It was the week of Thanksgiving and Emmy Smith was smack dab in the middle of the weirdest week of her life.
It had started out simple enough. She went to work at John’s Pet Food Emporium as she had any other day, ready to answer calls… get yelled at… feel her soul getting sucked out of her body.
Black Friday was looming over everyone like it did every year. Already calls were ramping up, customers more frantic, agents more burnt out, but that too was normal. Happened every year.
Emmy had been in the middle of helping a very frazzled young woman order the right type of medicated food for her dog, her phone alight with calls waiting to be answered when everything just…stopped.
A quiet buzzing filled her ears…and then, there was nothing. Blackness.
Emmy had never passed out at work before. In fact, she’d never passed out, period. But when she came to and found herself laying in the middle of their office, debris all around her, she realized she must have.
How else could she have been sitting at her desk, talking on the phone one minute, and then surrounded by smashed computers, broken phones, and was that… smoke?
Wincing, she sat up and realized she wasn’t the only one seeming to have passed out. “What in the hell…” a coworker to her left said, rubbing at his head as if he’d hit it.
“Was there a fire?” Another, already on her feet and looking at the burned remains of a phone, said.
Emmy looked to the door of their COO’s office. It was closed. Ms. Carson never closed her door.
Before Emmy could get up and take further stock as to what had just happened, the door burst open and a flustered Ms. Carson stepped out. Her eyes swept across the room and Emmy noticed that the woman was shaking.
“You will all go home and we will never speak of this day again,” Ms. Carson said, her voice unsteady. “You will receive an email later this evening as to next steps.”
Questions immediately broke out. What had happened? Was there a fire? Was she okay? Did they need to call the police?
Ms. Carson didn’t answer a single one. “You will go home and we will never speak of this again.” Her voice was level now, direct and uncompromising. Without another word she turned on her heel and disappeared into her office once again.
Everyone looked at each other, and then, following orders, they packed up what was left of their things and left the building.
Later that night, Emmy jumped at the sound of her phone pinging, alerting her to a new email. It was about time. Emmy had been on and off the phone with fellow coworkers all day. No one could remember a thing.
Well… nothing except for a voice in their head.
What Emmy had originally thought of as buzzing had actually been something far stranger. The more people she talked to, the more they came to realize they’d all heard the same thing.
A distant static voice.
On hold for far too long
Let this curse come along
In madness now all descend.
A call center has met its end.
Emmy didn’t know how or why such a thing had happened, but she couldn’t deny it certainly had.
With fumbling fingers, she opened the email. It was not what she had been expecting. Not at all.
It was a short email, alerting the call center team that their complaints had been heard and a new system was being implemented ASAP. They would be taking calls from their homes for the next few days while the office got put back together.
That was it?
Emmy scrolled through the email several times. But there was nothing else. No explanation as to what happened, no firings, nothing.
Emmy blew out a long breath. Just another strange thing to add to the list.
As it turned out, ASAP truly meant ASAP. When Emmy logged on the next day, prepared to start answering calls, she was called into a quick virtual meeting instead. Her and her fellow confused coworkers were being introduced to their new system. It was replacing their IVR.
“The voice technology will take and deal with calls it can handle and if it can’t, it will transfer those calls to you. That easy.” Belinda Carson looked a bit better than she had yesterday, but not by much. If Emmy wasn’t imagining things, her boss even looked a little… frightened.
“It will answer all the calls?” someone asked.
Belinda nodded. “And it will solve all the queries it’s capable of handling. We’re thinking you really won’t have to deal with much outside of sales and perhaps some very specific cases. Sound good?”
Without waiting for much of a response she ended the meeting.
Emmy frowned. She didn’t really love the idea of a robot handling things… sounded like it would end up with even more complaints coming her way. But at least she was at home today. She could scream into her pillow if things got really bad.
But things didn’t get bad. Things got… good. Really good. The new robot—or what had Balinda called it? Voice technology, that was it!—really was pulling its weight. The customers Emmy talked to weren’t impatient, weren’t frustrated – they actually seemed sort of… happy. These people were calling customer service and sounded chipper as all could be. It was so weird.
At least this was a welcome weird. In truth, this had probably been the most productive day Emmy had ever had working at John’s Pet Food Emporium.
Her phone rang then, a call coming through to her. The woman on the other end wanted to purchase one of their more expensive cat foods. She kept on asking Emmy whether she was sure there was salmon in it.
It was a simple call. Quick and easy, but before Emmy said her goodbyes the woman, Ms. Ginny Whittle, said “May I ask what happened? Yesterday I was on hold for hours.”
If only Emmy knew. What had happened yesterday?
“Oh,” Emmy said, stalling, thinking of what to say. However, there really only was one thing that had changed. “We implemented a new automation tool. I think it’s called Flip.”
“Ah, yes the robot was such a darling. It seems my curse had some benefits after all.”
A nervous laugh bubbled out of Emmy. A curse? Was this woman a few marbles short? But even as she dismissed Ms. Whittle, those words echoed once again in Emmy’s head. “Ahm, can I help you with anything else, Ms. Whittle?” Emmy suddenly couldn’t wait to get off the phone with this woman.
“No, that will be all. But please give my best to sweet Flip!” Then the call ended.
Emmy blinked. Had she… had it been her voice she’d heard in her head?
Nope. No. Because that was crazy.
And curses, ha! Curses didn’t exist. Emmy made quick work of shoving all thoughts of such things out of her mind. She had a job to do.
But she couldn’t deny… curse or no curse. Things were better at John’s Pet Food Emporium with Flip. A lot better.