Reaching Customer Service Escape Velocity
May 22, 2020 11:36 AM   Subscribe

I’m lucky to have my job but I still need out of customer service, permanently. Seeking assistance in developing a strategy for a lasting professional transition at the worst time possible.

I’m working from home during this COVID-19 crisis, but it’s not clear how long that can last, nor my company, nor my industry. Even if we stay in business, it’s unclear how much of a priority my department’s safety is really going to be when we get right down to it. There are signs that my company is going to say one thing, and do another. Even in the best of times, customer service has been a consistently bad fit for me and I want out, forever.

I am 41 years old, with a bachelor’s degree of dubious value in English Education / History / Theater. Since graduating about 9 years ago, my main occupation has been in the customer facing departments of various non-profit theaters, where I have consistently risen to managerial and supervisory positions. Creative pursuits such as writing and performing have made up small fractions of my income over these years, but the core has always been something in a theater lobby or box office. Even before COVID-19 shut my entire occupation down overnight, I had my doubts about sticking with it for any longer a haul, especially at my age. Permanent customer service burnout loomed on the horizon well before COVID-19. I am beyond tired of being poorly paid to be poorly treated and need out of customer service, forever. My goal is to make at least ~$45k a year and have health insurance, with as little contact with or thought about customers as possible, preferably none whatsoever.

If you have made an escape similar to the one I have in mind, I would like to hear how you did it. There are a few alternate career paths I have in mind as I begin to pursue this change to my life in earnest, but if you know of any others which might be a good fit for my education, experience, and intentions, I would like to hear about them. Suggestions to adjust my attitude with regards to customer service may be well intentioned, but are unhelpful. I’m aware that nearly all jobs will involve keeping some number of people happy, but there is a difference between pleasing a few key stakeholders, and pleasing consumers by the thousands. I am no longer willing to accept the treatment that we have accepted as a society for customer service representatives. I need out. I'm aware there are jobs much harder than mine, but I still need out.

I’ve been reading a lot about what steps a person with my intentions ought to take, and would appreciate the AskMe Hivemind’s assistance in focusing and refining my strategy, because not all of the web’s advice at large is applicable to my situation. For instance, some of the articles I’m reading suggest that folks break into new industries by performing long stretches of free labor which I do not have the time or financial security to engage in. I need work that pays. A starting salary that’s a little short of my goal is acceptable in the short term; no pay at all is not.

Roughly speaking, the process seems to be to identify what I’d like to do, assess my skills for how well they match, and develop those skills plus my personal network while seeking out this new occupation. The happiest I have ever been in a workplace was my copy desk internship at a daily newspaper, before college. I got to fix language all day and only had to speak with half a dozen people or so, tops. I adored it. I could be very happy in a job like that. I’ve dug up all my style and grammar manuals, and am putting in the time to get sharp in those areas again. Beyond that, I’m a little unsure of what I ought to be doing to find editing work in 2020. I got my internship by just walking into the paper and asking questions until I was offered a crack at their copy editor quiz, but that was a long time ago.

My passions and interests all skew bookish. I think I could also be quite happy as a copywriter of some kind, but I’m unsure what sort of portfolio I ought to be developing to seek such work. Creative copywriting interests me much more than anything involved with marketing or public relations – I’d be much happier writing something like flavor text for RPGs than I would be writing ads. Likewise voice acting or voice over jobs – there’s understandably quite an emphasis on having a quality portfolio, but less clarity on what sort of items ought to be in there. I would also be willing to put in the time to “learn to code,” or master certain key pieces of software, if there are occupations I could be set to enter within a year or so, with a minimum of additional student debt. There are also fields I know very little about, but seem to command much of my attention. Social justice advocacy seems to dominate a lot of my reading, for instance, but I’m not sure how to find reliable work suitable to my skills in that field.

I’m aware I should have begun this process years ago, rather than marching even deeper into the non-profit theater world. Under current conditions, I’m not sure if there will be much of a non-profit theater world left for much longer, so the time to start swimming is now. Thank you for reading this far into my special snowflakery. I recognize this is a terrible time to be seeking new work, but it is more than possible I will soon need to do so even if I didn’t want out of theater customer service already. Given my goals, situation, and conditions, what is your advice on how to make this transition?
posted by EatTheWeak to Work & Money (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe non-profit development? You could make the shift via an entry/mid-level development job while developing skills in something like grant-writing and/or development operations (grants management, data management/analysis, etc.). It's definitely more on the marketing side of things, but it's a tree branch you could definitely swing to from your current branch - a lot of your knowledge and skills would be transferrable.
posted by lunasol at 11:47 AM on May 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

Hey there! I have a dozen or so years of experience as a writer and editor in various industries, and I'll need to return to work next year after five years of managing my chronic illness and disability. I've been thinking a lot about how to go about this after such a long gap! If you're interested in writing and editing, particularly on the technical side (which typically pays more) here are my thoughts:

1. Begin by reshaping your resume to focus the content on any past writing and editing experience. Anything relevant to content generation, quality checking, meeting deadlines, participating in a review process, that sort of thing, will be helpful here. Have you written any customer communications? Helped out with grant-writing? Created in-house documentation on box office management? Think back -- I bet you'll find lots of things. Your copy desk internship at a newspaper is very helpful, and your English Education degree will help more than you think.

2. Gather up examples of your work to create a mini-portfolio. (My problem is that I have lots of experience but it's all confidential and owned by past clients, so I'll have to scavenge a bit and possibly generate some new stuff on my own.)

3. Consider contacting a technical recruiter, which for me seemed to get me more traction than my just sending out individual applications online, especially when just getting one's foot in the door or if you've moved to a new location. Your (unspoken) goal is to find steady work for a year or two that would propel you into something better. Again, having an English degree of some kind is helpful here. Depending on the response, you may want to build a small website with information about yourself to help set you apart from other applicants.

The secret of technical writing is that if you have decent to above-average skills, are respectful of deadlines and other staff, and are easy to get along with, you will have job security. The few colleagues you meet who have somehow wandered over from the Island of Misfit Toys may be challenging, but they're loads easier to deal with than thousands of patrons. If you're good, you'll build a roster of professional contacts who will send job notices your way and vouch for you.

After a year or two, you will have more options and can hop jobs to something more tailored to your interest, likely picking up a salary bump while doing so. I've done everything from online help to documentation on missile systems to huge government proposals, and I've enjoyed the variety. I've even been able to dabble in graphic design.

Hope this helps! You can do this!
posted by mochapickle at 12:25 PM on May 22, 2020 [10 favorites]

I have no idea how to break into non-freelance copyediting, but I spent several years making about a third of my income as a freelance editor of academic texts. I asked my friends for work and did the first 2-3 gigs at a discount (but not for free).
posted by 8603 at 12:29 PM on May 22, 2020 [1 favorite]

I got out of retail to a marketing job with a mixture of copywriting and data analysis, the things I did to get there were sharpen up my non-existent Excel skills and do the Google Analytics academy training (not the GAIQ), then got lucky with a connection to a job. Memail me if you want more details.
posted by Gin and Broadband at 9:30 AM on May 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

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