After a week of anxious fretting over the havoc that was ensuing on the back end of my blog (I am so glad that’s over, but I’m still paranoid about clicking on that WP 3.1 update mocking me from the top of my dashboard), I was in dire need of a pick me up type of book. I was browsing through my Nook shelves and remembered I had loaded Lisa Lim’s Confessions of a Call Center Gal (available on Amazon, also as a Kindle ebook, with a Nook edition soon to follow).
I fixed myself a mug of steamy milk tea, plumped up some pillows on the divan, and started reading.
Madison “Maddy” Lee is fresh out of college, eager to carve out her name in journalism. After sending out her resume to every newspaper within a thousand mile radius and getting zero results, she takes on her best friend Karsynn’s standing invite to the tumbleweed town of Pocatello, Idaho.
When Karsynn’s mom tells the girls her company had job openings for customer services reps, both girls jump at the opportunity of a steady income. They agonize over their interviews, land the jobs, drag themselves through the six-week training, join the ranks of Lightning Speed Communications, and enter the crazy, colorful world of call centers.
To be honest, I had my apprehensions. The story is candidly told from Maddy’s point of view, and Maddy and Karsynn were a bit too loud and excitable for my taste, especially when they were conversing with each other. I mean, I know, I’m reading a book and technically not hearing anything, but the girly slang, the italics, and the punctuation marks were tipping them a bit over the shrillness scale for a while there. I remember groaning inwardly upon reading that the girls’ favorite show is Chelsea Lately, as I find Chelsea Handler one of the most annoying people (with the exception of Rachael Ray) on cable tv.
There’s also the unfortunate coincidence that Maddy’s love interest is a guy named Mika Harket, and my (girl) best friend’s name is Mika, causing me to pause every time Mika is mentioned in the book, as I had to constantly remind myself that the book was pertaining to a Belgian hunk.
Reading on, I was relieved to find that the shrillness tones down after the first few chapters, and that enough flattering descriptions of Mika are given so the image of a Belgian hunk eventually materializes.
I started to warm up to the novel (and Maddy) when she flubs up in the job interview and gives an inane (and long-winded) example of a difficult situation she had handled: her grandmother’s dog getting a seizure. I made a similar booboo in a crucial interview I had for a prized internship back in college (hey, in my defense, I’d just gotten my heart broken!), and I definitely felt some second-hand mortification for Maddy right there. By the time Maddy takes a call from the heavily accented Australian “Poida” (Peter) White asking her to change his password to “Inicondi88” with “I as in Ipple de fruit,” I was laughing my head off!
While I think the general storyline could have been tighter, I really enjoyed the dynamics of the friendships in this book. Maddy and Karsynn band together with their fellow bottom-rung customer service reps, the cute but clueless Ingeborg and the fabulously gay Truong Nguyen (hands down my favorite character!), and they keep each other sane (with office gossip, fried rice, sushi rolls, fruity popsicles, and the occasional bootleg liquor) amidst the “escalations” (aka irate callers) and the pervs, the Feminazi team lead, the holiday work, and average handle times. Maddy also strikes up a friendship with Mika, whom she is tutoring in English as he is working on his college thesis, and things move along (slowly but) steadily in that department.
The gang has a lot of great moments together, including Maddy and Karynn’s big fight (and reconciliation of course), a very sloshed Christmas (that was one of the most hilarious episodes in the book, ever!), Truong’s catfight with the snooty fake-tanned Tatiana, and my favorite: Valentine’s Day, when Maddy gets a heart shaped cinnamon roll from Mika (Easter egg: Maddy refers to it as her Denny and George scarf moment, an expression only a true Shopaholic fan will recognize). There are so many memorable episodes in this novel — if this book was adapted to film, I think it would translate very well on the screen.
What I appreciated most in this book, however, is the insight into the world of call centers. I have never worked at a call center (although I used to illustrate a weekly newspaper column anonymously written by a disgrunted call center rep), and it was interesting to find out what happens on the other end of the phone line. I think this is where the novel succeeds: in putting a face to the disembodied voice of a customer service rep.
As Maddy notes in the novel,
They come from all walks of life —mothers who work to supplement their family incomes, college students who support themselves, fathers who juggle two jobs, grandparents who can’t survive on social security alone, military men and women on reserve (even a couple marines and NAVY seal officers), farmers who no longer find farming a lucrative business, an anesthesiologist who lost his license, small business owners who filed for bankruptcy. They are folks like you and me, just trying to make a living.
I think anyone who reads this book will be a little bit more mindful of that the next time they call customer service.
Confessions of a Call Center Gal, electronic review copy courtesy of Lisa Lim
Book #13 for 2011
top photo courtesy of sxc.hu