CALL CENTRE LIFE

WORK & MONEY

Like many, I have been feeling the pinch (understatement) of the last year – balancing work and kids has felt more relentless than ever. However, this list from an anonymous writer made me stop and think. Stress and pressure are tough for everyone, but having to be at the receiving end of disrespect and abuse, with next to no rest must feel utterly gruelling. 

  • I’ve worked in customer services for the best part of 15 years (yes I used my fingers to count that out, no I’m no longer working in a call centre, I’m a Qualified Accountant now (no joke)); and wanted to de-fog the illusion that is the Call Centre, revealing what a unique place they are to work in. 

  • 01.01.2012 – 8am – Beep rings the tone of my headset in my ear, warning me I have approximately 3 seconds before my next call comes through, ‘Good morning, welcome to *company name*, you’re speaking to L, can I take your order number please?, *ignored* ‘Why can’t I buy this toaster?’, the caller asks, sounding awfully like they have a perfectly operational toaster given they appear to be crunching on what sounds like toast in between words spattered down their handset to me.  ‘What’s the item number please and I’ll take a look?’, ‘There isn’t one’ he replies (there is). Delicately, I put on my best tour guide voice, ‘It’s just below the product description, a number approximately 6 digits long. ‘600365’ the caller snaps back at me, it sounds like he’s licking his lips, must be jam on toast. ‘Ok Sir, thank you, and may I take your postcode to check stock availability, *barks postcode to me*. ‘I am sorry it does appear the item is out of stock, I’d recommend checking back on the website regularly to check availability. ‘YOU WHAT?! THAT’S NOT GOOD ENOUGH, I WANT THIS TOASTER AND DEMAND YOU FIND IT FOR ME AND DELIVER IT TO MY HOUSE FOR FREE! (because he has chosen to call me for me to confirm what he has already witnessed for himself and now feels we should find it and deliver it to him free of charge in some Hollywood-style, miraculous way even Liam Neeson would be proud of). ‘I’m sorry Sir, it’s out of stock, I can see it’s been a popular item as it’s been in the sale and we do not have the facility to see if it will come back into stock’. The toaster is £9.99, delivery is £4.99 and the call we have been on is not charged at local rate, he’s calling from a mobile. We do the dance of back and forth, and go round and round in circles for about five more minutes, rewording the same message in hope that it will sink in but it doesn’t, in the end I am told to ‘go fuck myself and the caller finally hangs up. Happy New Year to me!

  • I won’t find your toaster Sir, but I may kill you. 

  • Call centres are HUGE. In your naivety as a new starter to the job you think you won’t need to make an effort with your appearance because no one will see you, you’re not customer-facing. You turn up on your first day and whilst being shown around realise over 1,500 people work in the building and so you make a mental note to wear a bra tomorrow. 

  • Training is all about making posters and colouring in, like being back in reception class at school, only you don’t advance through your learning in stages, you’re chucked in at the deep end after 3 weeks with no life raft coming to save you, ready to take ‘live’ calls which is ironic, as most of the callers are braindead. 

  • People assume call centres workers are dumb and read from scripts that couldn’t be further from the truth. It is in fact the minority of employees which are students, and the majority are from a variety of backgrounds, age-range and the split is pretty much 50:50  male/female ratio, many generations of family work together too. And besides, students often work in call centres because the pay is better than fast-food chains (but factoring in the free food it’s probably break-even). 

  • Call quality coaching happens once a week if you’re lucky. The call must include the following:

  • You answer the phone enthusiastically and friendly, but not too friendly

  • Your complete a ‘verbal handshake’ with the customer, introducing yourself to them and vice-versa

  • You say the company name

  • What time of day it is (not like the talking clock, morning/afternoon/evening will do)

  • You ask for their order number if they’ve come through to the aftersales line (when you dial a call centre and go through the tedious pre-recorded menu options (press option 1 for this, 2 for that), it genuinely directs you through to…the wrong person who cannot help; but at least the operative can see which option you selected on their dated phone from the 90’s on their desk). 

