A History of Labour – Part V

Customer Service DeskPushing Chemicals – Part 1 (Year 3 AD – After Degree)

To say I was over qualified for this job when I started in December 2002 is an understatement.  A trained money could almost do my job. The work itself was fairly straight forward, take orders over the phone or pick them up from the fax and input them into the computer order system.  We also resolved minor problems with existing orders or followed up on their status.  The pay was also very welcome addition to my bank account even if it wasn’t that high.

The job also had another big downside it was on the opposite side of the city from me and I literally had about an hour commute each way to the job.  Yet despite all of this I really liked this job. Pardon?!?

You see my little hit of deja vu right before the interview was spot on: I had great co-workers.  I mean almost the entire building was nice people.  Now think about how odd that is in any given workplace.  You typically the slackers, the whiners, the hardcore corporate ladder climbers and many other sub-species of crappy co-workers.  We had almost none of those.

This wasn’t to say all our customers were as nice, but when you have great co-workers and management backing you up it does make a HUGE difference to my mental health.  I actually recovered from job hell and laugh again at work.

It also wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine either.  I am a strongly introverted person so talking on the phone for the majority of the day was not what I would call easy for me.  Yet it did get me much more comfortable talking to just about anyone.

We also hit a particularly stressful time when one of our manufactures of one particular chemical had a production problem, so this one high volume chemical was hard to come by resulting in a shortage.  The management team did the best they could to ensure everyone had some of that chemical, but it was hard on everyone.  I recall in one particular case one client literally yelled at me over the phone for 10 minutes.  Despite my first reaction to yell back, I let them rant and rave and I tried to be agreeable to their situation but eventually they hung up on me.  They called back five minutes later and the person in question actually apologized to me and we could move on from there.

Another memorable situation was training the new staff.  You see Edmonton was one of the major hubs for this company so new staff in other smaller locations would first go through a bit of training in the Edmonton office to get them ready for their new job elsewhere.  We had one particularly cocky young fellow who had already done some training with the three other service desk guys and the they dumped him on me after he managed to stress them all out.

So I asked the kid “So you know what you are doing?”

“Oh ya.  This stuff is easy.” He replied.

“Good, enter this order but don’t release it into the system.  I’ll check it when I get back.”

“Where are you going?”

“To get a coffee.”  I replied and then left him to thrash around in the system for ten minutes or so.  When I came back he hadn’t even got past the first input screen.  Now with some humility restored in the kid I could actually teach him.

I also learned that is company had a long history of promoting from within. Yes the Service Desk was a entry level job, but that did get your foot in the door.  So by next spring I was having conversations with the management about a Sales job opening in Northern BC (Fort St John – if you want to look it up on a map).  My concern with the job would be that I wasn’t sure I could do sales that well, I was more interested in taking on one of their Technical Support roles where you provided support to customers amine and glycol systems.  So we ended up doing a hybrid version.  I would be about 50% sales and reminder of my time I would provide technical support to clients in Norther BC and Northwestern Alberta.

The only problem was the location.  As my wife said “You want me to move WHERE?!?”

Eventually we had a look around the area on my company’s dime and she figured she could handle downsizing to a town of 20,000 people.  It also may have helped that I bought her a diamond necklace after she agreed to move.  I’m not above rewarding people who make tough choices.


Lessons Learned

  • Practice anything enough and you start to get better at it such as talking to people all the time for me.
  • You can’t train someone who doesn’t want to learn.
  • Co-workers can drastically improve or decay your workplace.


  • Replaced cash lost during unemployment.
  • Had a defined benefit pension with this job all contributions paid by the company.  At the time I had no idea how rare this was in a private company.  It was like being handed your first oyster in your life and finding a record sized pearl inside.

2 thoughts on “A History of Labour – Part V”

  1. Just starting reading your blog recently and I went back through the archives and read them. Really enjoyed
    reading the personal story about your job history. Thank-you

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