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I’ve worked at a variety of jobs over the years.  I love a change so was always eager to try something new.  However, the longest “career” I’ve had has been as a receptionist.  No matter what the sector is, a receptionist is the first port of call for a business.  I’ve worked in the medical field, both private practise and public health systems but have also worked in the aluminium, construction, water, computer, hospitality, educational and clothing fields too.  All as a receptionist.

I loved working as a receptionist.  I loved being at the coal face of a job.  I loved meeting new people and being able to help clients achieve the outcome they were looking for.  Don’t be fooled by the old stereotype of a receptionist or secretary being a bit of fluff who sits at a front desk filing her nails and sitting on the bosses knee.  That is far from the truth.  The truth is that a good  receptionist has to know EVERYTHING that is going on in a business, can multi task 10 different things at once and still be able to answer the phone as if the only thing she has to do is help the person on the other end of the phone.

I’m reflecting on this today as I had an horrendous experience the other day with a maintenance company’s receptionist.  Let me explain a bit more.. At the moment, I live in public housing run through a women’s housing group.  This is the first time I have lived in public housing.  I was given this place as emergency housing after being assaulted by a former landlord and needing to get out quick. I had been offered public housing over the years due to the dreadful situation with my stalking ex husband but had always turned it down as I worked and could afford full rental.  I always thought there were people out there who needed it more than me.

However, with the untenable situation I was in with the landlord, coupled with not working due to health reasons, this time I had no choice and am so very grateful for this place.  I don’t take it for granted.  I know it is a privilege and not a right to live here.  I don’t abuse that privilege.  I have planted a garden where there was none and done any repairs to the property that are easily fixed rather than calling a contractor as I feel that is just abusing the system if you’re capable yourself.  When I leave here, the place will be better for me having been, not worse.  My pride still doesn’t feel comfortable with needing public housing.  It isn’t easy writing this now and admitting this is where I find myself at this moment in time.  I’m not knocking public housing but it wasn’t what I ever expected for myself.  It isn’t where I’ll always be either but it’s where I find myself at the moment.

A week and a half ago, my hot water system started switching itself off and for the first few days, I just went back out and switched it back on again as we had had a few power blackouts so I assumed this was why it was doing it.  However, by the Tuesday I phoned the housing group as I realised it wasn’t from the blackouts, it was doing it regardless.  I could still turn it back on though so I wasn’t too worried about it.  Plumbers came out on Wednesday to look at it but said it was an electricians job.  I don’t know what they did while they were there but from that moment on it was completely stuffed.  They were phoning an electrician immediately (or so they said).  No one showed up.

When I phoned the women’s housing group, they rang the maintenance team to be told they would send someone out on Friday.  Great, 2 days without hot water.. Oh well.. It’s not the worst thing in the world, just an inconvenience.  On Friday, I phoned to see what time they would be coming as the electrician hadn’t been in touch to make a time.  Once again, the women’s housing group got in touch with the maintenance team, only to be told they wouldn’t be there until Monday as they had 48 hours to respond to a call.  Ummmm.. You were told on Wednesday.  This meant I would be without water for the whole weekend.

I wasn’t happy but there was nothing I could do without really causing a fuss, so I just sucked it up.  Over the weekend, my son Lachlan became extremely ill so I was looking after him.  By Monday morning, it was obvious that he needed more than a mother’s touch and I made a doctors appointment.  I phoned the maintenance team to ask what time they would be out as they still hadn’t advised me of a time and I had to take him to the doctors.  The receptionist said it would be between 8 and 12.. Can’t give you a time.. you know the drill.

I told her that I wouldn’t be far away but my son was sick and needed to be taken to the doctors.  She said I needed to be there for the job to be done and I explained that it’s an outside hot water service and I wouldn’t be far off.  She put me onto another woman, who said I needed to be there or it wouldn’t be done.  I explained my situation again and she said, extremely rudely, that it wasn’t her problem and if I wasn’t there when they got there, they would leave a card and have to reschedule.  By this time, I have been without hot water for 5 days which is one stress and I have an extremely sick son who I’m trying to get to a doctors.  I explained to her that the Wednesday before, I gave them permission to work on the “OUTSIDE” hot water service while I wasn’t there as I had TAFE that day.   She said that I couldn’t give them permission (though I had with the same company the week before) and had to be there.  This went to’ing and fro’ing for a while with me trying to explain to her, almost begging, that I needed hot water and I needed to take my son to the doctors.  I shouldn’t have to choose between these.. .

When finally, in sheer exasperation at her rudeness and lack of understanding, I said to her “you are unbelievable”, she yelled at me that I was such an aggressive person and she didn’t have to be spoken to like that.  I could see I was going to get nowhere with her, so finally hung up and called the women’s housing group emergency number as they don’t work on a Monday.  They said they’d phone and get it organised, don’t worry about it, just get Lachlan to the doctors.  She phoned them and got a guarantee that they would fix the water whether I was there or not.

I raced off to the doctors with Lachlan and when she saw him, she suspected he had Quinsy so said to take him straight to hospital where staff would be waiting for us.  Just as I pulled up to the hospital, I got a phone call from the same “charming” receptionist at the maintenance company, asking where I was, as the plumber was at the house and if I wasn’t there, they’d have to reschedule.  This argument was becoming a bit groundhog day’ish.  I explained to her, YET AGAIN, that an agreement had been made that they would fix the hot water without me being there.  She insisted they needed access to the place and that since I wasn’t there, he would leave a card and have to reschedule for another day.

