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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » Advice from anyone who has worked in telemarketing/customer service

   
Author Topic: Advice from anyone who has worked in telemarketing/customer service
Marie
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Hey Hatrack! Kind of a rant comming up and I would appreciate your advice [Smile]

I recently started working for a company in Seminole, FL, owned by Superior Uniform. It is one of those jobs that is very similar to telemarketing, but does not involve any kind of selling. Basically, the company I now work for works for the admissions department of Full Sail University in Winter Park, FL. We are an outbound call center and can ONLY call out to people who put in contact information to request info on Full Sail/higher education.

To make a long story short, I hate it. I am really only staying with it because of the benefits, the possibility of going back to school, and the fact that it's very difficult to get a job even with a college degree (which I have, by the way).

I hate it for the reasons that most other people hate customer service/telemarketing jobs. I and the other reps I work with have a supervisor that is either oblivious or doesn't seem to care about the problems we face. The people we call out to often think we are telemarketers and treat us like the scum of the earth. We go through having to calm down parents whose kids go online and request info by mistake. Basically, it's one of those jobs that is not difficult at all but tends to be emotionally draining because of some of the people we deal with.

I can respect and sympathize with the fact that people generally do not like being called by telemarketers (which, like I said, we aren't). I also realize the most people are nicer and much more decent in real life, but I tend to be a little on the sensative side and sometimes take what people say so personally that I have trouble getting to sleep. I'm also kind of hurt at the fact that people feel we are being disrespectful when we call them, number one because I'm generally a pretty nice, repectful person, number two, because we can only call out to phone numbers provided by people who have expressed interest.

I recently read this blog post, and even though I feel that the author is being a little petty with her "pet peeves," I can sympathize with the fact that it comes from having a job in which many people have no regard for you, and some of the comments, especially the last one on the last page, effect me pretty deeply. I especially hate the notion that if people chose the job and know what they are getting into, they should have to "deal with it."

People tell me that I should just laugh it off, and while I try to do that, certain things still hurt, even though I try to have thick skin.

You can be prefectly blunt if you don't like people who do jobs like telemarketing, but for those of you with experience, how do you avoid letting it effect you, especially if you are naturally sensative?

Just trying to make the job a little bit easier to get through. I get to the point where I'm sick of having to be nice and polite to people who cuss me out and think it's our fault that they or someone else put in their contact information.

Thanks again for letting me "rant."

[ May 11, 2012, 03:27 AM: Message edited by: Marie ]

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Dan_Frank
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Yeah, I've worked phone customer service before, though it was an inbound call center, which is generally nicer.

Still got more than my share of jerks, of course. I'm not sure how I can help beyond just suggesting that you... be less sensitive!

Helpful, I know. But I mean it. They're on the phone. They can't reach through and hurt you. They don't know you, so everything they say to you is basically meaningless.

Or, if you just can't do that... change jobs. Seriously. No benefits are worth the stress of a job like that if you can't let a steady stream of profanity and the occasional death threat roll off you like water off a duck.

If you can't desensitize yourself, you need to get out of there before you get an ulcer.

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Vadon
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A longish reply:

I worked as a field organizer for a political campaign a couple years back and may end up doing another campaign this year. A big component of field organizing is canvassing and phonebanking. At least 20 hours a week knocking on doors, 20 hours phonebanking. This doesn't include data entry, volunteer coordination, turf cutting, intern management, deputy training, event management, constituent outreach, etc. It's long hours for terrible pay.

And you deal with people. When do you phonebank? Usually from 5:00PM-8:30PM most days of the week. Why those hours? Because the odds are higher that the people will be home. Of course, you're calling them about politics during their dinner, which goes over fantastically, I can tell you.

I got lashed verbally many times. Not just on the phones, either. If you think people are nicer when you show up in person, you'd be surprised. I've had dogs released on me, cops called on me, and other fun experiences in my local neighborhoods.

These days, when I deal with a person over the phone or at the door, I take care to be nice to them because I know how hard a day can be. I'm not a particularly sensitive guy, but constant verbal assault does get to you after a few months.

