Notes from the Front Desk

By Katelyn Baker-Smith

I think we can all recognize and commiserate that customer service is sometimes a struggle for people on both sides. Sure, there are a few people who love it and enjoy everything about it, all the time. I applaud them while also thinking of that part in Miss Congeniality when Sandra Bullock says she’s going to unscrew her smile. Maybe they’re mythical creatures or have reached enlightenment, unicorns who are elevated by their peaceful good cheer, glowing with pleasantries. Since I am just a regular human who has achieved much, much less than enlightenment, I have my moments at the front desk when I just want to throw my keyboard in the air, stuff my phone cord in the shredder (who I’ve named Shreddy White after Betty White, because who doesn’t want to work next to an icon), and walk home. I live over 10 miles away and this is still appealing in those moments.

So it’s all the more sweet when I have heart-warming interactions with other customer service ‘professionals’ here and there, amidst the business and headaches, we connect with each other. Just between the two of us. It’s both surprisingly intimate and completely random. Below are a smattering of my favorites, a sample platter of the conversations that have gotten me through some truly boring tasks.

  • The Water Filter Supplier: I called looking for a missing part for a water filter and immediately recognized the abrasive and comforting accent of my home-region, Massachusetts. While looking up boring details, they asked about the Chicago-style dog that’s dipped in cooking juices. Our discussion of stomach-pain-inducing treats got really grotesque until the 10-minute call took almost half an hour, and I will not apologize for wasting time. That amount of laughing mid-day is cathartic.
  • The Billing Software Representative: Insurance billing is not fun or relaxing. Everyone involved is very anxious and the stakes are high. This person literally cheered me on when I figured out an issue – like, actually yelled “HOORAY!!!!” into the phone. I know that they’re only working part-time because they’re a grandparent and hoping to spend more time with grandchildren. When they’d had a hard day I made sure to tell them how helpful and kind I have always found them. They call me from their cell phone sometimes when they’re on their lunch break but need to check something, because “we’re friends and friends do that.” I already have plans to send a present when they fully retire.
  • The Insurance Claims Adjuster: See the above mention of insurance issues. After asking about the weather in our respective locales (they were in Texas), we moved on to our mutual love for water. I told them how much I love being near vast bodies of water and the relief of spring after harsh winters. They told me about the joys of babysitting their four granddaughters who are already asking if they can swim in the pool, and how wonderful retirement will be. We both agreed on that last one.

My moral takeaway of these snippets? I’m definitely trying harder to be nice to people in customer service and remembering they’re human, no matter how surly and unhelpful they may seem to me. I’m working to enjoy the moments when I get to interact with someone I may never come across again, someone who may be in a different country or who is most likely from a different walk of life. Each of those moments are opportunities to find some delight and share a kind moment in a world that can seem so very, very unkind. I never speak with any of these people for more than 30 minutes at a time, and those calls are always centered on problems, but we take the openings we are given to share something, learn something, and connect with someone. And that is what has made all the difference.