Nadine glances over the wall of her cubicle at the clock on the far wall. The searing red digits of the clock read 6:45. Thirty more calls before quitting time, she instantly calculated. She had only worked at the call center for seven months. But measuring your business day in the number of calls handled quickly became second nature. Production was drilled into their heads from day one. Speed, accuracy, courtesy; speed, accuracy, courtesy – greet the caller within one ring, assess their need as quickly as possible, assist as much as possible and politely get them off the phone. There is always another call waiting, and the process starts all over again.
Her cubicle did not face the window, as you had to be there at least three years before you could work your way to that side of the bullpen. But she could see the reflection of sunlight off the ceiling tiles as the sky began to slowly turn dusky orange. Another sunset was about to occur just outside her line of sight. The only light she was allowed was the glare of aging fluorescents and the glow of her computer screen as it told of her next call.
Nadine was on the Blue Team, which meant her shift was 11 AM to 8 PM, five days a week. She often wondered, why blue? She realized it was just an arbitrary name, but was there some hidden meaning to it? Blue because working these hours was so depressing, blue to trick us into thinking there would still be daylight outside when our shift ended, or was it that we just simply turned blue as they squeezed the life out of us and called it your job?
She sat slumped in her chair, like silly putty in its egg, and slowly turned to her computer screen as the tone in her headset announced her next caller was waiting. The caller’s name, account number, last payment, and current balance were already showing on her monitor as she started to reach for her mouse. She waited momentarily to see what, if any, notes would show up in the comment section of the screen before she clicked the mouse to answer the call.
Just as her eyes began to focus on the screen and her mind began processing the words, she felt a tap on her shoulder. Startled, she threw her head back to see who it was. It was Mike, her supervisor. Nadine retracted her hand a split second before a simple tap of her finger would have had her live online with the next customer in the queue.
Mike was only a few years older than Nadine, but he had worked at the center for almost ten years, an eternity in the customer service world. He towered over her, but only because she still sat slumped in her chair. He was probably only 5’8” or 9”, and his gaunt frame made him look more like a scarecrow than a healthy adult male.
Though smoking was not allowed anywhere on call center property, Nadine was sure he smoked as he always had that air of stale cigarette smoke and Old Spice that hung in an invisible cloud around him. His cheeks were drawn and looked like big dimples on his pear-shaped face, and his thick mustache made him look like something straight off a 1970s disco floor.
“What,” Nadine asked before slipping off her headset and then asking again, “What?”
“I need to see you in my office,” he said as he jerked his head towards the door.
“Now,” she said?
He didn’t speak but turned and started to walk toward his office. This was actually a relief, Nadine thought, as she threw her headset on the desk, clicked her console to busy and fumbled to find her shoes from under the desk.
Mike was already standing at the door of his office by the time she stepped out into the aisle. She tried to put a smile on her face as she hurried toward him, but what did he want? ‘Did I do something wrong?’ she asked herself? He wasn’t smiling, so I must have done something wrong. Her mind raced with every step. ‘Was I rude? Was I discourteous to a customer?’
She couldn’t think of anything, besides issues like that are usually discussed in team meetings on Tuesday mornings. But he wasn’t smiling, so something must be up. What did I do?
He stood by the door as she entered and took a seat. He then closed the door behind her. This was serious, she thought to herself, as he rarely closes his door. He dropped himself into his chair and without even a pause, looked her straight in the eye and said, “Nadine, we’re not going to need your services anymore.” There was a short pause before he said, “Get your personal effects… you can leave now, and we’ll pay you through the end of the day.”
Nadine sat stunned, speechless. The butterflies in her stomach instantly transformed into a mass of seething snakes. She thought for a moment that she might actually throw up. A large lump immediately formed in her throat, and her eyes began to fill with tears. Her face flushed as she tried to speak.
“What … what did I do?” she said as she tried to maintain whatever dignity she had left.
“We just don’t need you anymore,” he said, stone-faced as he leaned back in his chair. “You’ve got the rest of the day off with pay – just make sure I get your badge and security card before you leave.”
Nadine tried to move, but her legs just would not carry her to her feet. “What did I do?” she pleaded one more time.
Mike sat expressionlessly and continued to stare straight through her as if she wasn’t even there.
She slowly rose to her feet and turned to walk toward the door. ‘I won’t cry, I won’t cry,’ she kept telling herself. Her slow shuffle had almost become a sprint as she made it back to her workstation. She quickly gathered her belongings, left her badge and security card on the desk and headed for the front door without a word to anyone.
It was still daylight when she reached her car. The sky was clear, and the air was fresh and cool against her flushed face. Tears leaked one at a time from her brimming eyes as she repeated over and over, ‘I will not cry, I will not cry.’
As she left the parking lot, she turned her car west into the setting sun. She flicked the visor down as the brilliant light hit her directly in the face. “Just tell me why; what did I do?” she kept repeating as she now wiped tear after tear from her face. Her right foot pressed harder against the accelerator as the events of the last several weeks played over and over through her mind.
The sun again dipped below the visor and now hit her squarely between the eyes. As she fumbled to find her sunglasses, she failed to notice that the traffic on both sides of her had begun to slow. The orange glow of light before her now turned to bright red. She wiped the tears from her squinting eyes as her right foot pressed harder and harder forward, totally oblivious that the traffic on both sides of her had come to a complete stop. “What did I do?”