I would say two things in general before addressing your particular concerns:

First - I find the "it's a part of the job" answer inadequate. I wouldn't tell a waitress at a diner subjected to sexual harassment from lewd customers to suck it up. The customers are doing something unjustifiably wrong. Sexual harassment may be a part of the job, but that doesn't mean it ought be a part of the job, nor does it entail that one accept the harassment when it occurs. A person who doesn't like being bothered with phone calls is well within his or her rights to be frustrated and demand to be removed from the "list." But frustration over being called doesn't justify attacking the person on the other end of the line. They're a living, breathing person that will still exist after you hang up the phone. They will go home and face themself in the mirror and remember the day's events. Even a strong willed person with high self-esteem can crack over time with enough invective thrown their way.

Second - Be aware of how much information the person on the other end of the line might have on you. I'm a decent human being, but I find it surprising how cruel people can be to me when it is entirely possible that I have your full name, phone number (clearly), age, the names and information of all the others in the house, home address, and billing address. If I ask, "do you intend on voting for X candidate this November" don't respond with, "I'll be on vacation then." You've never met me. You don't know who I am, but I have your name and phone number. Why would you tell a stranger over the phone that you'll be away from your house at some date? I'd say this should be common sense, but in my experience, it wasn't particularly common.

To your issues in particular.
I was lucky that my supervisor had been a field organizer himself. He wasn't oblivious to the struggles of his field organizers, he knew full well what we went through and went above and beyond to try and make the nights easier for us. Though he did take nostalgic schadenfreude from our less than ideal calls.

My suggestion is to make a support network with your coworkers. The suckyness of bad calls fosters bonding. To this day, if one of my former coworkers needs help with anything, I'm there at the drop of a dime. The secret to handling those jobs is to either become desensitized to it--easier said than done--or find a coping mechanism.

If you cannot become desensitized to it or find a coping mechanism sufficient to override the frustrations of the job, then Dan is right. Start looking for another job. The job market is terrible right now, and we're lucky to have the jobs we do. But the purpose of working is to support our well-being. If the work takes more from your personal well-being than it provides, you should find another job.

ETA: I made this post late at night when I should have been asleep. It's entirely possible that I'll regret having made this post when I wake up.

[ May 11, 2012, 04:46 AM: Message edited by: Vadon ]

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Risuena
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I worked in the call center for a blood bank for a couple of months. Similar to your employer, we only called people who had previously donated with us or otherwise given us their information. Still, we called all the time and people were justifiably angry with us. Absolutely nothing I could do about it.

Do your best to kill them with kindness - it won't matter for a lot of the bad calls, but at least you'll know that you did your best. And like Vadon said, definitely develop a support network with your coworkers - on breaks we'd trade stories about calls, good/bad/funny/whatever was noteworthy.

It's still an incredibly hard job and it's definitely not one I was cut out for. I hope you can find a way to cope or otherwise find a different and better job.

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El JT de Spang
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Not everyone is going to be suited to working in a call center. It doesn't sound to me like you have the disposition to deal with that job's particular difficulties. There are a number of things you can work on, for sure, to make people unloading on you not be personal. I'd start working on those things immediately, and hope for the best.

I'd also make sure it's ok with your supervisor for you to hang up when people get abusive.

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Samprimary
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I'm going to agree with that. Telemarketing/outbound is an underlying disposition thing. If it's emotionally draining, people telling you 'just have thicker skin!' doesn't help much; it's still pinching a nerve raw all day every day.

A good supervisor or team lead works wonders for it though. Which .. leads to the issue wherein your supervisor seems to suck. What should they be doing that they aren't?

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kmbboots
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The impression that I get when I call customer service for many companies is that the job of the first level person on the phone is to keep me from bugging any one else. They generally have no power at all to help me. All they can do is apologize - which does me no good at all and is really annoying. I find myself required to become so difficult that they pass me on to a supervisor who can actually get me what I need. I don't enjoy being mean to powerless people, but the system is often set up so that is the only way to get what I need.
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Raymond Arnold
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kmbboots' experience matches my own.
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Dan_Frank
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Raymond & Kate: While obviously that's sometimes true based on how complex and esoteric your problem is, I have to challenge you guys a little bit. Obviously, I don't actually know when and why you call customer service, so I'm just theorizing based on my experiences on the other end.

