I’m fascinated with call centers. This started when I was in my 20s, running a software call center. I was in marketing, but I saw that there was no one really running the call center. So I told the CEO I could run the call center.  I promised him I could decrease customer service costs 20% in three months. I handed him a list of ten ways I thought I could decrease costs.

I got that list from a book in Barnes and Noble about how to manage more effectively. And when he said yes to my plan, I started reading all the other books in the management section. And then I read about call centers.

I’m not alone in my fascination. Generation Y loves to talk about customer service because it has such a huge impact on our daily lives.

A lot of customer service discussion results from our fascination with random good deeds. This story about Southwest Airlines helping a mom in crisis went viral because we love a good customer service story. Another great story about customer service on Southwest is when a flight attendant joined a cellist for some mid-flight, beat box entertainment.

The best call centers are science labs about human behavior, so I never really stopped reading about them. For example, Global Response is a call center that describes their business as creating experiences that reinforce the brand in the mind of the customer. I like this description because it’s true of all conversations we have with people—we want the conversation to reinforce what they think of us.

Call center technology can make inferences about who you are as you start speaking, from your tone, tempo, keywords, grammar, and syntax. All those qualities feed into an algorithm that routes you to the types of person you’d most want to talk with.

The reason I was able to make such a big impact managing the call center is that unhappy customers are very expensive. The rule is happy customers tell 3 people and unhappy customers tell 3,000.

I think this is true of everything, really. People who hate something cannot shut up about it. People who are happy just move along in life being their happy self with little need to shout about it. (This is why I’m certain that the more chirpy someone’s Facebook feed is, the more of a train wreck their life is.)

I wish there were as much data about homeschooling satisfaction as there is about customer satisfaction. I feel like we are very happy homeschooling. I post pictures of family happiness but I wish I had some data to show you. I wish I could make a plan to increase homeschooling efficiency like I could make that plan for the call center. I do think, though, that like call center customers, the unhappy homeschoolers are more vocal than happy ones.

I don’t have evidence that most homeschooling families are happy, but I do know that the number of homeschoolers I read about who quit homeschooling is low. So I tell myself that statistically, it’s likely that most homeschoolers are happy. And that makes me more confident in my belief that homeschooling is making my family happy as well.


16 replies
  1. Tabitha Cummings
    Tabitha Cummings says:

    Sometimes when I am having a particularly rough day or I feel like I just need wisdom and guidance, I go to your blog and randomly read posts. Today was one of those days.
    I spend 2 hours a day driving my daughter to the only school that’s half decent in our county and another 2 hours helping her with homework. Why? Because on top of the regular homework we have to spend 30 minutes practicing multiplication. The teacher told me they’re not allowed to practice multiplication drills in the classroom because other parents complained that it embarrassed their child. So today when I read this blog post… It really seems like it was meant for me.

    My biggest fear is- Could I handle having my daughter in my face all day, every day?

    • mh
      mh says:

      Tabitha Cummings,

      A good school is still just a school.

      Your child is kindergarten plus? (Based on multiplication tables)

      You have four hours in your day to spare on driving to school and doing homework?

      I think you would do splendidly homeschooling. You will enjoy your time together so much more when school doesn’t own all your family time.

      Try it and see … plan something for the next school break that you two can do or learn together. Not you teaching her, but you two learning together.

      Best wishes. You would be a great homeschool.

    • Bostonian
      Bostonian says:


      I hear you. I have a very energetic 4 year old girl, and spending the whole day with her can be exhausting, especially if I don’t meet her needs (principally socializing and exercise). I send her to half day ‘school’ and she is very happy there. That also allows me better to address my son’s needs as a homeschoolers.

      But something funny happens in the summer: after a couple weeks of adjustment, we get along better than ever.

      I expect I’ll send her to school when she’s that age, because that’s what she says she wants. I’ll try to find the one that best meets her needs. And it might, or it might not. One thing I am sure will happen, even if the school is a hit with her, is that it will strain our relationship. I will no longer get the best part of her.

      What I hope to convey is that if you pull your daughter out of school, you won’t have 12 hours of her the way she is before and after school as you say ‘in your face.’ You’ll have 12 hours of a better, happier, more loving child.

      Your daughter’s school is stressful to you, but it’s probably more stressful to her and you don’t hear the half of it.

      The best part of homeschooling my son has been the relationship we have developed. He needed to leave school, and if I had ignored those needs we could never have developed this relationship.

      I’m not a universal booster (nor practitioner) of homeschooling. But in terms of reasons not to do it, a worse relationship with your kids doesn’t seem like a good one.

    • Jenny Hatch
      Jenny Hatch says:

      This is the secret no one ever talks about. Right as our children get truly fun, we send them off to school.

      Cherish the time with your child when they are six to thirteen because soon after that time they will become friend centered and not want to spend as much time with Mama.

      It is the key time to homeschool!

  2. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    What a sweet photo of you and your son!

