It doesn’t feel as if much positive has been happening in the call centre recently. The relationship between me and my manager appears to have deteriorated so much that I really don’t know if I’ll even be able to set foot in the call-centre again. I’ve not given up on call centres completely though. In fact I’ve got an interview at another call-centre coming up shortly. To be sure I would love to try something else, but it seems that at the moment so many people are chasing so few jobs – the last call centre job I applied for, at a voluntary organisations call-centre, had 180 applicants and I was told that whilst I was longlisted I did not make the final shortlist of 8 as though I had lots of call-centre experience I didn’t have experience specific to their operation which other applicants did. A lot of this competition was due to recent lay-offs in similar kinds of organisations and it left me wondering just how tough things are as I’m sure last time I was actively job seeking a relatively good, but unglamorous, call-centre job would attract 25-30 applications.

My call-centre has never bothered much with applications. Like everyone else I got the job through the friends and family system. No interview required. I was just handed a job based on the recommendation of a friend. It still works like that with top-up’s drafted in from agencies. We’ve just had a new crop of newbies who are I’m told mainly associates of my manager, in fact all the new staff taken on since her arrival have been connected to her in some way either friends, or former colleagues. Someone wondered just how she knew so many people who are out of work.

It’s always strange to see newbies arrive. They tend to come in batches; in threes, or fours. They are wearing their smartest clothes eager to make a good impression and shift around nervously as they wait to be told where to go and what to do. No one knows the rules yet, they do not know how far they can or can’t go so all are set to a generic best-behaviour setting. I wonder what they are thinking, what they make of this dull grey room with its incessantly ringing phones whether they’re freaked out by the strange juxtaposition of Marilyn and the Penguins, or if they’re just grateful to be here.

I’ve been told that one time this one newbie just got up announced he was taking a cigarette break and just kept on walking. I’d like to shake his hand.  Most people stick around until the pre-christmas cull. The cull itself always strikes me as an act of unspeakable cruelty. Come in and be worked to the bone taking crap helping us and our clients make a large profit over the Christmas rush- then two weeks before Christmas itself you’re let go; left to scrape through, probably at least until things open up again in the New Year, without so much as a Christmas card. Scrooge would no doubt approve of such callous actions.

The newbies come in all ages. There seems to be little to connect them, some 17 years old in their first real job and some who look as if they are within touching distance of retirement a lifetime of work behind them. These older ones interest me the most. Just what malady has led to them washing up here?  One of the latest batch especially stuck out. A wiry grey haired lady in a two-piece black business suit and administrators spectacles. I imagined that she had been a civil-servant who had volunteered to take redundancy and was serving time until her pension kicked in.

I remember my own time as a newbie. Each call would bring forth a panicky buzz. Handling customers and taking orders is a fairly generic skill, but systems are tricky to get used to as they all have idiosyncracies like don’t put the postcode in the postcode box or it will be deleted when you save the order- put it on the address instead there are so many rules to memorize and products to familiarise yourself with; what is the returns policy? How long is delivery? Can we waive P&P on this? But what if it’s exploded? I just need to ask a colleague……. it all leaves you sweating and hoping the customer doesn’t pick up on your lack of knowledge. If they do then they will apply the killer line, the line which is like a dagger to the heart of a customer service advisor……. the line which goes “can I speak to someone who does know?”

I managed to make it through my newbie period with the help of the people around me some of whom were just a few weeks ahead of me. It was no helpful utopia though; One colleague watched me struggle for the first two weeks ignoring my furtive cries for help then suddenly as if I passed some kind of test they suddenly changed and became the most helpful of all. I sort of understand their position now. There is this scene in the TV series Band of Brothers where the unit, 101 Airbourne, returning from fierce fighting in Normandy is joined on R’n’R by replacements. There is a confrontation between one of the veterans who takes exception at the unit citation on a replacements uniform; ‘but you weren’t there’ he screams.

I must confess that my curiosity towards the newbies is mixed with an iota of hostility. This is because of the threat newbies represent that their arrival en-masse will wipe our collective memory of the hardships, injustices, even triumphs we have experienced; The cut in hours, the months we endured of call after call after call, the people who have gone. When the newbies roll in all of it is erased like symbols etched in the sand at low tide.

Newbies also unsurprisingly tend to make some real howlers which we then have to untangle. On one of our clients a bouquet delivery company we have to type the message which goes on the greeting. Amongst any batch of newbies one will be invariably be terrible at this and leave a trail of spelling mistakes. I wonder why we still don’t seem to be screening them as it always happens, but one recent incident made me laugh. I had a lady call to complain an anniversary bouquet she ordered. She said she felt the person she spoke too wasn’t too sure of what they were doing and seemed to be having a hard time with spelling. The card intended for Vicky and Steve who were celebrating their 1st anniversary arrived with the greeting reading ‘Dear Ricky and Steve..!’

In other work places I’ve loved the arrival of newbies and the opportunity of new friendship, but there is something about the call-centre, some kind of undercurrent which focuses on the threats. I’ll probably never even talk to the newbies only getting to know them through traces of their work I come across on my systems, or the occasional comment from a customer.

Still hopefully I’ll be a newbie somewhere soon


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