A Dispatch from Customer Service
By Marie Jean-Baptiste
I like the night shift. During the day the customer service department buzzes like a beehive, but at night it’s quiet. I can hear my customers better. I can hear their accents better.
One night a couple of weeks ago I got a call from a customer in Nevada. She was trying to send money to her son who was incarcerated in a Florida prison, and needed some help figuring out the JPay.com website. I guided her through the money transfer process – which is really pretty straightforward, especially online, but I know it’s comforting to have someone walk you through anything the first time you do it – and after we were done I stayed on the line to chat with her a bit.
Her story was interesting, for sure. She was from Florida, but had moved to Nevada for work. Her son went back down south, though, and got himself into a little bit of trouble. This was the first time she had to deal with anyone going to jail, and she was glad that a company like JPay was there to help her through it… but you know, most of our customers have stories like that.
Then it hit me. It wasn’t what she was saying, necessarily, but how she was saying it. Her accent.
I can’t believe I didn’t pick up on it earlier! That little drip of French honey over her vowels. That singsong that stressed some syllables and swallowed others. She was speaking English with a Creole accent.
She was clearly Haitian, or of Haitian descent.
Just like me.
Tentatively, I asked: “Madame, ou pale kreyol?” Do you speak Creole?
I think if she could have jumped through the phone and hugged me, she would have. She erupted into a stream of extremely rapid Creole that I could barely keep up with. She was from Port-Au-Prince, and moved to Miami as a child. She had her boy and raised him in a neighborhood I was familiar with. She didn’t want to leave South Florida, but she had to go where the work was, but she missed it, and she missed Haiti besides. I got the feeling that she hadn’t had the opportunity to speak in her native tongue in a long time.
She told me that she was pou kontan (so glad) to know someone at JPay spoke her language, that it meant a lot to her to have some familiarity when so much of the corrections process was unfamiliar. She said she’d call back every month to put money on her son’s account. She said she’d ask for me at this time every time she did.
I find myself looking forward to next month.