The great escape

Last week I bumped into an old colleague who mentioned that life in the call centre had become more stressful as the downturn has affected many of our clients – particularly the smaller mail-order ones.  Apparently most of the calls the call-centre is dealing with now are for 4X- a sizable multi-national company, in the business of subscription ‘collections’, whose infamous incompetence results in a never-ending stream of angry customers all queuing up and eager to have a go at you – before leaving with a chunk of your flesh between  their teeth.

This person was probably one of the best, most experienced people at dealing with unhappy customers I’ve ever worked alongside – in fact she was the only person left standing from the whole ‘Team 4X’ experiment, but now, she confessed to me, she was finding it too much and longed to escape. She fancied a career change and had been applying for teaching assistant jobs. I really hope she gets one and manages to escape like I did. Not having to deal with angry people day-in day-out is a pleasure as one of my other colleagues said after leaving “at least I don’t have to deal with (expletive deleted) 4x customers anymore”

We also spoke about another call-centre colleague who had an upcoming leaving-do. This person had opted for the more dramatic option of a one-way ticket to Australia. They were following in the footsteps of another colleague who two years ago, on the cusp of turning 30, felt the need to escape the slog of the call-centre signed up to a life-guard course at the local swimming pool, got a work visa for New Zealand and after a year then hopped over the Tasman Sea to Australia without once looking back.

So that’s two people I’ve worked with who have literally fled to the other side of the world to escape the call-centre. Good luck to them.


Calling call centre workers: The call centre interviews

I’ve had an idea. It may not work, but I’m going to give it a go. One thing I’d really like to feature more of in this blog is the perspectives and stories from everyone working in call centres whatever industry and wherever in the world. To this end I have come up with a short questionnaire. I have used myself as a guinea pig and completed the first one which I have typed out below. I have created a new page on the blog which will host these. I have also stuck up a template there so anyone can copy and paste the questions. Give as long or as short answers as you’d like. Please email completed questionnaires to me at

Alternatively I’ve set up a questionnaire on Survey monkey

Name/ Nomme de plume:

Call Guy

Time wearing the headset:

2 years

Type of call centre (e.g inbound/ outbound/ insurance/mail-order/ etc):

Inbound customer services for multiple clients – mainly mail order. Including household names.

The best thing about working in a call centre is..

Being able to switch off knowing that ultimately the job you’re doing doesn’t matter – except to make someone somewhere richer than they already are.

If I could change one thing about my call centre it would be..

My manager Peggy.

Most callers are..

Nice, reasonable, patient people. It’s just the 1% of them who can mess up your day.

Worst call:

I took a call from a lady who’s mother-in-law was waiting for a vacuum cleaner she had ordered. It had been delayed as someone had made an error putting in the postcode so I initially had trouble finding the order on the system. I managed to identify the problem and to get it resolved within about 10 minutes, but had the person being so nasty to me – really spitting venom that it left me shaking afterwards. It was a long time ago, but the thought of it still makes me shudder. It left me wondering what kind of person feels that having a vacuum cleaner delayed by a few days is justification for making another human being feel that way.

Funniest call centre moment:

The time a lady called to complain. Someone had sent her a set of bathbombs through the flower ordering company we took calls for. She had mistaken them for chocolates and had swallowed part of one. First call she should have made was NHS direct.

Call centres – good or bad?



I’ve had great service from call-centres and have (though some may disagree) also in turn given good service, but I have also seen countless examples of bad service, bad attitudes, customers being messed around and lied to.

It’s not the call centre per-se that is bad, but rather I feel there are two call centres. The call centre of dreams and the call centre of nightmares.

The call centre of dreams is what the call centre was originally meant to be in its idealized form – a place focused on quality customer service a place where agents have the right training, support, motivation and the ability to make a difference. The call centre of nightmares is focused more on its revenues – a place where the primary concern is not customer service, but  simply getting through as many calls as possible. In this call centre agents are poorly trained, poorly motivated and suffer with empathy burn-out.

In reality, there are examples of both types.

Does the call centre have a future?

Yes, but things will be different. there will be less routine transactions and more dealing with complex issues and handling customers in a volatile emotional state. I think customers expectations will also be higher – the faster paced life gets the more people want things yesterday.