By now, I was starting to lose the plot.  Trust me, having worked as a receptionist, I try never to take anything out on them when I phone a company, but this woman would have tried the patience of Mother Theresa herself.  I said, yet again, that I needed hot water and I was at the hospital with my son and I would return as soon as I could but right now, they needed to at least start.  (Remembering a plumber had already been and said they couldn’t fix it) She refused to budge.  There was no way I was going to get my hot water service fixed if I didn’t go straight home and forget my sick son.

I hung up on her (yes I know that’s rude, but not as rude as I wanted to be at that moment, so took the safer option) and phoned the women’s housing back.  She was gobsmacked that this attitude kept going on.  She took charge again, bless her soul, and I took Lachlan into emergency.  While I was in there, she phoned back and said they were insisting that they needed access to inside the house to fix it, but would start on the outside till i got there,  so since he was already being seen by the doctors at this time, I left Lachlan there and raced home.   TO NO ONE HERE.   So I phoned the crew back again and said I was home and could give them access to the house right now.. I got a curt “fine” and hung up on.

The guy turned up a few minutes later and I went out to see him.  I explained that my son was in the hospital and I needed to get back there so I would just leave the house open for him.  He looked at me like I had two heads and said he didn’t need access to the house.  So I told him the saga of what had happened so far that day.  He said he had no idea why she would say that as he didn’t need access to the house.  He told me just to go.. He’d get it fixed.  Thankfully, he was a man of his word.

He couldn’t fix it but called an electrician who fixed it that afternoon.  Lachlan didn’t have Quinsy but a severe case of tonsilitis which had really knocked him off his feet.  I brought him home with medication and was able to have a hot shower, so all is right in my world again.  However, the way that woman treated me still astounds me.

I took pride in always keeping clients calm.  In the same situation, I would have been compassionate and understanding and tried everything I could to get the situation resolved quickly.  I would never have used terms like, bad luck, not my problem and what do you want me to do about it.   These are just unacceptable.  I asked her at one stage how she would feel if she’d been without hot water for 5 days and her answer?? “I’m not so it’s not my problem”.

I have been racking my brain to understand what the reason was for her rudeness. Her attitude was personal and that’s what disconcerts me the most.  She was rude from the moment I phoned.  Her attitude seemed to be that I had no right to expect my hot water service to be fixed till they were ready to fix it as I was in public housing.  At one stage I told her I would put a complaint in about her attitude and asked for her first name and she refused to give it to me as she obviously didn’t want to be identified.

Why, in God’s name, does someone take a job in a company who is contracted by the Department of Housing, to fix public housing issues, if that is their attitude to public housing.  I don’t understand it.  I know there are people who live in public housing that abuse the system.   I know it must be frustrating at times to work in that sort of situation.  I once worked for Centrelink (Australia’s Social Security) so I understand the sort of calls you get.  What I don’t understand is how you can treat everyone with the same attitude. Every call you take, as a receptionist must be answered on it’s own merit. You can’t assume everyone is a loser.. You can’t take out your frustration on every caller that phones.  You just can’t speak to people that rudely.

Have I ever been rude to a client in my role as a receptionist?  Yes I have.  But it was either in defence of another client who was being treated badly or it was after repeated abuse by a client.  And when I say rude, I don’t mean abusive or even discompassionate, I mean firm and no nonsense. Even when I returned to work 3 weeks after my daughter was killed, I didn’t take it out on client’s or collegues.  Was I sad? Yes, but everyone around me didn’t pay for what had happened to me. That’s how it has to be.

I am not only still upset by the whole attitude of this woman but I am now feeling  bad about my housing situation. I know I shouldn’t let her get to me but I have.  She treated me like a second class citizen. She spoke to me as if I were no more than dirt underneath her feet.  She made me feel like I was nothing more than a nuisance who abused the system.  I wonder if it was just me  or does she speak to every client the same way?  To have gone from a person who has held good jobs within the public service and always supported herself and her children with no need of any sort of support, to living in subsidised housing and not working is demeaning enough.  This woman knew nothing of my circumstances or what has brought me to where I am today yet felt she had the right to judge me.

Can I add here, it was not the actual housing department, nor the women’s housing that treated me like this.  They were, as usual, completely fantastic.. It was the maintenance company that get their business from the Department of Housing which makes the attitude completely inexplicable. Even then, it wasn’t the actual tradesmen who turned up to finally fix the problem, it was just the receptionist.

I’m glad I never treated clients that way when I worked as  receptionist.  I pride myself on the lovely feedback I always got, even from the more difficult clients.  I feel good about myself knowing that there were times I made a huge difference in a person’s life.  I was told by my favorite ever boss, Ann, that a receptionist is the eyes and ears of a company and as such was an important role.  I took that on board and did my job with pride.  It’s a pity that not everyone treats people they way they would want to be treated.

I hope this particular lady never gets treated the same way she treated me.  I hope she is never made to feel as inferior as she made me feel.  I hope she is never spoken down to as she spoke down to me.  But if she is, I hope she remembers how demeaning it feels and never does it to another person.

Happy hot showering… Livvy 🙂

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