I am SO through with customer service!

Sigh . . . let me explain. I’m a librarian at a large academic library. I started out at the reference desk, but they gradually phased me over to the circulation desk, and they put me there full time when I volunteered for the position.

See, I have a lot of experience with customer service, having done it on and off for over 20 years since my high school days. I used to love working with customers. I got a reputation for deftly handling the nightmare customers who made everyone else on my shift cower in the break room. I would handle them with politeness and courtesy, and somehow, at the end, they would follow the rules and regulations of wherever I was working, and I’d get congratulated. Customer service is one of the very few things in life that has always come naturally to me, and I’ve always loved it. And when I started working directly with the library patrons, I continued to love it. Until now, that is.

Part of it is the situation, I suppose. Looking at the big four-oh looming in the future, I realize that whatever it is I am cut out to do for the rest of my life, I’d better find it spit-fiddley. And part of it is age. At my age of . . . well, late thirties, I’m not as quick and energetic as I was when I was 19 bussing tables and pouring coffee for tips. I can’t identify with the undergrads anymore. I can’t even identify with the grad students in our library. Hell, the grad students are starting to piss me off, and part of it is just the age gap. Another part of it is how the grad students seem to believe that the entire planet revolves around their research involving medieval potty training, or whatever the hell it is grad students study now.

I can tell you that it’s not the grad students fault. It’s mine. I’m tired. I’m way too tired to deal with people for the rest of my life. I was going to grad school for my second masters in education, but over the past week, I’ve changed my mind, and I’m going to look into a masters degree in accounting. Just something that involves my own freakin’ cubicle with a nice large pile of paper waiting for me in the morning to be done by the end of the day. Something that does not involve me being all perkiness and sunshine in the face of utter douchebaggery. Something that involves working with, ohhhh, I dunno, six, maybe seven people in a day. I think I can be civil with that many people without losing my mind.

Anyway, to make a long story longer, I was staring at the computer at work this afternoon, when suddenly it hit me what I had to do. After I post this, I’m going upstairs now to my library. I’m going to dig out my old computer textbooks. When I get back up to speed on that, I’m going to go out and buy a basic COBOL textbook and a guide to job searches. As soon as I feel halfway competent with working with databases, applications and creating basic webpages, I’m going to apply for every entry-level corporate job I can find in my area until I find one crazy enough to take me on. Who knows, maybe I’ll eventually come around to my customer service mindset someday and rediscover the joys of working with total strangers . . .

. . . but I doubt it.

COBOL?!? Ummm… I think maybe you need to rethink THAT decision. Unless perhaps there’s something you’re not telling us, like you’re in a time warp and posting from 1967? :smiley:

I quit a customer service job two years ago in order to work in a department with 4-5 other people. I thought it would be a nice break, and it is…except one of the people I work with can certainly be a “challenging customer”…and if you think it’s tough to deal with a challenging customer who goes away after a few minutes, wait until that person is there 40 hours a week!

I do miss the nice customers…the ones who could really make your day with a “Thank you, you’ve been a big help.” The thing about working with the same people day in and day out is that they often take you for granted.

I still find myself having to be “perkiness and sunshine in the face of utter douchebaggery” much more than I ever imagined I would. Ever seen “Office Space”? You get ten different people letting you know that you forgot to put the new cover sheet on your TPS report, and you have to smile and nod and be pleasant to each one, just like you have to be pleasant to the multitude of students who ask you where the medieval potty training books are.

I think a job in the library where perhaps there isn’t quite so much customer contact (I worked in a university library as a student, and my boss rarely had to deal with patrons–she supervised the students who did deal with them, and was in charge of the periodical collection) might be preferable to an entry-level corporate job. You realize that most people in such jobs are the same age as the graduate students that you don’t connect with now, right? These would be your co-workers, and you would work with them all day, every day.

I do like that I do not have to be “on” all the time. If I don’t feel particularly well, all I have to muster is “reasonably pleasant”, not “polite and cheerful” or “care and concern” or “vocal variety” or whatever the buzzword flavor of the month is. If I want to work quietly, that’s just fine.

I’ll trade with you, if you like- most of my customers are elderly, confused, cranky, and irritating. At least most Twentysomethings know what a “Gigabyte” or a “Digital Set Top Box” is…

Athena: You have no idea how much COBOL still exists in the world, and how much it needs to be maintained. (Yes, I mean COBOL, not Cobol. Cobol was designed for people who’d seen Java; COBOL was designed for people who’d seen IBM 701 machine code.)

