So, you’ve decided to take the big step. The great leap forward that will put you and your children on the map. A career move that will have you rolling in women, money, and the adulation of your peers. Then that familiar letter arrives: “We regret to inform you that the son of some fat rich bastard got the job.”
So now you’ve landed a job in the rapidly growing call center industry. Congratulations! Here is a primer to get you started.
Types of Call Centre
There are two distinct types of call centers: inbound and outbound. Outbound call centers are the ones where you sit in a small cubicle and ring people while they are eating tea and watching Friends, so they can yell at you that they don’t want to know about negative gearing or answer a six-to-eight minute survey on their purchasing preferences.
Inbound call centers are marginally better. They are the ones where people ring you, at a time of their own convenience, to complain about the service, the amount of time they had to wait in a queue, the state of the world today, and why you aren’t hurrying up when you know they only have a fifteen-minute lunch break in which to call you. This is the place you want to work. Relatively speaking.
There are three distinct types of call center employees. It is important to your mental well-being to know the difference.
Short Term Phone Monkeys: This is probably the category you will fall into. These characters are students, creatives, or have just been kicked off the dole. They clock in, do their job in an inefficient manner, and leave. You can share horror stories with them, and mock co-workers of the remaining two categories. Some of these will transform before your very eyes, becoming soulless and broken. They become…
Lifers: These poor souls have been here since the dawn of time. You will never see them arrive or leave, and they will never be promoted. In fact, they may well be powering the place, jacked into their computers like the humans in The Matrix. They will have pictures of their family on their cubicle, to remind them of the life they once had.
Career Phone Monkeys: These are the people you will quickly learn to despise. They are always chipper, sycophantic and grasping, and can be called upon to recite the company motto and business goals on cue. They will also “liven up” the place by organizing mufti days, special events, and inventing a mascot to represent Quality.
Customers, like co-workers, fall into different categories. They share one simple thing in common: none of them will make you feel pride in your work.
Old People: Old people will ring whenever your company sends them the slightest piece of junk mail, to find out what it all means. They will routinely panic and will announce their age as soon as possible in the hopes of gaining extra special service for having survived so long. They will also curry favor by calling you “sweetheart”, and will tell you how badly the government and your company treat pensioners. There is no way to get them off the phone until they want to, so grab a book and ride it out.
Whingers: These people are so busy, that a five-minute wait is liable to cause their whole life to be turned upside down. Fortunately, they have the power to stop time while they cry about how your company has done them wrong, and how you are personally responsible for the death of Jesus. The best method of dealing with them is to tut sympathetically, then transfer them to a supervisor.
Tight-Arses: These guys will only ring on the busiest of days, when there are sixty callers waiting in the queue, to complain about their bill and the fact they have been charged a $5 late fee for not paying their account. If they are setting up a new account with you, they will query every fee, deposit, and miscellaneous cost in an attempt to have it waived. The best method of dealing with tight-arses is to either tell them it is out of your hands or simply not mention the fees they are liable for.
Crazies: These are the best callers. Included in this category are prank callers and those guys who sound normal to begin with, but rapidly launch into a freeform, stream of consciousness rant on any topic imaginable. With luck, they can eat up a good fifteen minutes of your shift. As with the old people, grab a book and strap in. Or if you’re feeling pugilistic, try to reason with them. I once had a half-hour argument with a guy who thought the women on the front of magazines were trying to induce him to sleep with them.
Non-English Speakers: These people will speak softly, quickly, and in another language on a crackling phone line. In addition, they will only ring for the most convoluted and incomprehensible reasons. They will have minimal information and will ask you as many questions as possible. The best method for dealing with them is to tell them you need a piece of information that they do not possess before you can continue with the call. When they ring back, odds are that someone else will have to deal with them. Never recommend the interpreter line. It will only make things worse.
Idiots: This catch-all category includes everyone else you will speak to over the phone during your tenure as a customer service engineer. There is infinite variation in the types of conversations you will have with these people, from explaining to them that their ducted air conditioner actually costs money to run, to informing them that you cannot find a person’s phone number based on their first name and the fact that they “live down behind McDonald’s”. Idiots make up the bulk of your customers, so be prepared to end each day with a feeling of impotent rage and snide superiority over your fellow man.
You might be now saying: “Hey – I’ve called up call centers before, and I certainly didn’t fall into any of these categories.” Sorry to be the one to break it to you, Champ. You’re what we call a Whinger.
Your first day will be a heavily choreographed sham, constructed with the sole purpose of making life in a call center seem like beer and skittles. There will be free food, get-to-know-you games, and managers will pop in to say hi and inform you that if you ever need anything, you can ask them (this is, of course, a damn lie). You will learn the history of the company, and how they consider their operators to be their most valuable asset – which is why you will be paid minimum wage and work shit hours.
You will be exposed to as few actual operators as possible. And the operators you do meet will, without exception, all be Career Phone Monkeys, who love their job. You will be told that there are so many opportunities for promotion and a career with the company. Unfortunately, you will never qualify for any of them, because you have to work at the place for at least three years before you even get to see what is on those computer screens they have behind the desk at Call & Resource Management, and even then you will only be “seconded” to the position. This means that they pay you the same wage as they did when you were on the phones, and you get to do the more prestigious job for just enough time to forget how terrible it is to take calls.
Then, just when you are feeling like a valued success story, your secondment will be over and it’s back to the cubicle.
The Work Environment
Your new workplace will have a deep and abiding interest in Occupational Health & Safety principles, so much so that you will have to sign a waiver stating that you know it is dangerous to climb on tables, and that those little leg clips under your keyboard should be tucked away at all times. Once you’ve signed that waiver, go nuts. You can kill yourself for all they care.
The harsh fluorescent lighting really brightens up the office. Especially when one of the said lights flickers almost imperceptibly above your cubicle. You should be OK – just climb up on the table and change it.
As for your seating arrangements, there are again two types. The first consists of rows of walled cubicles or desks and resembles the type of study environment they have in school libraries. Each operator is cloistered in their own little world: just you and the idiots on the other end of the phone for your whole shift.
The other, slightly more impressive set-up, consists of outrageous wavy desk architecture. Large pods of computers that seat up to ten people around, allowing you to chat to the drones on either side of you. Unfortunately, you will always be put between a couple of lifers, or have the most frenzied Career Phone Monkey in the place bubbling loudly at customers all day in your ear. The upshot is that being surrounded by people makes it harder to hear the caller you are speaking to, so you spend the day yelling into the headset and asking them to repeat their account number. When you finish your shift, it feels like you have been loudly arguing all day.
Hooray! Your shift is finished! Now you can go home and relax, right? Wrong. For at least an hour after every single shift, you will be of no use to anyone. You will be in a bad mood from dealing with morons, and the non-angry parts of your brain will resemble mush. The inability to concentrate, or even speak coherently, are the hallmarks of a shift finisher.
Call center work can be fun, exciting and enjoyable until you glance at the clock for the first time and realize ten minutes have elapsed since you began your first shift. Remember: it is all worth it on payday when you have earned $50 more than you would have on the dole.