I’m a Corporate Mercenary®

I’m going to get it out of the way early - I’m a Corporate Mercenary®, and I have no qualms about that. I’m just like a lot of people out there doing things for money which most people with “normal” old style morals wouldn’t do. I have been given a set of rules, and I stick to them. It’s called towing the company line.

“Normals” working in big corporations don’t realise this. They are taking people’s livelyhoods for the sake of their own, thinking that they are just working a job. I work for a major phone company, and there are so many cases where something happens, and it’s nearly always the customer’s responsibility to deal with the results.

I’m not talking about the fools that sign their contracts without reading what’s on the paperwork, without having a full understanding of what they are signing up for, or just don’t think to ask. That’s just stupidity - what seems to be human nature in these modern times - where it’s normal to believe the guy in front of the television camera, behind the sales pitch, whatever. It’s easier to do something and then expect everyone else to clean up after you. Most of the customers I deal with every day grew up without “real” parental figures in a time where fortune, fame and the popular media controlled every aspect of their development.

This isn’t good for society - it breeds a generation of people that believe that nothing’s their fault. Those that believe in the American Way® - taught by the media - think they can blame or sue their way out of anything. This is not the way to solve things! You should take responsibility when you do something in the first place, or when you realise (generally after being told) that you’ve done something stupid. Sure, there are the others in this society that know better, and know how to make that commission by telling you what you want to hear. When it comes time to put pen to paper, it’s up to you to understand that a contract is a legally binding piece of paper that means “we, the company, can take your savings as per this and this and don’t forget this.”

It’s not nice, it’s not fun, it’s nothing of the sort - but when you have to explain to a customer that they have signed a contract for something that they can’t afford to keep, let alone get rid of - that they are stuck with it. But it’s my job to do that in many cases, or support the people that do. I’m fine with that, it’s not my fault that they are in this position, and there’s nothing that we have to do to resolve their problem other than sometimes giving them credits to shut them up and send them on their merry way. I don’t have a problem with those sorts of problems, other than the one-sided screaming matches that ensue. What makes me a corporate mercenary (CM®), is the times where there’s something that is the company’s problem, and in towing that company line, I’m eschewing morality for materialism in the form of a pay packet and keeping my mouth shut.

There’s a handset model we sold in the past, where in over 10% of the handsets sold they will not actually be able to make a call. If and when they do, it’ll drop out soon after. It’ll report an error message, and that’s that. It won’t receive calls either, send or receive SMS, or do anything like act as a normal mobile phone should. After the company started finding out about these handsets, they didn’t stop selling them. They kept on doing it, even releasing another version of the phone (albeit in a limited run) that had the same problems, but with a camera that worked .. some of the time. Oh, did I mention we can’t send or receive picture messages on our network?

For the people that whinged enough, or after we had enough problems with that model, the company would replace it if you complained and were found to have a faulty one - you couldn’t cancel, that would cost you the remainder of your handset instalments. But if you wanted to stay with us, you could have a shiny new phone on a new contract. But they’d pay out whatever was left in the instalments you had! If you’d bought the phone outright, there were no handset instalments, so there was no free phone - you could buy a new one, or you could deal with it. Sometimes, if there was a cancellation fee for your plan, they might waive that, just because the company is nice.

There’s another handset from the same manufacturer. It’s a great little phone, cheap, does just the basics, and most of the time it’s great. Until it starts making calls, all by itself. I don’t know the percentages - a bit hard to track when most people don’t realise - but I hear about one or two a month now that’ll do it. You could stick one of these “haunted” phones in a sealed non-signal-blocking box with no way of pressing buttons, and it’d make calls. Not necessarily to anyone in your phone book but to valid numbers nonetheless. Leaving the handset on the bench would do the trick as well - I’ve spoken to customers where they had left the phone on the bench, and it called their partner, or even their home phone while they were standing in another room.

