It's a problem every self-styled Clark Griswold is going to face at some point when stringing up lights during the holiday season.
"You have a light set of 100 and half of the set's out," said 22-year-old Glenview resident Brian Gusak. "A lot of people would think that you have to replace 50 bulbs, but realistically it takes one point of interruption to put a series of lights out because of the way they're wired."
The bells on bobtails ringing don't make spirits nearly as bright as the colorful decorative light displays illuminating our homes. But when one of those strings of lights burns out, those spirits can darken quickly.
"When light sets are being repaired, words often get used that aren't in any Christmas carols," said John DeCosmo, president of Ulta-Lit Technologies.
That's when people turn to DeCosmo and his merry band of elves at a nondescript industrial park in Glenview and not, as it were, the North Pole.
For years, Ulta-Lit Technologies have set up a holiday lighting hotline to save the sanity and marriages of people frustrated by malfunctioning holiday light sets.
"I feel like a lot of people feel pressured to just get these lights on," Gusak said. "They hang them up and it's like oh wow, it's already hanging up in my front yard and only half of it's lit and they don't want to be represented that way."
Gusak is one of two temporary employees brought on by the company specifically to staff the hotline.
"I never expected to learn all that I did. I've really enjoyed it to be honest," he said. "It's really cool to be able to help people using that basic knowledge. Identifying that one point of interruption, moving forward is pretty easy from there."
Before being turned loose on the phones, he and others had to go through a training process that started back in August, when most peoples' cheeks are rosy with sunburn and not the winter cold.
That's because DeCosmo wants to make sure that when the holidays roll around, his employees wind up on his customers' "nice" lists.
"Not everybody is meant for [working the hotline[," DeCosmo said. "I want them smarter than almost every one of our callers, and I insist on that. We just have a rigorous training. If you call and my people are guessing, something's wrong."
The company, which produces tools specifically designed to diagnose and fix malfunctioning holiday lights, has had employees manning the phones seven days a week since just after Thanksgiving, diagnosing problems and helping customers save their light sets.
Most of the people taking calls are full-time employees like 24-year-old Portage Park resident Linda Barrientos, the company's sales and marketing manager who will spend about half her work day helping customers repair their light sets over the phone.
"Around this busy season, our full-time job does become technical support," she said. "We want to put the customers first. Yes, I have other things that I need to tend to, but that comes second when it comes to customer service."
While most of the callers are people using one of the company's products, every now and again they'll get someone who is trying to fix their light set the old fashioned way.
"We go back a step and go back to checking bulb by bulb, but if the person is willing to put in that type of time, we'll stay on the phone with them and guide them through that, offer any suggestions we can think of," Barrientos said. "Of course, we do want to inform them about the products and let them know because it can save them a lot of time."
While the holiday season is meant to lift people's spirits, dealing with issues with their Christmas lights can leave many people feeling irritable. Barrientos and Gusak said they've been able to develop ways of diffusing those situations and putting the happy back in the holidays.
"We really try to keep it light on the phones," Barrientos said. "If you can, crack a joke here or there. It's helpful to remind them that you're in it together. We can do this. I'm on the phone as long as you need me."
"It takes a lot of patience," Gusak added. "You pick up the phone, you hear somebody on the other line, and you just try to picture what they're doing and what process they're going through. I know that if I give the person the patience and just understand the situation, we'll be able to work through it."
They'll have somebody on the phones through Christmas Day taking calls from across the country, making sure both lights and spirits stay bright. If you're having a problem with one of your light sets, call 888-ULTA-LIT.
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