Saturday, May 11, 2013

What I wish I could say...

I work customer service and tech support by phone.  And I'm on the autistic spectrum.  Those are things that don't normally go together.  Honestly, its so weird that I keep it a secret from almost all of my coworkers and managers.  Only a very few ever find out, and then partially because anything that affects that much of you that you try to hide that much just needs to come out somewhere.

Occasionally I have a call where the customer just stops and praises me for having very good empathy skills, how I just calmed them down immediately with my amazing emotional tone and really helped them.  Once, apparently the prolonged length of my calls attracted attention from a big whig who decided to use my calls as an example to discuss things with his team of managers.  One of the managers came to me afterwards and told me how the big whig had said that they could tell I really cared about my customers.  When I receive praise like that from a customer or a manager I often just want to press pause on the official interaction, transport them to my living room, and explain what its like to be an autistic customer service agent.

I'd tell them that my earliest customer service by phone roles were almost entirely scripted, where I was barely allowed to paraphrase.  And tell them that this was a good way for me to start out because talking on the phone tends to make me freeze up unless I have some kind of script to guide what I say.

I'd tell them about how I, along with my past coworkers, had been through countless trainings on how to be empathetic in a company approved manner following the company approved formula.  And how none of it really made any sense to me.

I'd tell them how on any customer service or tech support job there's always these problem spots where the basic facts of the situation are almost guaranteed to make someone mad unless its presented well.  And then I'd tell them how I tend to take months or maybe even longer perfecting just the right phrasing to get past those danger zones because to me figuring out how to emotionally present things effectively is like tinkering with an old beat up car, you just keep analyzing and listening until you figure our which parts need replacing until you get it working.  It doesn't happen automatically.

I'd tell them about how I was once responsible to fake that I was a supervisor to take calls from angry people who didn't want to talk to base level agents anymore.  I often did pretty well.  My emotional response range is so calm to most things that its hard for most customers to get under my skin, and remaining calm is probably 3/4rs of the battle in taking care of angry people.

But when I was asked to intensively multi task while doing those calls I started to have a pattern of people asking to speak to my manager because they felt I wasn't empathetic enough.  I just couldn't concentrate on sounding nice at the same time as doing too many other things.

I'd tell them that probably the biggest reason I sound good emotionally is because I've been perfecting my phone voice for the last 7 years.

I'd tell them about how even though I can mask my innate emotional lack of intuitive empathy by lots of practice, I still have the detail oriented mind result in calls so long I tend to be on the verge of getting fired over it.  And that my poor ability to emotionally connect with people still makes my sales offers sound like more like something smelly, warm, and soft going splat rather than the money making music the company wants to hear.

I'd tell them about how I once had manager a couple levels up from me try to have me officially written up for submitting credit requests that were too wordy.  And how my direct manager who knew about my being autistic shielded me from them because she felt that the other person could use having to get used to someone like me.

I'd tell them about how once someone did manage to get me reprimanded because I included, at the customers request, personal medical details that related to a credit request and how I started to melt down get upset because I couldn't understand what the problem was.  And how this same manager who knew my diagnosis respected me when I told her that it wasn't worth it and that I needed to disengage.

I'd tell them how for me empathy is more a choice I make and a point of view I explore rather than a feeling that spills out of my guts without me choosing when it happens.

I'd tell them I am an empathy practitioner.  Meaning that I have to practice it because the way I naturally express it probably wouldn't come across in a way they would understand.  But that its still there as part of who I am.  I just have to translate it.

1 comment:

sleepyhamster said...

Oftentimes when I'm mentioning to someone that I have a brother with Aspergers, I tell them how proud I am of you. I tell them how hard you have practiced to make things work in a neurotypical world and how proud I am of how far you've come in that respect.