey, I thought I had won an all expenses paid trip because I’m a loyalty customer!”
“Today’s program might be different from what you were expecting,“ Phil said. “But I want to remind you that you accepted the terms and conditions when you registered for the Amaze Loyalty Program.”
That was Jason’s cue. He clicked a button and turned on the projector for Slide A. In front of the room the Customers read:
Clause 78. I agree to participate in Amaze customer training, and accept all liability including the possibility of serious injury or death.
Jason read the text again out loud over the mic. Corporate policy to ensure the visually impaired were aware of the terms.
“Good timing. And nice font you used this year,” said Phil.
“Thanks. Switched it from Helvetica to Lato.”
In his headphones, Jason heard grumbling in the room.
Jason got on the mic. “Hi guys. In the first stage of today’s training, you will pick up a phone in the front of the room, talk to a customer service officer, and ask to renew your Amaze+ Annual subscription.”
He raised his voice: “Politely.”
“But I don’t want to renew…”.
A figure in a blue jumpsuit lunged forward. He had an electric cattle prod. Everyone in the room jumped when they heard the zap and saw Customer #2 collapse to the floor Jason knew this year’s Associates were hopped up and ready to go compared to those last year.
Jason got on the mic, “Customer Number 2 removed for refusal to follow the training format”.
Associates dragged the customer's limp body out. Jason wondered if any of the Associates down would make it up to be a Customer Experience Designer like he did. He hoped so.
The nine customers left shuffled up to a table of handsets and picked one.
Jason drummed his fingers on his desk as they listened to the standard Amaze service greeting. He clicked in and listened to his designated customer, Aruj, number 7.
Jason flipped his mic to mute. “Phil, In the pool who did you choose for this round?”
“I forget,” Phil said.
“I have my money on my assignee. Aruj. Look at him down there!”
Jason and Phil looked at their screens. They saw another customer taken out by the cattle prod. And then another.
“Candidate #10 removed for interrupting a Client Services Associate.”
“Candidate #5 removed for not using the client service officer's name.”
On his headset, Jason heard Aruj speaking..
“This is Aruj. I would like to renew my Amaze+ subscription. My registered account telephone number is 634-867-5304. Thank you for helping out today, Michael.”
Not a great reply, but it checked all the boxes. Jason clicked on the mic, “Candidate #4 call completed”.
An Associate opened the exit door for Aruj. Then the Associate got back to work dragging out eliminated customers.
In all, four candidates passed through. When the last one exited, Jason grinned.
“Stage 1 in the can. 40% retention, that’s a perfect score!”
Jason woke up, put on his green jumpsuit. Today he would show them the beauty of Stage 2.
He said goodbye to his wife, and made his way to Amaze’s corporate campus. Cheerfully, he walked into the Client Services building, said hello everyone in the break room, grabbed a decaf soy latte, and made his way upstairs.
“Morning Phil,” Jason said as he put his drink down. He looked over at Phil and told him the joke he remembered on the way in, ”So, two guys are running away from a hungry grizzly bear. One guy says to the other, why are we running? Everyone knows humans can’t run faster than bears.”
Jason laughed to himself, “The other guy looks over to him and says, ‘I don't need to run faster than the bear, I just need to run faster than you.’ Get it?”
That finally got a smile out of Phil. A good joke for today stage. But of course Phil was back to the biz quick.
“Time to get the Associates moving, Jason,” Phil said.
Jason got on the intercom and had his Associates bring the group from yesterday down to Stage Two.
Fulfilment and Front-End Support had brought their own Customer groups out to the staging area already. Fulfilment had 2 and Front-End had 9, way too many in that group.
“Ready in 15, people!” Phil announced and intently watched the screens.
Jason looked at the set he had designed. The layout and design on both sides of the game studio were amazing.
“The crocs are kick ass, aren't they?”
The crocodiles he was talking about were In the middle of the room, in a pool. The Customers would need to cross the pool to get to Complete. The permits for those crocs were a real pain to get approved by Live Animal Logistics.
Phil started his announcement: “You are in 3 teams. On the other side of the pool is an Amaze delivery box, which contains a rope your team can use to rappel over the pool. In 5 minutes the platform on your side will sink into the water. May this be a lesson to never leave an Amaze package unattended on your doorstep again.”
Jason tapped and let go of the “Submerge Platform A” button to gave the customers a jolt, and let them know he meant business.
The fulfilment team had only 2 members. Without warning one of them jumped into the pool. Wait. He stepped onto a crocodile and took a huge leap halfway to the other side of the pool.
Over his headset, Jason heard what sounded like a class full of primary school students splashing. as the man realised he didn’t make it and struggled to get to the other side.
The crocs woke from their slumber, swivelled, and moved in. Just in time the helpless customer got traction on the bottom, and pushed out onto the far platform.
Damn, Jason thought. He should have had the Associates stir up the crocs before the Customers knew what they needed to do.
The largest team, the nine remaining customers brought by Front-End now stared at the pool of very awake and agitated crocodiles and talked amongst themselves. They pointed at the largest man in their group and decided he should go first.
In the control room, “Holy shit, that guy is huge. Wonder if he can wrestle the crocs," Jason said.
But the man didn’t agree to the plan.