The first level of customer service is there to solve common problems, not to keep you from bugging anyone else. And there's a good chance, no matter how weird it seems to you, that your problem is actually fairly common.

Obviously, customer service is usually an entry level job, so lots of people who get it are just not very competent. If you get one of them, it'll probably save you time to move on to their supervisor. But you don't really need to be difficult to do that. Just ask (maybe ask a few times). And, in my opinion, it's a good idea to give them a chance before assuming they can't do anything for you.

Again, sorry if that sounds preachy or anything, I'm not trying to. Just offering a bit of the perspective of the other side.

(For what it's worth, a lot of customer service reps on the phone tend to have nothing but contempt for most callers, and tend to assume callers are themselves completely stupid and incompetent. I dislike that attitude just as much, and in the days of yore, when I worked on the phone, I argued with them just as much as I'm arguing here.)

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kmbboots
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Dan, if I had a common problem and the customer service person solved it, why would I need a supervisor? And if I did need a supervisor and I got to talk to them simply by asking, why would I find that difficult?

Clearly, the problems I had could not be solved by a first level person and those first level people would not put me through to someone who could help until I pressured them.

Did you think that I started out by being nasty?

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Dan_Frank
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I think my mistaken impression was that you'd become so burnt out on crappy customer service reps that you reached the conclusion that the best general approach was to just start out being nasty and/or demanding a supervisor until you got one, to save wasted time talking to someone who couldn't help you.

It's an incredibly common tactic, actually.

But I'm glad I was wrong! [Smile]

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kmbboots
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I give whoever answers the phone a chance, but I do move through the process more quickly than I would have once upon a time. I also tell whoever I am talking to that their lives will be easier if, should they not be able to help me, they transfer me sooner rather than later.
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Dan_Frank
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That makes sense, given your experiences.

Again, I apologize for assuming the worst. It wasn't meant as a slight or a commentary on your character. I've found that, when it comes to dealing with phone support, even the nicest, most wonderful people can get so frustrated by bad experiences that they get nasty with people who haven't actually caused their frustration.

One of the first things they taught us at an inbound call center was: When you pick up the phone for a company, you are that company to the caller. If they're mad at the company, they're going to take it out on you. Just the nature of the beast.

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Marie
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kmboots and Raymond, I understand what you're talking about completely. As someone else I know once said, customer service often exists to protect those higher up. At least that's how a lot of people I know feel.
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Samprimary
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quote:
The first level of customer service is there to solve common problems, not to keep you from bugging anyone else.
The level 1 agents at our service desk are told, and I quote, "your job isn't really about solutions, it's about answering the phone." The only thing that differentiates them from a typical service desk is that we are under contract to provide complete solutions, so if L1 troubleshooting doesn't work, our agents are OBLIGED (and pretty damn good at) escalating to upper-level queues and providing follow-up service. In most any other tech desk, a level one agent really is more an impediment to higher level support, because CS banks dislike having to attract and keep real tech professionals — they're more expensive and difficult to keep working at a call center. Because it's a call center.
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Dan_Frank
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Eh, I didn't work at a tech desk, so maybe that's the difference. Because that's definitely not even remotely indicative of my experience.

But yeah, I agree that it didn't generally do a good job of attracting or keeping competent people. Because it was a call center.

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GaalDornick
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Vadon,

What do you consider the polite way of getting off the phone with a political caller? When asked if I plan on voting for X candidate, I respond with "I'm not sure yet" and then they proceed with their pitch, telling me about their events and how I can get involved, neither of which I'm interested in, but I don't want to be rude so I listen to the end of it and then tell them "Thanks, but I'm not interested". I want to end the conversation as soon as they identify the call as a political one, but I don't know how to do that without being rude.

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Xavier
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That blog post linked was pretty lame I felt. I answer my phone most times, and when I identify it as a solicitation attempt I want off the phone. So I'll interrupt with "I'm not interested" without hearing the pitch.

