Wednesday, February 09, 2005

More balloons

Came in to work yesterday to find a new field of balloons in our call area. This part of my company deals with credit cards. People evaluate card applications, mail or call for more info, and answer phone calls about accounts. We have another building across the street with the collections call center – those who phone you when you are late paying your bill. Picture a room about the size of a football field, with high ceilings (about twenty feet high), filled with cubicles. The room is painted basic off white, the cubicle walls are movable cloth covered, in a deep blue grey color. Low cube walls, about four feet high, and a maze of walkways between. Your status is evident by the size of your cube – basic workers get an area about the size of a desk – maybe three feet deep by five feet wide, sitting with your back to the walkway between rows. Group leaders get a cube five feet deep. Higher level supervisors get a cube about eight feet deep, with a small back section.
This room is about half the square footage in the building, with smaller rooms at the ends – the one I am in has six rows of six cubicles. Being ‘exempt’ – (really, means we get a salary rather than hourly pay, and don’t get paid for overtime, which most companies expect) we get cube walls that are five feet high instead of four. And the cubes are a little larger, more counter space for books and printouts. Along one end of our room are four offices, with doors. This is where management sits.
I mentioned before that our company is big on balloons – helium filled, awarded for doing something good, or big three foot high numbers for employees here over five years. Yesterday they started a campaign called ‘Improve Customer Experience’ (ICE). There was a white balloon with our logo on one side and ICE on the other taped to each cube. Each on a ribbon about five feet long. Picture the big room, with several hundred cubes, with several hundred white balloons floating above. So the balloons are all floating a foot or so above your head. Scattered among the white balloons are big colored numbers for the five year and up employees. Probably about a third of the cubes have numbers. It really is very pretty.
I just picture the crew working at night to fill all of those balloons, tie ribbons to them, and walk around putting them on every cubicle. I don’t know who did it, probably employees and not a contracted group. We deal with peoples credit, there are cameras everywhere, electronic locks on all the doors, security guards up front, we all wear badges and go through periodic security training classes. I can’t see a group of ‘outsiders’ just walking around. But it does look nice.
This company tries to use positive reinforcement as a training tool. New phone employees go through a three week training course in what to say and how to deal with customers. The last place I was at had a three day class, with the last half day sitting with somebody listening to how they handled calls. Then you were alone on the phone. The average employee only stayed there a few weeks. Motivation there was along the lines of ‘you better f****** be f****** nicer to callers or you’re a** is f****** out of here’. And it was. I heard that another programmer has left there. That makes my friend John the most senior, behind our project manager, being there only three months. Much nicer to be here. With balloons. (Oh, our group didn’t get the white balloons, guess since we don’t deal directly with customers we aren’t part of the ICE program).

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