Thursday, January 26, 2012

Strange Investment

It's funny how invested you can become in something that holds so little personal relevance.  I work for a company that sets appointments between insurance clients and their agents.  We do good work and rarely have serious complaints from our agents, but today, for whatever reason, I felt the complaints coming in from all sides.  Part of what I have been doing is calling agents who are currently on a January-end promotion to find out if they are interested in continuing.  I have been shocked by the small number of people who report that they have been unhappy and don't want to continue.  I'm even more surprised by the few agents who don't report at all, just tell us shortly that they want nothing more to do with us (or ... something).  We had another agent call today and yell at my co-worker for five minutes (he was kind enough to say at the end that he doesn't blame her personally and apologized that she was the poor soul who picked up the phone and had to listen to his rant).  We had another two agents this evening inform us that they wanted to cancel.  It's not that I'm offended, but I did have to stop myself from taking it personally.  The managers of this company are good people, as are the callers.  I am grateful to work for and with them, even though I am completely ambivalent about call centers and insurance.  Our little company works hard to provide excellent service for our agents, and I've seen the managers absolutely bend over backwards to accommodate the requests and concerns of their customers.  Maybe that's why I feel a little personal sting when an agent begins accusing us of neglect or poor service.  I was musing about how funny it is  that I should feel that way on the way home.

In happy news, I heard from my thesis supervisor today.  She is a phenomenal scholar.  I have been reading two very relevant books that she has written as I prepare to write.  I wrote to her last night with some ideas for a particular research focus.  I had been concerned about how to set myself apart from my supervisor, since she she has written so astutely about many of the things I am writing about.  After a lot of thought, I found a prevalent research question that she discusses briefly but not very satisfyingly.  It was that particular question that I wanted to ask her about yesterday, and I received her very happy response this morning.  Among the specific details of potential sources, etc. she said, "This actually sounds very intriguing to me, Amy. I don't know the answer ... I think you're really onto something--very good questions."  

YES!!!  Now just to write the darn thing just as brilliantly...

Monday, January 16, 2012

Balancing Act

I've juggled a lot of responsibility at once in the past.  There were semesters when I was juggling 17 credits of unrelated coursework plus three hours a day of flute practice.  There were semesters when I was taking intensive language classes in two different languages (Hebrew and Arabic) while planning 50 minute lessons each day.  I've felt like a busy, busy girl through much of my school career.

Last year I was still busy, but time spent in lectures and seminars was quite low (six hours a week, on Mondays and Wednesdays only), and most of my time was devoted solely to research and writing.  I went from days of concentrated time for schoolwork to a demanding full-time job and thesis-writing squeezed in too....somewhere.  I'm not managing it very well.  I had six weeks of transition time while I worked a less-demanding full-time job at the same company.  It was strange how it all worked out:

I came home from England and needed to work.  I had drained our resources and it was time to start paying off the little student debt that we had occurred.  After my hospital fiasco and delayed essay submission, I searched another six weeks for a job.  I finally received two interview offers and was the runner-up for each.  Thankfully, one of them offered me a lower-paying job instead.  I was to be a non-sales caller at a call center.  I accepted it because they promised to let me search for jobs at the same time I was working for them.  If I needed time off to interview, I could take it.  I couldn't turn down payment to continue the hunt, so I signed on. Their ploy worked, of course, and I never did interview for another position, though I did search for other jobs on occasion.

Fate twists itself in funny ways sometimes.  I ended up getting the job I originally interviewed for.  They fired the woman they hired over me because she just wasn't getting it.  She struggled with the computer programs and consistently made serious mistakes.  She told me the day before she was fired that she would lay awake at night stressing about the job and wondering if she should quit.  She said that she'd decided to stick it out and that three months should be a reasonable learning time, right?  Poor woman. They promoted me to her position a few days later, and they've since given me just about every responsibility possible.  It's a young, growing company, so I now fill a myriad of roles:

  • I am a customer service representative who responds to phone calls and is one of two to answer the hundreds of emails that come in each day.
  • I am a billing and service term supervisor who answers any questions our clients have about their billing and contracts.  
  • I am the operations team liaison for the call center.  I work with the callers and the call center supervisors to solve problems, settle crises, call clients to answer questions the callers can't answer, bring caller mistakes to the attention of their supervisors, work with the call center supervisors to improve the call process, etc.
  • I am the sales representative coordinator (or something like that; I never can remember the official title) who does research and gathers materials before each sales meeting.  This week there are three meetings in the first three days of the week...
  • I am the company editor.  I have been asked to edit new contractual documents, the marketing website, fliers and brochures, emails from the company's president, case documents for legal disputes, and the new company survey.
  • I am the official website designer and company copywrite. I am writing all of the content for the new company website and have had a large hand in the design concept (mostly Dave's expertise, actually). 
  • I assist in client retention initiatives when needed, which means that I call clients whose terms are ending shortly to find out if they are interested in continuing and I call clients who have paused the service to find out if they are ready to continue. 
  • I assist in introducing and walking our clients through our company web program when they start up for the first time.

So the cool thing is that the company trusts me and I have a very big chance to help the company expand and improve.  The president and operations manager value my judgment and respect my opinions.  It is nice to feel important and needed.

On the very big other hand, work is not and cannot be my top priority right now. That list above does not represent 40 hours of work each week. It represents a whole lot more than that. I find myself coming home late each day, and my mind is still reeling with to-do lists and ideas for streamlining and improving the operations of the company.  It should be reeling with brilliant strokes of thesis inspiration.

That's when I roll my eyes at the cruel irony.  My call position was fairly straightforward, tedious work. But it was exactly eight hours a day, each day, and I always knew that if I needed to take three months off just to write, I could do it.  With this new position, not so much.  I can't take off a bulk of time to write, and it expends so much more energy and emotion each day.  It even expends much of my creativity and innovation! I'm enjoying my job, but I have sacrificed TOO MUCH for that Cambridge degree to let my starter job compromise my success in any way.  It makes me sort of sick to think about.

Of course I could quit at any time, I know that.  If I have to make the choice, my degree will come first, without a doubt.  If necessary, I may be able to negotiate some kind of part-time schedule for a little while.  I was preparing a lesson for my 16 and 17-year-old girls the other day, though, on following the example of Jesus Christ.  I didn't have to think long to know what the Savior would do in my situation.  He would work diligently during the day to fulfill the commitment He had made to His employers.  He would produce quality work throughout the eight-hour day and finish the tasks assigned.  Then He would return home and work with focus and diligence on the thesis.  He would wake up at 5:00 am every morning (like I've been theoretically trying to do) and not sluff-off the alarm and shimmy deeper under the covers.  He would work well during the time available and He would finish the thesis and finish it well.  It's a really good thing I believe He can help me do all that too, or I might be a tad-bit panicked right now.  I'm just gonna take it one five o'clock morning at a time...    

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Purchase

On the weekend before Thanksgiving, Dave and I made the first big purchase of our married lives: a new set of couches.  Actually, that's not entirely accurate, because it's a beautiful, rounded, 2-piece sectional.  When put together it's only one piece of furniture.  I normally don't like sectionals, but this piece fit our needs and budget so well.  We'd decided not to buy a sofa and loveseat, both for space and financial reasons.  But we were worried that a sofa alone wouldn't meet our needs for long.  So the sectional was the perfect compromise, though it was one of those hit-you-in-the-head kinds of moments, right as we were about to settle for the sofa of the same line.  We were able to pay cash for our purchase, and we both feel very proud of the centerpiece of our living room.  (Sorry about the faded color.  My camera is still floating around London somewhere - though I'm sure the lost-and-found department has gotten rid of it by now - so these pictures were taken on Dave's iTouch, which doesn't actually let in much light.)

MY pride is the pillows on the couch.  I'd done some searching online and in nearby stores even before we purchased the couch.  I didn't like most of what I'd found, and I was appalled at how expensive pillows were!  So on a whim, I ended up at Jo-Ann Fabrics on Black Friday, and even though it took a few hours of waiting in line, I was able to leave with extremely discounted fabric I loved and pillow-forms for seven sofa pillows.  I'm not a sewer; I guess I'm just picky and independent enough to learn and do it myself!  I sewed them up at my mother's house over Christmas break and I love the way they complete the look of my living room!  (Again, the colors all look brown and gray, but the pillows are actually beautiful sages, yellows, and floral taupes.)

The best part of our new couches is that we finally have a place for friends to sit when they come over!  Hooray for sociability!  