One of my friends works for a company that maintains systems for the Inland Revenue in the UK, she tells me they are desperate for COBOL people because none of the grads coming through their system have any idea what it’s all about. And the IR aren’t about to upgrade their systems any time soon.

Yeah, these are good points. I’d love a library job dealing with accounts or interlibrary loan with limited contact with the customers. Unfortunately, I work in Boston, where all the librarians want to go, so even those jobs are few and far between. If I leave this job without relocating, I’ll most likely be leaving libraries for the foreseeable future, until we can relocate. :frowning:

I think the main thing for me is being “on” all the time. Just that whole happy-smiley thing in front of the customer no matter what your mood and your physical state, and knowing that if you do have to put your foot down and enforce the regs and they complain, that you’ll be hearing about it later from your supervisor, who may or may not have the slightest clue about customer service (FTR, my super is decent. Not awesome, but decent enough so that when I do leave this job, it’s not going to be because of her.).

I don’t think I’ll have a problem with individual cases at a corporation. You don’t do 20 years of customer service without learning a knack for people and figuring out how to stand up for yourself without going too far. Having a job involving processing a lot of paperwork and banging away on a computer would make this even easier, because I can both lose myself in the work and find excuses and opportunities to avoid the person. That’s one of the reasons I’m seriously thinking about getting that accounting degree.

I didn’t mention it above, but another reason I’m getting out of this racket is that I’m taking a good hard look at my life, and I realize that I’m suffering from Permanent Potential Syndrome. I’m reasonably smart. I can do a variety of different things, but I don’t know how to make it all click. I don’t know how to market myself, and make my skills work for me. I’m not stupid. I’ve got my bachelor’s and masters. What the hell am I doing working behind a circulation desk dealing with people for peanuts?

Well, I mean, I know why. It’s because I haven’t been overly concerned with making money, and that circulation–while tough–has been fun as hell up until now. Seriously. I’m going to look back on this as one of my best jobs EVER. And it HAS been a great job. And I HAVE learned stuff. But it’s time to get serious about life. I don’t want to be 50 and still working at the desk, doing the same thing, dealing with undergrads and grads and people off the street on a daily basis.

I have no doubt there is. But are you seriously taking the stance that it’s a good language for someone with little coding knowledge to learn so she can do web sites?

Well, I don’t know from Cobol/COBOL for websites. It sounds like it would make sense, given how closely web forms resemble 3270 screens, but I don’t know. However, Cobol is a rather simple language (probably the simplest to be commercially useful) and there is a lot of information out there (written over five decades) on the language and the care and feeding of programs written in it and its dialects.

Plus, real programmers get bouts of nausea and claustrophobia when confronted with maintaining large COBOL projects. One got so bad he had to implement Prolog in Haskell and talk to the result about his family for five generations just to stop shaking.

As fellow academic support person burnt out by the work, I sincerely hope you find something that will make you happy.

I’ve decided to leave academics and take over the world.

It’s true, it’s true, COBOL still exists and is a fairly easy language. But given the choice between coding in COBOL and doing customer service…I’d commit suicide. :smiley:

You know, I think I understand where you’re coming from. I’ve hit the big 5-0, and I’m just tired out from dealing with jerks that I have to make happy. The trouble is, I AM in the corporate world. I’m afraid that you might have an unrealistic picture of what that entails. In my experience, there’s very few jobs available in corporate computer programming where you sit in a cubicle, write your code, and clock out at 5 PM. You’re either dealing with clients with unreasonable expectations and little insight, or if you’re working directly for the corporation, you’re dealing with bosses who expect more for less. Of course, there are exceptions, but I haven’t seen many of them.

I don’t want to rain on your parade. Hell, I think I’m looking for the same thing you are. But you know how you smirk at people who think being a librarian is a great job “because you get to work with books all day”? I felt a little bit like that when I read your description of the corporate world.

Good luck. And I mean that sincerely with no sarcasm.

Wait, there are actually two distinct languages; one called COBOL and the other called Cobol? What kind of idiotic idea was is to have two languages distinguished only by capitalization? That’s got to be the most confusing thing around.

