Thursday, October 4, 2012

Xerox - Weeding out the bad by abusing their employees

The views expressed in this article are mine and mine alone.

I've been taking an 'HRD' class the last 3 weeks, where I learn how to find a job and interview skills. A couple of the guys in the class have stated that they'll be starting jobs at Xerox (formerly ACS) in the coming weeks, and I decided to share my experience with them.

I didn't want to scare them, I just wanted them to be prepared, because while I had enough experience in customer service to know what to expect from the customers, I had no experience with ACS/Xerox, and if I had known what I know now, I may have been better prepared to handle the stress.

Because Xerox call centers apply the 'ultimate stress test' to their employees.

I say this out of experience and as a warning. Xerox/ACS has advertisements all over the Triangle area, in fact all over the world. They seem like they're hiring like crazy. What's really happening is they're turning over like crazy.

I discussed this with the man teaching the class, and he told me it's a management style. Something like 'turnover management.' He compared it to UPS which apparently pushes new employees to their limits in hopes of getting the 'bad' employees to quit.

I call bullshit on both of them. What they are doing is nothing short of abusing their employees until they quit due to stress. It means they have to give less raises, less benefits and they pay no attention whatsoever to the needs of their employees.

In the case of Xerox, it goes like this: You see hundreds of ads for customer service positions, and they interview dozens of people every day. Some of these positions are labeled as 'contract' which means they'll cherry-pick the best people when it's over to continue. Sometimes, as in my case, it's permanent.

I worked as an Apple Adviser for 6 months back when ACS was just bought out by Xerox. I went through 3 weeks of training on Apple computers. I was thrown on the floor with little other preparation.

The job itself is stressful. Customer service is one of the most stressful occupations you can have. I expected that up front. Apple customers are particularly picky.

The process of judging how well the agent is doing happens on several battlegrounds. Each manager has to listen in on so many calls and rate the call. There is a QA agent who also rates calls. Apple management also listens in on calls.

If that were the end of it, I would have had no problem with them. But there is one more source of how we were rated: The customers. Randomly, a customer is sent an email asking them to rate the agent they talked to. Here is where the problem gets complicated.

Apple insists that there be no more than 1.5 bad customer reviews per 10 calls. Anything less and you get put on probation and you lose whatever bonus you might have made.

The problem is, when the customer gets the email, s/he might have talked to several different agents, and all it takes is one bad experience with one agent to make all of the experiences bad. I had a number of negative feedback from customers who weren't complaining about me, but were complaining about someone else, or some policy of which I had no control over. My manager felt for me, but couldn't remove the negative feedback.

It's a flawed system because Apple and ACS/Xerox only look at the numbers, not the real reason.

In my case the stress was exasperated when ACS decided they were paying us too much, and the $9/hr minimum we were guaranteed, became $8.50.

In the end, it became increasingly clear to me that Xerox did not care about its employees. I'm still in touch with a number of them, and I know of only two of my original classmates that are still with ACS.

Is this the way we want an employer to treat its employees? I know it's a business and there are a number of demands being asked of them, but I've worked at a number of call centers and the stress was never as high as it was with ACS.

So if you see an ad in the paper for Xerox and think, 'Hey, that sounds like fun!' You've been warned. Brace yourself for the stress test that would make an astronaut go nuts.

As always, thank for reading.