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I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before but I work full-time as a phone operator for Washington State University.  What this means is that all calls to the generic number or for those who press “0” on campus phones, those calls come to me and my partner.  There are two of us for four campuses and various offshoots.

I, occasionally, have stories to share with my family.  My dad said recently I should write a book.  The problem with that is the stories don’t necessarily make sense if you are unfamiliar with the workings of a campus or Pullman.  However, I’ve been thinking about writing something to help people get the most out of their operator experiences.

1.  Be nice to the operator.  You may be frustrated, even angry but the operator isn’t the person in charge nor do they have any power to rectify your problem.  All they can do is transfer your call and answer a few generic questions.  If you are nice to them, they may use their super powers to get you to a live person.  However, if you are mean to them they will send you to the abyss.

2.  Don’t call the operator names.  That’s just rude and childish.

3.  Don’t insist that the operator get you to a live person.  You may not know this but my partner and I are in a windowless room in a building in the center of a series of buildings.  I don’t know if there are people in my building let alone in a building on the other side of campus.  There is no way I know where there is a live person (more than once I’ve stepped out of my office to find the lights off in the building because no one remembered we still worked there).

4.  When you call an operator, have some idea of where you want to go.  You don’t know how many times I’ve talked with a person for several minutes trying to get what they want out of them.  It’s frustrating because some days the phone is ringing off the hook and I don’t have time for someone to figure out which department or what problem they need solved.

5.  On a similar note – one can not call a building.  You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve gotten a call to direct someone to a building, not a department, a building.  Sorry the building is not taking calls at this time – really!

6.  Oh – be clear, I know that sounds like #4 but it’s not.  Today I had a girl call and ask me where a place was located.  Now she asked where Daggy Theatre was located.  Daggy is a building, the theatre inside is Wadleigh.  I thought she wanted directions to the building when what she was asking was which building was the theatre in.  She actually got frustrated with me.  Well, I answered her question as she asked it.

7.  Accounts Payable means they owe you money, Accounts Receivable mean you owe them money.

8.  When calling a location with several thousand employees, it’s best to ask for someone by first and last name.  Calling and asking for John is not going to get you very far.

9.  Caller ID is the bane of my existence.  I don’t get why the university likes to use our number for caller ID but it does.  If you get a call from a strange number, why do you call it back and ask why they called you?  If there’s no message or contact information, just assume it’s a wrong number and move on.  We don’t have enough time to explain why we don’t know who called you when we are busy.

10.  Pressing Zero doesn’t always get you where you want to go.  In many cases, it takes you out of where you need to be and send you further away.  And just because you got a human being doesn’t mean you are successful.

11.  Don’t give an operator your personal information.  Or make sure you are talking to the right person before rattling off everything you think they need.  It’s okay to ask what department you have reached or to ask if it’s the department you thought you were calling.  We can’t access your account and you’ve just given a potentially dishonest person a lot of information.  I, personally, don’t listen because my goal is to get you off my phone and into the queue for the right person.

12.  My last tip today – when you can show up in person.  Don’t call.  It’s much easier to ignore the phone than it is to ignore a person standing in your office.

Well I highly doubt that anyone who calls me will actually see this but I hope it helps some other operator out there.  Remember that operators are often underpaid, have to deal with everyone’s problem and have no actual ability to help you.  We’re great for directions and asking when the football games are.  We can’t look up your account nor can we take messages.

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