This thread is funny. I’m in the corporate world and am beginning to consider becoming a librarian. We could trade jobs. :smiley:

Thanks for your replies, all. Really great stuff. I feel I should clarify one or two points.

I actually do have computer experience. I’ve created webpages and programmed C++ and Java for classes (although never professionally). I also have professional database experience. I’ve created a couple of databases in Access and troubleshot networks on the job (even have my MCSE).

That said, I will never go back to fixing computers for my bread and butter. Ever. I will stick with customer service before I go through that again. I’m thinking about accounting, actually. I’ve had an accounting class, and loved it. Definitely something I could see myself doing with my life. From what I’ve heard and read, accountants are needed out there, and I might be able to combine not only my computer experience–such as it is–but my languages, too. The work hours may or may not be easy, but the work routine seems to be steadier than customer service, and in any case, I would feel as if I were doing something important, rather than just smiling and doing random tasks at random times. (On edit: Yes, I know that I probably won’t be able to combine all these things on my first corporate gig. Believe me, I’m ready for monotony!)

I’m studying computers because (a)They’re actually kind of fun, although I don’t get into it the way hardcore geeks do and (b)Those kinds of skills tend to look good on a resume. The way I look at it, you never know when your boss might ask you to set up a simple database or query to look something up on the system. It’s happened to me before on another library job, and I was really grateful for those skills. In the same vein, having a personal website that you designed soup-to-nuts looks good too.

jsgoddess, yeah, I caught your thread this morning over in IMHO. I’d say go for it. I love libraries. I really, really love libraries. If I could get another fulltime library job in the area, I would. I definitely plan on coming back to them in the future (assuming I wind up leaving them at all). Then again, maybe some corporate/accounting/computer experience will do me some good. The single best thing you will find in libraries is that there is no such thing as useless knowledge. No matter what you studied and learned before going into them, sooner or later, someone’s probably going to have a use for your knowledge. Libraries are awesome. I’ll post to your thread when I have a bit more time and can think of some useful advice for you, but you’re definitely making a good choice.

Huh, people. One of my husband’s best friends is a former programmer, who quit his lucrative job to follow his dream of becoming a librarian.

Wait…you mean you are a librarian, with a library degree, working the circulation desk? No wonder you’re miffed.

Could you get a back-cubicle job cataloging, or indexing, or something?

Accounting, eh?

Have you considered lion taming?

No way! I can’t stand ants. :stuck_out_tongue:

I wouldn’t go so far as to say “miffed,” at least not for that reason. I moved to Massachusetts right after getting my MLIS, and this was my first full-time library job. Unless I think about relocating, it might just be my last. Those back-cubicle jobs are hard to come by nowadays around here. Many of them ask for quite a bit more experience than I have. I suppose I could intern, but that would mean quitting a full-time job at a time when I can’t afford to. My main issue here is that I’m tired of working with the community at large. I’m looking for a job involving a lot of headwork with a limited amount of human interaction. If it’s in a library, so much the better, but this isn’t my first priority.

At present, relocation isn’t an option. Mrs. Fresh and I have to look after her parents, and she’s in grad school now. When all this is over, we could relocate, and in fact we’re talking about where we could go. I’ve already been working during the day and going to school at night (Boston is a fantastic city for that sort of thing.), and the plan that’s currently percolating in my head at the moment involves simply switching my aim from earning an education degree (because I originally wanted to get into bibliographic instruction) to earning an accounting degree.

You know, the more I think about this path, the better it sounds. I’m under no illusions about what the life of an accountant is like. But it’s a professional skill that can easily be transferred from one place to another, and it involves more brainpower than what I’m doing now. Add to that a bit of skill with computers, and I can see this working out pretty well, especially if and when I decide to return to libraries.

No. You misunderstand. My point is that Cobol (it’s mixed-case now) has had such a long history and has been changed so often by new standards that it’s difficult to call its 1950s incarnation and its 2000s incarnation entirely the same language. Things that make sense in code from the 1960s, say, would be very wrong in code written now or within the past ten years, assuming the new code is written to the new standard. Conversely, things that are good practice in new code would be impossible in code written to be compiled by an older system.

Think about it this way: A Model-T and a Focus are both Fords, but experience with one only goes so far with the other. (I don’t think Cobol has changed that radically.)