  • Say sorry at least three times during the call (even if they call up to ask for their local stores telephone number).

  • If you get disconnected from your caller you must phone them back (even if they have abused you and hung up on you intentionally).

  • You must leave detailed notes on every order across every system (we used 13 (!)  different systems).

  • You must identify unrelated advice/assistance the customer may need and give it to them (crystal balls are provided at staff induction)

  • You must end the call by asking if there is anything else you can help with (crystal balls are overworked, underpaid and highly stressed so often give up the ghost)

  • If you do not perform all of the above in EVERY call you WILL fail your call coaching.

  •  You may have three calls ‘coached’ by management in a single session and if you fail your call coaching more than three times you are placed on a performance improvement programme; you could well find yourself on a PIP within the space of 30 minutes. 

  • You have 60 seconds to type up your notes (on all 13 systems), before your next call is automatically connected to you. 

  • You have the facility to press a button on your phone and put yourself in ‘wrap time’ after a call to stop the next call being received. Management also has the facility to remotely disconnect you from wrap time (and often do). *beep*

  • A woman once went into labour during her call with me and wanted me to remain on the telephone until a relative could get to her; where did she live? In the highlands, with her nearest relative at least an hour away

  • .

  • Call time, quality and everything else went out the window and we had a great conversation about our lives, and this and that. I received a huge bunch of flowers from her, delivered to work as a thank you for ‘being there with her’, my manager wasn’t as thankful for me putting the teams stats up the wall and put me on a PIP. It’s OK though, Mark from the other team got a bottle of champagne from the call centre manager last week for helping an elderly lady who had fallen on the pavement outside of work, their picture made it into the local paper. 

  • If you disconnect a call with a customer it is a disciplinary offence, even if the caller has sworn at you or even been racially abusive. The latter sadly happened to one of my colleagues – the customer actually came to our offices. It was frowned upon that I was going to call the police; management were aware of the issue as was the CEO – The customer remained a client, my colleague left our place of employment

  • Customers are protected by GDPR  (previously the Data Protection Act 1998), we are employees are not. Due to Social Media do not be surprised if a call centre operative withholds their full name, which is requested more times than not. You will fail your call coaching if you do not disclose your full name on request from a customer.

  • You will be bad mouthed and abused on the Social Media channels of your employer by customers (see above re: the right to withhold your own name). This has happened to me and when reported to my employer they offered no support, despite the enormous impact to my mental health.

  • Colleagues of mine have been known to take rude callers personal details home with them and add them to personal ad’s, websites, sign people up to junk emails, prank call them at all hours, write their number in phone boxes – Yep, want a good time? Call Sharon on 07…..), even give them out when on the pull.

  • You are permanently attached to your phone as the multinational (rich) company won’t fork out for wireless headsets. The cord stretches about 2 metres so you can stand and walk over to Julie on the next bank of desks and catch up how her smear test went this morning, all whilst someone limbos underneath your (umbilical?) cord to get to their desk.

  • You have to share said headset it with your colleagues (they get sick, you get sick (but not too sick to be off work, sickness is a no go, you save “sick” days for Christmas, Easter, bank holidays, every other holiday you request that is declined due to “business needs”)). You do get your own mouthpiece to pop on the end of the headset though, so as not to inadvertently exchange saliva with Jim who has just finished his morning shift and declares loudly he is off for the day, having just picked and wiped his nose goo on his trouser leg. You have to share seats too. Delightful. 

  • If you want two weeks off work as part of your annual leave you must provide a reason in writing to HR. An exclusive, swingers only holiday is approval worthy apparently. 

  • As a perk during the festive period we were offered holiday hours; 3 hours of paid time to complete our Christmas present shopping. Due to business needs these were postponed until February the following year. 