According to the blog that makes me an idiot, because how could I know if I was interested without hearing the pitch? Well its because even if you are offering me a hundred dollar bill for the low price of twenty dollars, I am not going to buy anything from someone on the phone pretty much ever. And I don't want to listen to your pitch, so its either interrupt you with saying I am not interested, or else hang up on you.

Even if I do sit through your pitch to say "no thanks" at the end (wasting your time), you're not going to take that for an answer, you'll press me for my reasons (like any good salesman).

Now this is for the blog post and not the situation of you guys that are calling based on them previously expressing interest. In that case, all I can advise is to bring up their signing up very early in the call, perhaps even the very first thing you say. It might get them in a different frame of mind.

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El JT de Spang
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I have no problem hanging up on someone who calls me unsolicited to pitch me anything, whether it's a sale or a political candidate. If they're clueless enough to think that makes *me* the rude one, I can live with that.
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Vadon
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quote:
Originally posted by GaalDornick:
Vadon,

What do you consider the polite way of getting off the phone with a political caller? When asked if I plan on voting for X candidate, I respond with "I'm not sure yet" and then they proceed with their pitch, telling me about their events and how I can get involved, neither of which I'm interested in, but I don't want to be rude so I listen to the end of it and then tell them "Thanks, but I'm not interested". I want to end the conversation as soon as they identify the call as a political one, but I don't know how to do that without being rude.

When campaigns are phonebanking they have a database with registered voters they use to make their call lists from. When they ask which candidate you intend to vote for, they are trying to put in your response. If you answer that you're not sure, you'll be tagged with "undecided" which means that after a given amount of time, you'll likely be called again. When it's a campaign call and not a survey, they'll also use that opportunity to try to convince you to vote for their candidate.

The easiest way to politely end a call is to say "I'm sorry, but I'm not interested" and hang up whenever you realize it's a call you're not interested in. They have a list of calls they need to make, if you hang up while telling them that you're not interested, you'll usually be tagged with "refused." Some campaigns will try to call you again closer to the election, others will filter out those who refuse all together. Either way, we don't take offense when people refuse the call. It simply means we tag them and move on.

A couple things that are worth noting--the first is that the "do not call" list does not pertain to political calls. If you tell one campaign to take you off "the list" that won't stop other campaigns or other interest groups from calling you that use the same information. Because our databases our separate, it's entirely possible that you will get called by multiple campaigns a night.

The best ways to stop getting the calls is to refuse the call and vote early. When the primary or general election rolls around, campaigns get daily (or hourly) information on who has and hasn't voted yet (they don't know who you vote for, but when you vote). There's no point calling people to get them out to vote when they've already voted. Also, simply ignoring the phone call and letting it go to the machine won't stop the calls. We just tag those calls as "not home" and move on down the list. If you're tagged as "not home" there is nothing that will prevent another call from that campaign. When phonebanking, you usually only get a 20-30% response rate, we aren't offended by people not answering the phone or by refusing.

ETA:
quote:
I have no problem hanging up on someone who calls me unsolicited to pitch me anything, whether it's a sale or a political candidate. If they're clueless enough to think that makes *me* the rude one, I can live with that.
Depending on the campaign or even the particular field organizer/volunteer, simply hanging up the phone won't necessarily get you tagged as having refused the call. Many tag that as "not home." Saying "Not interested" as you hang up can go a long way in stopping the calls from that campaign. [Smile]

ETA2: Oh, one more thing. When we call a person, we are calling that particular voter. It is entirely possible (and is often the case) that when you hang up the phone, and we tag it as a refuse, there will be another registered voter in the household who doesn't get tagged with refused. It's not the number that's counted as "refused" it's the person.

I'm not entirely sure where I was going with this point except to say that I'm sorry to all those that I've frustrated by accidentally calling them more times than they'd have liked. I want to respect the wishes of those who aren't interested in the phone call. But sometimes the system gets the better of me. [Smile]

[ May 12, 2012, 04:36 PM: Message edited by: Vadon ]

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El JT de Spang
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Oh, I always say 'I'm not interested', and then hang up.
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Marie
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JT, I've never taken hanging up or saying anything like "I'm not interested" as being rude. It is a little aggrevating though, when, people who have provided their contact information to request info on our university/higher education, act suprised at the fact that people are calling them.

