Friday, April 18, 2014

Why I'm Afraid of Phone Calls


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Telephobia is reluctance or fear of making or taking phone calls, literally, "fear of telephone". Telephone phobia is also considered to be a type of social phobia or social anxiety problem. It is often compared to glossophobia, in that both require engaging with an audience to a certain extent, followed by the fear of being criticized, judged or made a fool of.
-From Wikipedia

I loathe when the telephone rings and I don't recognize the number.  My breath catches, the hair on the back of neck stands up, my fists clench and I break out in a cold sweat.  An overwhelming sense of dread settles over my entire being.  It's not that I'm afraid there's bad news coming, that someone's dead or in the hospital. I can trace my fear of phone calls precisely to a very specific period of my life.

I worked at Kinko's for 7 years.


For those of you who are not familiar, Kinko's is a chain of copy shops that was hugely popular and prevalent across the U.S. through the 90s and early 2000s.  It was like Blockbuster or McDonald's - in major cities it seemed like there was a Kinko's on every street corner.  If you've ever seen a movie or TV show where a character goes to a copy shop to print his resume or his book manuscript, it was probably a Kinko's.

There were two fundamentally-flawed issues at play with Kinko's, that resulted in my fear of telephone calls:

1. The customers were assholes

People came to Kinko's because they had to.  They needed their resume, their business presentation, pictures of their grandma.  And they always needed it RIGHT AWAY.  They were on their way to the job interview, the plane was about to take off to fly them to their meeting, or the old woman's funeral was in an hour.  All of this amounted to stressed out people who were in a rush and a bad mood before they even set foot in the store.  Unfortunately for them when they came in...

2. The employees were incompetent

Kinko's paid little better than most minimum wage jobs, and thus attracted the same level of employees. Unfortunately, it was a far more involved position than cashing out groceries or telling the woman trying on jeans that her butt didn't look fat.  You had to consult with these stressed out customers and try to figure out how to turn their ideas into a printed project (those of you who print and design your own books know how complicated this can be).  You had to operate finicky, high-tech machines and figure how to keep them running and make those ugly dog pictures come out looking shiny every time.  You had to deal with thousands of different file types designed in software that hasn't been sold outside South Africa since 1995. It was a specialized job and the people doing it were not paid or trained properly to handle it. The worse part was that the handful of people who were semi-competent tended to become drunk with power, toying with and playing with these stressed out and pissed off customers, getting a sick and perverted joy out of telling them their simple copy job was going to take 24 hours to do.

Anyway, all of this added up to me being terrified of answering the phone because, without hyperbole, we received only three types of phone calls (with a roughly equal chance of each):

1. "What time do you close?" (We're open 24 hours)
2. "How much do you charge for copies?" (Way too much)
3. "YOU BASTARDS FUCKED UP MY ORDER!"

No lie.  A good 33% of phone calls I received, especially when I first started, were from people complaining about something we did.  And when I reached for that receiver I never knew if it was just going to be someone politely asking me if we were going to fix it, or if it was going to be someone screaming because they lost a multi-million dollar business tender because we screwed up their bid somehow (this happened more than I care to admit).

Now that I think about it, I could have done the whole A-to-Z challenge with Kinko's stories.  I had people call me names, tell me I've ruined Christmas, messed up people's school applications.  I once had a woman call me and yell at me for 20 minutes because another Kinko's location screwed up her order but when she called them they had hung up on her.

In person it's even better.  I've had people throw things at me, threaten employees, vomit on the photocopier, hold children's birthday parties in the self-serve computer section.  I even had the FBI storm in and do an impromptu investigation because they got a tip we may have been printing material that proved a threat to the safety of the President of the United States (we were in Canada).

Anyway, long story short, the whole experience made me slightly apprehensive about answering the phone. Any phone.  Part of me always assumes it's someone ready to yell at me because we put the wrong date on their wedding invitations and they didn't notice until after they had mailed them.
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