There was one case tonight that I came across where by the end of it, I think the customer’s handset had done one of these phantom calls. This was the source of my motivation for this post. The customer had wondered why their most recent bill was so high, and noticed a call that was about 160 minutes long. This wasn’t normal - I went back through his bills and found the longest call he’d made was probably ten minutes at the most. The fault report lodged by the agent came back to our “inbox” where the supervisors (of which I am one of several) have to process them. In this case, the processing took the form of calling the customer, and telling them that yes, the call had been made from their handset, and yes they did have to pay for it. This wasn’t a cheap call, costing over $120.

Ok, so there’s a few things that could have happened to make the call. It was his wife’s phone, so theoretically it could have been in her purse and off keyguard, and something bumped it enough to make a call. I discounted this pretty quickly after scanning over a few invoices and seeing that the number hadn’t been called in at least the last three months. It’s pretty normal that “pocket calls” as I call them to be made to something out of the recently dialled list on people’s phones.

There’s the other option, that they actually did make the call. This is just as likely, the call being made on boxing day to a landline number - a call to talk to the family, from his wife to a number at home? That seems completely likely to me. They seemed to be away from home in another state at that point - the call was made from Sydney, they were from Melbourne (billing address), and there were other calls around that time to Sydney numbers that showed as local calls, meaning they were in the area. It was easy to tell which suburb/area they were in, since I had the tower number that the call originated from, which was in Sydney.

Then there’s the third option, which I think you may have guessed might be the next one. The phone made a phantom call. After speaking to the customer (I’ll get to that in a second) I realised that this may be the real explanation for it, but I couldn’t do a thing about it. Aparrently they were at some sort of social function that night, meaning that a call nearly three hours long would be completely unlikely in those circumstances.

So while I processed the case, I’d found out the tower, looked at the bill, seen that it was unlikely, but that the call had been looked at from a network level and found that - according to the usually unclear notes from the tech guys - that it was a normally completed call, and that the billing system was right. Oh great, I’ll have to call the customer and tell them that yes, they have to pay for this call that is worth more than a day’s pay for me.

I resigned myself to the fact that I’d probably have a fight on my hands, and called the listed callback number. Someone had used the number of the service that the dispute affected, which ended up being his wife’s phone - bonus, I can’t speak to her about an account that’s not hers! I was told that his number was the other number on the account, so I called that, and luckily got voicemail. I did my usual “hey, call us on this number for more info on the billing dispute that you lodged” and went back to work, KNOWING that when they called back, there would be a seriously cranky customer, and being a supervisor on duty that night, I was likely to have to take the call.

So, they did call back, and they wouldn’t accept that the charge was valid. I didn’t think about the phantom call possibility until about halfway through taking the call, but I tend to be careful with my words, so the explanation I gave was “the call originated from the handset, and was completed in full.” Put in simple terms - there was a call, it originated from the ID on your handset, and other than the tower it was connected to, that’s all we know or care about. I received the call from one of the agents, who tried to explain it, and I spent about twenty minutes trying to convince him that there’s nothing that I could or would do for this one, since the fault report had shown “no fault found.”

Eventually it came down to the usual point I make - I cannot do anything, there is nothing to be done. We have investigated your issue to the extent of what we can do, so the charges stand, and there’s no more discussion to be entered into. If I wasn’t such a CM®, I could have credited him for the whole cost of the call, and that would be that. But I am, and I won’t. Giving someone the benefit of the doubt and effectively giving them money isn’t part of my job description - it’s resolve the issue within the processes, then get back to doing whatever else they want me to do that day.

So, the call escalated to the floor manager, who ended up getting ranted at over two seperate calls. His original call dropped out, so he called back to yell more. He finally got the point that we’d all said the same thing and hung up. But not before complaining that she’d been repeating herself and that he would call back in the morning to complain more. I love it when someone points out during a call like this that you’re repeating yourself.

Here’s a big hint:

If the agent seems to be repeating themselves, they are doing it because the information hasn’t changed during the call and you’re still asking the same questions.

I guess I could go on for many more screenfuls of text about the ways that I have to ignore morality and common sense to tow the company line every day. I won’t do that, but just wanted to point out that when you’re having a dispute with a big company, understand that it’s not the person in front of you, or the person on the phone, it’s the company line that does it, and if you don’t like it, do what I try to do - either find someone else that can do it better the first time, or accept that you’re just dealing with Corporate Mercenaries.®