I’ve realised that so far I have provided little in the way of description of the call centre and the people who inhabit it. So have decided to produce a tour in words…..
The call-centre is a very grey place a grey like the old John Major puppet from Spitting Image. This is especially apparent on one of those gorgeous days when the sun is shining the three small windows which permit a glimpse of the outside world showcasing a perfect blue sky. The room is open plan with a three banks of desks. Facing these is the customer service managers desk positioned to ensure maximum visibility over the floor like some kind of panoptican. In the far corner is the managing directors office, with its rather grand looking furniture and coffee machine. It is here where visiting dignitaries are entertained with tea and sandwiches and where meetings with various suited and booted individuals take place. In the other corner sit the assorted managers and their admin assistants. Outside of the room is a corridor leading to the ‘canteen’ a small windowless room decked out in grey where non-smokers spend their breaks, the room where the three data entry staff sit keying-in orders received by post in an efficient silence, a vacant office cubicle and a second office occupied by a manager who seems to have the position of number 2 in the firm.
Our daily grind consists of taking incoming calls on behalf of a range of companies. These range from small operations who can’t cope with the volume of calls themselves, to large multi-nationals who use us as the UK part of their operation or who choose to outsource for convenience. We deal with both order taking and customer service.
Meet the staff:
It would be hard to provide a description of every single member of staff in the centre so I’ve decided to create categories which I think provide a best fit. The list isn’t exhaustive and some people may be in more than one category or on the edges of a category, but I think overall it provides a good picture of just who we are.
The call-centre veterans:
Now the industry is coming of age there is a breed of worker who knows nothing but the call-centre. The call-centre veterans are people who can boast several call-centre roles on their CV’s. One of them will typically be a household name such as a bank or a utility firm. They will have stories of just how oppressive the highly developed monitoring regimes were at these firms like having to put your hand up and wait for permission to go to the toilet. Owing to the lack of job mobility in the industry and undervaluing of experience the careerist will, like a crab, only ever move sideways.
The minimum-wage careerist:
For the minimum wage carrerist the call-centre is just one in a list of jobs usually on, or near, the minimum wage. Their work history will consist of things like bar work and shop work often as the hours on offer were part-time and fitted around responsibilities like child-care. They tend not to have much in the way of formal educational qualifications and their expectation of what they can get out of work is low. They are marginalised and poorly treated, but feel there is nothing that can be done about this as this, in their view, is what work always has been and always will be.
Students make up the bulk of the part-time workforce in the call centre drawn into the work by the part-time hours and flexibility which means they can work around their study and ramp up their hours during the holidays. They insulate themselves from the misery of call-centre existence by insisting they are just passing through, on their way to greener pastures, but for some the stay in the call centre will last long after graduation and for others this is their first step to becoming call-centre careerist.
This group has entered the call centre as it is one of the few areas which does not require much in the way of experience or formal qualifications. Whilst virtually every other job or career now has some qualification attached and even doing the filing or typing requires 5 years experience the call centre remains free of such barriers. The under-achievers can be divided into two groups, the university dropouts for whom a stop-gap turned permanent and the perennial under-achievers for whom the call-centre is some kind of salvation from the fast-food joint.
The various managers are a strange bunch. They pre-date almost everyone in the call-centre and like mysterious monoliths in a fog of secrecy no one really questions how they came to be there, or even what purpose they serve, just that they have always been there.
And that dear readers concludes our tour of the call-centre. If you have any questions please leave a comment.