While most of us will be celebrating the Christmas holidays with friends and family, a number of persons will have to put such feting aside, at least for a few hours, and report for duty.
This year, Stabroek News chatted with a few Guyana Telephone and Telegraph (GT&T) telephone operators who’ve served the company from three to 19 years. They will be reporting for work on Christmas Day. Most of them, like the charming Manager (AG) of the Call Centre, Stacy Leslie, are looking forward to the five-hour shift and plan to take the ‘Day’ in their stride.
Stacy has over 19 years of service at the company and gleefully recalled her first Christmas working at the call centre. She shared her experiences as a switchboard operator, supervisor and at her current post, noting that she is happy to connect persons with their overseas relatives during the Christmas season. While Stacy lauded the functions of her department she also hoped that they would restart training sessions geared at teaching new employees to the centre, empathy and patience. These two virtues are the hallmarks of a good telephone operator, she said, recalling the days when customers were made to feel that the operator answering their calls empathised with them.
Nothing is more gratifying, she said, than helping a frustrated customer and it is particularly pleasing when that customer remembers to express gratitude for any assistance the operator would have provided in helping him/her through an anxious moment.
November 7 marked nine years since Sasha Pollard started working at the Call Centre. Today, she supervises staff that man the 0488 switchboard number. While she is scheduled to work on Christmas Day, Sasha does not believe that she would be so busy that it would detract from the yuletide season. She expects that her schedule will be lighter than her normal fielding of desperate calls for numbers for battered women’s shelters, paediatrician’s offices or queries about telephone accounts, because, as she puts it, people are in a jovial mood.
Like her manager, Sasha feels the best part of working on Christmas Day is being able to connect distant relatives. At the same time, she does not pretend it is not disheartening to leave her 13 and 11-year-olds asleep in the wee hours of the morning to report for work. As such, she ensures that the chores have been completed, the house is festive and that the children have their Christmas goodies.
It is particularly hard to be an absent single parent on Christmas Day. Sasha admits that her children view her absence with reservation. However, she also knows that it will allow them certain freedoms as when she is there she restricts their access to social media and insists on a disciplined household.
Yulisa Duff is currently in the ninth year of what is her second job. To her, working on Christmas Day is not discouraging, rather it provides an excellent opportunity to exchange greetings with persons at home as well as abroad. Depending on how the shift falls, she said, “We are able to have breakfast with our families, or [be] back [home in] time for lunch or dinner as the case may be.” According to Yulisa those operators that are privileged to work on Christmas Day are happy to give and receive Christmas greetings to many who call in to GT&T whether near or far.
Brimming with good cheer, Yulisa said she has never forgotten an experience when a call was booked from the United Arab Emirates. “What part of the world that is, was a puzzle to me, she recalled. With time however, the distant countries became nearer, as we are made to unite voices with Guyanese back home and thousands of miles away,” she said. Yulisa is particularly satisfied about connecting calls to Cuba she said, as many are calls from parents anxious to reach their children studying there. To such callers, and to others who are perhaps overly anxious to get connected, it demands understanding and patience, Yulisa said, adding that the ability to empathize could hardly be overemphasized. Sometimes, operators will observe the numbers used by stressed callers and later call them back to ensure that they are well and had gotten the help that they needed.
It is an interesting job, she added, pointing out that the persons at this end of the line may be the first voice that a worried caller has reached as such it is mandatory that an operator is patient. Generally, though, persons are very thoughtful, she said, particularly during the Christmas season as they often express regrets that the operators have to work while they are at home with their families.
Khamchan “Rovin” Ghansham is honoured to serve the public at Christmas time. Even though it is only his third year at the Call Centre, he views himself as a pillar of the Customer Relations Section and finds fulfilment in performing his job well.
Rovin, as he is fondly called, was sure to point out that both old and new customers, landline and cell phone users are treated with respect. Whether this occurs on week days or on Christmas or other holidays, he takes pride in doing his job well. “It is indeed a pleasure being of service to the world; even the world of the GT&T family; those outside who will one day feel a part of us, or those who have recently joined us,” he said.
Gissel Nelson echoed these sentiments. Hearing the words, ‘Have a blessed Christmas’, ‘happy holidays to you and family’ are rewarding, she said. Gissel has worked at GT&T for nine years. While conceding that it is a sacrifice to leave her three daughters in the care of an aunt while she works her five-hour shift on Christmas Day, Giselle says on her return home she is often greeted with a living room that is scattered with the remnants of unwrapped gifts; a sign that her girls have enjoyed their presents.
Nevertheless, she enjoys Christmas Day both at home and at work. A member of the Church of Latter Day Saints, Giselle finds strength in her Christian faith. She says today her aunt has recovered from a stroke which affected her left side, only by the mercies of God. As such, she is pleased to connect families, provide comfort or exchange greetings during the Yuletide season.