    The call center technology link was creepy. It kind of reminded me of the movie Ex Machina in the way that technology can understand a person down to their most intimate details with just a few data points.

  3. Melissa
    Melissa says:

    I confess I’ve been an avid reader of your blog for a while and it’s taken me along time to gather the courage to leave a comment. I kept teaching in a public school for years before I could accept that my job had turned me into an emotional stressed out mess and my entire family might be happier if I did something else. Then I taught one day a week in a homeschool co op for a year before I finally had the courage to start homeschooling my own kid. Now I can say I totally love everything about it. I love being close to my daughter and I love the time and flexibly we have to make room for the things that are important to us. I wish we has started so much sooner. We have the best private education available right in our own home. But I still hesitate to broadcast my happiness too loudly unless someone asks me about it directly. Maybe because I’m afraid no one but other homeschoolers would get it. Maybe I’m just too big of an INFP.

    • Erin
      Erin says:

      Melissa –

      I absolutely LOVE your comment! :) So glad you spoke up and shared your feelings.

      I, too, am an INFP…and I totally empathize with your hesitancy. Want to know a secret? Even though I fully believe in home education, passion-centered learning and unschooling, I, too, find it very difficult to talk about in person. Even though I write here on Penelope’s blog sometimes, when I’m sitting across from someone in Real Life, I feel like, all of a sudden, I’m on a stage and I clam up and forget all of my thoughts and beliefs and convictions.

      But. Y’know? I’ve come to accept that as just a quirk…a part of my personality or a symptom of starting a new journey. And that’s ok. It’s ok to feel different and insecure and misunderstood.

      I think when I stopped trying to explain our homeschooling choices to people and just stated: “We’re home schoolers.” BAM. Non apologetic. With a calm smile. Just letting it hang out there. For me? That was the bravest thing of all: to just own up to who we are and what we’ve chosen.

      But also? Just accepting that truth about ourselves is really what has made me happiest…more happy than any external approval ever could.


      • Sophie
        Sophie says:

        I really liked to read that:
        “when I stopped trying to explain our homeschooling choices to people and just stated: “We’re home schoolers.” BAM. Non apologetic. With a calm smile. Just letting it hang out there.”

        You know that “hanging space”, that’s where life is.

        There was a discussion earlier here about what to name what we do. Homeschooling? Unschooling? I suggested that a baker who switches jobs and becomes a gardener is not called an unbaker. So what does unschooling mean?

        We have trouble defining what we do because what we do can’t be defined. We are living in that “hanging space”. Maybe it is a new way of using the expression “I hang in there”…

        Blessings to you,

  4. Anna
    Anna says:

    This catches my attention because the aim toward good customer service, even merely effective customer service, is absent where I’ve been living for 2.75 years, in Jerusalem, Israel. (We are moving back to the US in about five weeks.) It’s almost a joke to people from the US how lacking customer service is here. The first time I came home for a vacation, I was stunned at the warm hello from the Starbucks guy. It strikes me as having a horrible business environment. And it also strikes me that the US has a generally great business environment. Of course this has led to analysis about the different values. It is a mix of people here and a lot come from the former USSR where customer service was probably not even on the radar at all. It really seems to carry over to the way of doing things here. Even a lot of the stores – maybe mostly the privately operated ones – have their stock just piled throughout, not arranged, not marked with prices. Not my cup of tea at all.

    I like business, and I love good customer service. I like the culture of pro-business, too. These things are all very interesting to me.

  5. mh
    mh says:

    Love that photo, Penelope.

    My oldest flew home a few days ago, and he and his brother greeted each other in such a warm, gigantic hug. Not what you usually expect from teens. I missed getting a photo. Glad you posted yours.

  6. Emily ENTP
    Emily ENTP says:

    There are two stories that I tell in reference to kids i grew up with who quit homeschooling before graduation. One got pregnant before her senior year, and the other became a drug dealer.

  7. Adelaide
    Adelaide says:

    A year ago, we put everything in storage to live around the world with our kids and learn languages. I’m blown away with how much we have learned about the history of different countries and my almost five year old is now speaking four languages with us. But I have the hardest time with giving everyone updates. I think a lot of it does have to do with being so happy and just enjoying what is happening. But I should be more vocal about it because it’s just amazing.

  8. Nell
    Nell says:

    Customer service works best when it is tailored to the individual, and meets the individual where they are. We all hate those customer service menus that route us to a recorded message supposedly answering our question — this is public, mass education. We love it when we get a customer service agent who understands our exact issue and can help — which seems quite a bit like homeschooling to me. I know my kid’s weaknesses and have a desire to address them in a way no teacher with 30 kids ever will.

  9. Sarah Pierzchala
    Sarah Pierzchala says:

    Interesting topic, and it would be neat to see some more research in this area.

    The homeschooling moms I know who complain the most are the ones who are doing the by-the-book “school at home” approach. For myself, the farther away I move from that towards unschooling with some guidance, the more relaxed I feel and the happier everyone is :)


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