I can understand why the fact that some people see people who work in telemarketing (which, again, I don't do) as sub-human is pretty soul-crushing. I have know MANY people with with Bachelors and Masters degrees who have to work those jobs because they've been laid off and honestly can't find anything else that pays the bills.

I don't think people do anything wrong by saying they are not interested and then hanging up. It's the really nasty ones who aggrevating, in particularly to employees who don't have thick skin.

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Amilia
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I was working a call floor during the finale of Seinfeld. Yeah, it was not pretty.

Marie, are you allowed to do hand work? I took up counted cross stitch the year I worked telemarketing, and feel like it saved my soul. I still hated the job, but with the cross stitch it was manageable.

I was going to school in a small collage town out in the middle of nowhere. It was very hard to find a job outside of telemarketing if you didn't stay in town over the summer. The next year I got a job at McDonald's and counted myself lucky to be off the call floor. The one thing I am glad about telemarketing job, though, was that I learned that saying "Not interested" and hanging up doesn't count as rude. This has served me well in subsequent life.

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Marie
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Yes, they do let us do that sort of thing (the girl who sits across from me likes to crochet). Usually I just read though, and that makes the time go by quickly.
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rivka
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quote:
Originally posted by Marie:
It is a little aggrevating though, when, people who have provided their contact information to request info on our university/higher education, act suprised at the fact that people are calling them.

Given how misleading and confusing those ads tend to be, it's not too surprising.

I realize you have zero control over the content, placement, or anything else of the ads. But as far as I'm concerned, many for-profit schools are close to being scams. And your employer is one of the more egregious ones, especially when it comes to the marketing/advertising area.

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Geraine
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For the first five years at the company I am with I worked as a "Client Service Rep." We are a payroll company, and my clients usually only called me when they had a problem. My own clients were usually pretty chill since I had been working with them for so long, but sometimes I would get calls from other clients who did not know me, and they could sometimes get pretty nasty.

At first I took everything personally. When someone had a problem and was yelling on the phone, I would get offended. I eventually learned that they were not mad at ME, but what happened. I could usually calm them down by saying something like, "We can look into what happened in a little bit, but my concern right now is getting you taken care of and your employees paid. We have a few ways to do this, so I will tell you our options and you can pick which one would be best for you."

If you can learn how to calm people down, as well as understand that it is the situation they are frustrated with and not you personally, you will have a better experience.

Even if it was not your fault, apologize. If one of your co-workers did something wrong it doesn't matter, what is important is making the person on the other end of the phone happy. If you need to you can approach your co-worker afterwards just to let them know the person's concerns in a non-confrontational manner. Something like "I just spoke to Mr. Xyz and he had some issues with _______ . I took care of it for you, but he would like you to give him a call later to discuss how to prevent the issue from happening again."

I know your situation is a bit different since it is a call center environment. My best advice is don't take anything personally, and when you leave work, stop thinking about it completely. They probably aren't paying you enough to worry about it. [Smile]

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kmbboots
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I had the joyful job of answering customer service calls for a really bad HMO back when HMO's were allowed to be really back. I was often called by people who were being harassed or even sued for payment that they though was covered. And we had no intention of helping them. That was a deeeelightful job. I quit after about 4 months.

[ May 14, 2012, 01:43 PM: Message edited by: kmbboots ]

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tern
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I did inbound phone support for a couple years - terrible, terrible jobs. Ten years later, I can look back and realize that the reason why my supervisors never backed me up is because part of my job function was to serve as a stress outlet.

But those years of abuse really changed me as a person, and not for the better. Some people have the ability to let it roll off their backs; I am not one of them. From what you say, neither are you.

I know that jobs are rare on the ground these days, but find another one anyway. (That's easy for me to say, of course.) The damage that these jobs can do will linger for a very long time.

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