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Expressway: Ready to help, I'm the guy on the customer phone line

Customer service representative.

Customer service representative. Photo Credit: iStock

'Customer service, Howard speaking. May I help you?"

I don't know how many times I've said that when answering my home telephone.

I have worked in customer service for more than 30 years, including at two call centers in Nassau County. I put the "live" in live chat.

I enjoy my job because I am ready to field calls from customers wanting instant gratification. I often deviate from the script because I like talking to people and want to take a moment to get to know each caller.

Strangers fill me in on what has changed in Bensonhurst, my old Brooklyn neighborhood. When people from elsewhere find out I am in New York, they tell me about their visits here. Because I traveled a lot in a previous job, I can chat with some callers about weather and sports teams in their cities.

One customer offered to fix me up with her daughter. Others share recipes -- or too much information: When I was representing a Broadway theater, a caller started our conversation with, "I am seeing the matinee and I am breast-feeding. Can you help me?"

Some callers assume I am psychic and that if they tell me their first names I know who they are and why they are calling. Because of speed dial, some customers can't provide their phone numbers to help me look up their accounts.

Some have trouble understanding my Long Island accent, and I sometimes have trouble understanding their accents, which range from urban to deep in the heart of Texas.

Callers have ranged from pleasant, wishing me a "blessed day," to angry and demanding. Some have made me chuckle. Once when I represented a ticketing company, a customer asked, "Are the seats facing the stage?" Another asked if I knew whether a tall person would be sitting in front of her. A woman with tickets to "Cats" expressed concern about her cat allergy. And when I told another ticket buyer he could not take his picnic lunch into the theater, he tried negotiating by telling me it was Holly Farms cold cuts.

With a little patience, I have been able to help even the most technologically challenged customer hook up electronic medical equipment to his or her home phone to send an emergency signal. Sometimes it's as easy as asking if the unit is plugged in. I have learned that on Long Island we "push" a button to turn something on, and in the South they "mash" the button.

I let callers know I am not the villain. I did not raise the price or send them the wrong product. I take it personally if I can't resolve an issue and have to transfer someone to another department.

Positive customer outcomes have been the norm in the call centers where I have worked. Representatives work in teams. We advise and help each other. That positive experience extends to our preparation for every call.


For a florist, I learned the types and longevity of arrangements. I found out that you don't always have to send roses to say, "I love you"; other flowers work, too. And it is OK for a woman to send flowers to a man.

Then there was the customer who, seeking revenge against a woman, asked about black roses. I said we couldn't help him.

Reader Howard Lev lives in East Meadow.

Look for the Expressway reader essay Saturdays in Newsday. Submit your personal story about life on Long Island to, or write to Expressway, Newsday, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, N.Y. 11747. Please limit your essay to 540 words. Some essays are published in the newspaper and, some are used online only; publication is not guaranteed. Readers are not paid for essays. Essays will be edited and may be used in all media.