Is working in a call-centre worthwhile?

Now for something topical. Causing much excitement in the news today has been the results from the Office for National Statistics research on the nations well being. Here we take a quick look at what it reveals about the soul of the call centre.

As part of the Office for National Statistics research on wellbeing respondents were asked provide a rating on a scale of 0 – 10 for the question “to what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile”  with researchers noting in the results that a persons occupation had some impact on the scores:

Of those people who are in employment, the type of occupation people have appears to have an effect on people’s subjective well-being ratings.

So, can we ask,  is working in a call-centre worthwhile?

Though the ONS data do not specifically refer to call-centre’s call-centre agents are themselves included within the occupational classification category ‘sales and customer service occupations’ along with telesales workers and shop assistants.

According to the analysis the answers of this group contrasted strongly with the responses given by those in caring occupations who came top in terms of rating what they do as worthwhile:

For the ‘worthwhile’ question however, people in the ‘caring, leisure and other service occupations’ gave the highest average ratings, along with people in ‘professional occupations’ (8.0 out of 10). The lowest average ratings were given by people in ‘sales and customer service occupations’, ‘process
plant and machine operatives’, and people in ‘elementary occupations’ (7.5 out of 10)

It’s perhaps unsurprising that people in caring occupations, people whose day job is helping others, report that they feel the things they do are worthwhile, but isn’t that what customer service is about too – helping people – So why are call centre workers among the bottom group?

The customer service ethos is one which is about helping people, but I can’t help thinking this has a hollow ring to it – after all it’s not like we’re helping people to do anything more worthwhile than flex their consumerist muscles as opposed to helping people in some more fundamental way.

And then hasn’t the ethos been corrupted by our call-centre employers pure pursuit of profit? I know from my time in the call centre I really didn’t feel that I did much apart from making a few people with expensive watches and flash cars a little bit richer – in fact helping people was almost actively discouraged – oh so very worthwhile…

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The Call Centre Olympics

With only 7 days until the Olympics opening ceremony I thought I’d get in tune with the Olympic Spirit; I present to you the inaugural call-centre Olympiad. This will consist of three call-centre games:

1.)  Call centre hold’em:

This game utilizes both the telephones hold button and an agents fine-tuned judgement, and though it comes from a work of fiction, the book eight minutes idle,  the writer Matt Thorne himself worked in a call centre so it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that this game was once played for real.

The protaganist Dan explains the rules:

Keeping callers on hold is a fun game, if a hard one to judge. The temptation is to hang on as long as possible, but then if they hang up you lose all your points, and as we’ve got an open-ended competition running between our team, it’s sometimes safer to settle for a run of small scores. Ade has the record for longest single hold (43 minutes 18 seconds), but in the overall competition I’m leading with an accumulative score of nearly two hours.

2.) Word-sneak:

This game comes courtesy of JL who was one of the interviewees for the call centre interview series. The object is to write a word down on paper and then “sneak” that word into the conversation without raising the customers suspicions.

To make this into more of an Olympic style event the rules have been codified to include a points system with the most challenging words attracting the highest number of points.

3.) Mute button hold:

This is my personal addition to the call centre Olympics. The mute button hold is loosely related to call-centre hold-em, but has a number of key differences with the main difference being that  in the mute game you simply take the call with your mute button on. The challenge is then to hold-out for as long as possible without being noticed by management. It is a test of nerve. The prize for winning is 10-15 seconds breathing space and an improvement to you call average for the day. On the other hand losing can mean your averages go up as the mute time is added to your call handling time.

Again for the Olympics a few rule changes are needed. The format for this will be a knockout with agents facing-off against each other. Both answer on mute with the winner being the agent who holds out the longest. Bouts can also be won by achieving a hang-up.

Let the games begin.

Mr E.

Congratulations to my friend Mr E. for escaping the call-centre. One of the nicest people I had the pleasure of working alongside Mr E. was friendly, helpful, had a great moral sense, and was above all conscientious in all his dealings with customers – all qualities which made him shine as a human being, but which left him hopelessly out of place in the cut-throat world of the call-centre.

Like all of us Mr E. deserves better than the call centre.

Good luck to him.

I know it’s not your fault, but….

Like many people I’m no fan of bankers right now, but I can’t help but feel sorry for Natwest, or rather the people who have to work in their call centres.

These are the people who are on an annual salary a city banker wouldn’t blink about blowing in a weekend, yet they are the people who must deal with the anger, panic, the hate, and the fury directed at the bank over issues they have had no part in, or any control over.

One Natwest worker I spoke to summarised their ‘stressful’  week by repeating a phrase they had heard again and again – one which every call centre worker will have heard, and may well make them shudder; “I know its not your fault but…”

It’s a phrase that brought back unpleasant memories to me of when I had to deal with wave after wave of anger, frustration, and disappointment on a daily basis; all the times 4X made mistakes with invoices, or sent out a thousand parcels to people who didn’t order them, or the time a client ran out of refund cheques over the Christmas period, or the times when flowers sent for birthdays, Christmases, anniversaries and Mother’s days turned up at their destination a day late, disheveled, with a miss-spelt greeting, or some such combination of these, and not forgetting the time just before one Christmas when a shipment of personalised children’s books and toys was grounded in Chicago because of snow and ice.. “I know it’s not your fault, but..”

If you call Natwest please go easy on whoever answers the phone – It’s not their fault.