“There’s only 5 crocodiles, but there’s 8 of you.”
Flying into a violent rage he began pushing people into the pool as fast as he could grab them. An existential threat can do that to people.
The crocs moved quickly. Jason cringed as the screams came through his headset. The crocs grabbed hold of people in the water. He saw a man bleeding from an empty spot where his leg should have been. A woman was pulled under the water and didn’t come back up. Maybe this wasn’t a good design for stage 2 after all.
“This is why we get paid tier 4 salaries Jason,” Phil said calmly.
“Gotcha boss”, replied Jason.
Finally, one of the people the big guy pushed in got a grip on him and held on while a croc took them both into the water. The big man screamed. Size is relative. The crocodile feeding frenzy was over in a few minutes. Only one man was left from the Front End team cowering on the platform.
Aruj’s team still hadn’t made a move. Jason watched Aruj take charge of the group and assess the situation. Aruj then waded out into the blood tinged water full of carnage. He grabbed 2 mangled torsos and used them as protection as he quietly waded across the pool. The crocs were satiated now and left him alone.
Aruj opened the Amaze box on that side and threw the rope back over to his teammates. His team tied it to a post and climbed across hand over hand.
Only one person was left in the stage. The lone member from the Front-End team of 9 who had escaped the massacre. Traumatised, he sat paralysed in fear. Aruj yelled out for him to use their team’s rope.
The man listened and started climbing hand over hand.
When he climbed midway across, Jason turned on his intercom.
“Sniper 1, take him out.”
The body fell off the rope and floated still in the pool.
Jason turned on the outside mic, “Customer 19 red card. Customers may not accept assistance from any other team.”
Jason switched off the mic.
“Boom! Day over. Everyone, this effectively puts me in the lead in the pool.”
Jason woke up and put on his green jumpsuit. He felt a bit lethargic this morning. Today was Phil’s stage. Phil’s designs always stuck close to the Amaze training program. They were not as much fun.
His jumpsuit zipper got stuck right before the top, and he pulled it down and then back up a few times until he got it right.
“And good luck getting that approved.” What everyone told him when he proposed the Stage 2 idea. And it worked out brilliantly yesterday, maybe he could move up a pay tier next year.
From the control room, he could see the Customers looking quite hostile today. He switched on Upbeat Mix #7. The music started playing.
*Turn the beat around, love to hear the....
Phil gave the introduction again. “Today you need to pass a bridge with 4 gates. At each gate is a display where you need to pass a reCaptcha challenge. Today, you will learn to appreciate reCaptchas. They are the only thing between you and elimination. If you don’t complete the 4 reCaptchas in 3 minutes you will be eliminated.”
Jason knew no one had finished the overtime elimination procedure, but after his stage 2, he didn’t see anyone testing the time limit.
A woman in Aruj’s team moved out on the bridge and started tapping a screen. Jason knew she was trying to figure out the pictures, taken from very odd angles, that contained bridges. She looked frustrated.
“I don’t even know what I am doing wrong and it says I only have one more attempt left.”
An Experience Designer was about to give her a warning, but Aruj yelled over to her first that she needed to keep moving. She pushed the screen another time. A clang sounded, the bridge swivelled and she fell into the darkness. A thud was heard from below.
The thud scared the customers more than the time limit. They began to ignore each other and focus on the reCaptchas. One was concentrating on finding street signs in pictures of crowded streets, when she began to shout.
“Turn off that fucking music!”
Jason wasn’t turning off the music. “You need to dunk her!” he shouted.
No one replied. Her monitor should have KO'd her for negativity. She gave up on the music complaint, and went back to the reCaptcha and completed. Jason would complain to Phil about the procedure later. He kept an eye on Aruj.
Customer #7 (Aruj)
“Hey! It says, select the pictures that contain Thanksgiving objects. I’m Indian!”
Aruj backed up from the screen a bit and stood there shifting his weight from side to side while the other customers steadily completed their reCaptchas and reached Complete.
The time was down to 30 seconds. Aruj was still there. Phil had his hand over the “All Bridges” release button.
Damn. Jason regretted blowing off the multi-cultural reCaptcha fallback screens. It all would have put things behind schedule. Backed into a corner, he decided to wing it, and picked up the microphone.
“Customer 7, It’s the 2 right pictures.”
He saw Aruj look at the pictures and then tap the screen twice. The gate opened. Phil stared straight ahead and didn’t give any reaction.
The stage was complete. Aruj’s team now had 3 members to advance into the next round, and the other team had 2.
“Great stage Phil! Way to go.” Jason thought it was a bit dull, reCaptchas. He couldn’t wait for tomorrow and one of his own designs.
After the session, Jason went to a meeting with half of the members of the Product Design team along with a few people from other teams he recognised. Phil didn’t attend.
After they chatted for a while, they heard an announcement.
“You have been selected from Amaze's 13,000 customer service staff, as being ranked the lowest in cooperativeness by your colleagues, and have been chosen for an employee motivational seminar. we would like to remind you of the clause you have signed in your employment agreement.“
Clause 123. I agree to participate in Amaze employee training sessions if deemed necessary by the Employer, and accept all potential liability including serious injury or death.
“Oh shit,” said Jason.