Customer Loyalty

This was a post that I wrote back in November.  There were some reasons that I didn't post it initially, but the time is right now and I'll even post a follow-up post afterwards!:

Dave and I are in a good stage of life right now.  We are together (always a plus), we both have jobs (finally), we have a lovely little apartment, we both have the opportunity to serve and teach in our church, we are meeting new friends and reading good books together (a few at a time).  We both feel very blessed.  Now that I have been working for a couple of months, we are preparing to make the largest purchase of our marriage thus far: a new set of sofas.

Our previous sofas came from the living room of David's parents' house in Texas.  When they retired to Utah, they no longer needed the set and gave them to us, since we were newly married.  They were a good set of couches and we were very grateful to have them.

By the end of our time there, though, they were looking a little worn for wear and would have cost us a lot more than we had at the time to move them to Arizona with us.

So we've been couchless!  We have a very nice floor space in the front room and we have become frequent floor-sitters.  We've been surprisingly content with that state of affairs, but it really can't last.  David's service in the congregation requires us to invite families over to our home quite frequently, and right now there is simply no place for them to sit!  We had considered relying on Craigslist, our trusty used furniture finder (our kitchen table and chairs cost us $35, our perfectly good computer desk cost us $10 and our La-z-boy recliner, purchased in Utah and kindly toted down by Dave's mom, was $35).  We have been told, though, that because of Arizona's rampant bed bug problem, it is a very bad idea to buy used upholstered furniture here. We definitely don't want to take that risk.  So, after much saving, new sofas it is.

We have been to four different furniture shops.  Despite our savings, we have a small budget and have been trying to find the best quality for our money.  I hated everything I saw in the first two stores and we shopped there quite a while ago.  We had just been browsing, trying to get an idea of what was out there.  The salespeople were pesky and I was annoyed.

What I've found, though, is that as the time to make a serious decision gets closer, I become very loyal to my salespeople.  At the third place, where Dave and I went together over the weekend, a newly hired sales representative met us at the door and led us around the showroom with all the enthusiasm and eagerness of the unhardened greenie.  Her answers to our questions were plenty questionable themselves, but she was trying hard and I loved her all the more for it.  We liked what we saw and told her we would probably be back.  We made sure to get her work schedule so we could come again when she was working.

Last night, Dave and I traveled into Phoenix to go to a family-owned furniture store.  The place was huge and had plenty of character.  It looked like a sprawling southern plantation house:

We get their ads in the mail every week, and I have liked both the styles and the prices I have seen.  We were greeted at the door by an old man, who asked if he could help us.  We asked if we could browse for a while, which he smilingly allowed us to do.  I've always had a soft spot in my heart for old men, so I was instantly in love with this salesman too.  

It ended up being a very funny sales experience.  He did let us browse for a while, but eventually we noticed that he was trailing along behind us.  After a time, he crept to our sides and we found ourselves treated to long soliloquies about the company and its furniture.  He made no attempt to cater his soliloquies to our needs. This wasn't a man selling a first couch to a young married couple; this was a fine furniture connoisseur  who lovingly spoke about the intricacies of the most expensive brands as if we knew who or what he was talking about.  He continued to show us the most expensive furniture on the floor, and I'm convinced it wasn't even because he wanted the largest commission, but because he loved the fine furniture and just wanted someone to admire the craftsmanship with him.  This conviction was strengthened when he started showing us furniture beyond couches: kitchen hutches and bedroom sets that never could have fit in our small apartment.  David and I tried to steer him back on course several times, but I finally decided that if we could make his day a little better by listening to his very knowledgeable (if irrelevant) discourses, it was a small sacrifice to pay.  It did prove to be beneficial in a few key ways.  He started telling us about the importance of sofa fibers, which is something I knew nothing about.  This came at the detriment of his own commission.  The only couches I really liked at this store were the ones with wide whale-bone corduroy upholstery.  Dave hated them, but when I mentioned to our salesman that I was interested in the texture, he instantly began telling me how quickly they wear down and how little they hold up to heavy use.  He started explaining the difference between polyester-based fibers, cotton-based fibers and ... one other base I don't remember right now.  Dave and I learned a lot about the most durable fabrics, which was something we were able to take with us and were grateful for future reference.  But by the time we left the store at closing, we knew we wouldn't return to purchase.  My heart broke a little when our elderly salesman said, "If you do return to purchase, I would appreciate it if you would mention my name."  No hounding, just a sweet, sweet "I would appreciate...."  I hope his next clients were people with lots of money and sophisticated tastes!