  • You are allocated ‘personal time’ each hour, which is averaged by the number of hours you spend in work. You are allocated a 30-minute break and a 10-minute break if you work over 6 hours in addition to your personal time. If you work under 4 hours you receive no breaks or ‘personal time’, so if you need a drink (likely, considering you talk for a living), or to visit the toilet (that basic human right we should all have), you’re screwed. Yes, we have a workplace union (!)

  • If you are fortunate enough to work in excess of 6 hours you qualify for approximately 1.2 minutes of ‘personal time’ per hour. It is now a toss-up between keeping hydrated and visiting the toilet so you need to divide and conquer, the only issue is your seated slap bang in the middle of the call centre and the water cooler and toilets are equal distance in opposite directions, both happen to be a minimum 2 minute round trip, not taking into account the queue at the water cooler (or toilets), speed of flow (water cooler or toilet) and hoping you don’t bump into Sam from Payroll who likes a chinwag and isn’t on the clock. 

  • You will see an ambulance at work at least once a week, normally assisting colleagues with severe chest pains. Once given the all-clear, management will ensure you call Mr’s Jones back; you know, the one who called you a fucking retard and hopes you go to hell right before hanging up on you and pushing you into cardiac arrest territory. Failure to call her back will result in a call fail. As an outsider I can’t decide which is worse, the cardiac arrest is looking more favourable.

  • The customer is never really on hold, and yes we can hear everything you say when you think you are. 

  • I’ve addressed many women as men and men as women, and failed my call coaching for doing so, despite my manager agreeing she thought it was a man/woman too. 

  • Working in a call centre is basically the human equivalent of being a battery hen, only worse. At least the chickens have rights like fresh air, un(time)limited access to clean water and a clean, swift death, unlike the unrelenting daily grind of call centre work and all the pressures it brings (and that’s just the management).

  • ‘You’re not allowed to use personal time during the first hour of your shift. If you need a drink or the loo you must wait. There are no exceptions, even if it’s blisteringly hot outside, the air conditioning unit above your desk is broken and you’ve just undertaken a very hot 90 minute bus/walk commute to work and consumed a large bottle of water to remain hydrated’.

  • ‘There are huge TVs dotted around the call centre to remind you of the pressure you’re under; calls queuing, advisors available, advisors in wrap time, advisors in personal time….’. Each Team Leader has their own teams live stats on their computer, to accurately target the culprits who are not available to take calls. If you are in wrap time you are asked ‘how long are you going to be?’ constantly, weighting further pressure on your shoulders.’

  • ‘We were so busy one day that, whilst on my way to the toilet, I was chased by a manager and asked where I was going. When I said I needed the toilet I was told we were too busy right now and can I please go back to my desk.’

  • ‘I once battled deep snow, digging my car out of the car park by my home for 45 minutes to get to work on a Sunday morning. This resulted in my colleague (who couldn’t get to work and was collected en-route) and myself being 3 minutes late for work. I apologised and explained to our manager about the snow. We were docked 15 minutes pay for being late and threatened with a More formal warning.’

  • ‘There is an expectation that you stay at the end of your shift if calls are queuing. Unpaid. Yep, you read that correctly.

  • If someone is in the queue we don’t just close the call centre and leave work, there are people who need us to answer their question about why they received no kittens with the cat basket they ordered (true story); or the guy that rang me to tell me he’d put white spirit in a glass in his kitchen, forgot about it and drank it (all) thinking it was water.

  • I tried to direct him towards a more appropriate service (A&E), as opposed to ringing a retailer like ourselves but he wanted to complain to us about his actions despite all the regulatory hazard warning and advice being on the bottle. I failed the call for not empathising, unfortunately, there was no empathy to offer on my part this time.

  • On average you leave about 10-15 minutes late every day, when it’s busy you can be 60-90 minutes. If you say you cannot stay you are questioned By management and made to feel guilty if you insist you must leave (even if visiting a sick relative in hospital). My colleagues have missed trains home, with the next due in over an hour, that they would have otherwise been on had they finished work when they were contracted to.

  • Now, was there anything else I can help with?

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