Calls may be monitored



Angela Merkel might not have been too happy about having her calls listened in to, but to many of us working in the call centre industry having our conversations listened in to, recorded and then fed back to us is an everyday occurrence.

For me, being listened in to is never a nice experience. First there is the paranoia. Spotting a  team-leader sat at a station  you start wondering how long since you was last monitored, then they glance over. Momentarily you catch each others eyes before you both turn away. Convinced it’s you and begin upping your workrate until you’re throat becomes sore with the exertion. You push, prod and cajole customers into buying more, upgrading or whatever it is the company wants you to do – what on paper you should do – but  which under normal circumstances you wouldn’t care less about hassling people for.  Worst of all you have to do everything by the book. No cutting corners the way you do to keep your average call time down, and absolutely no writing off of trifling amounts to neatly circumvent an argument with a customer.

Fortunately I’ve always been quite good at reading the signs and know when I’m being listened-in to and so can take full advantage of the Hawthorne effect which states that subjects being observed act differently due to the very nature of observation. Once however, I wasn’t so lucky. In my defence it was a very, very quiet day, with nothing much happening in the way of calls. I’d decided to put my feet up and take it easy. My big mistake though was  calling up a colleague for a quick chat. Unbeknownst to me they’d just had a run in with their manager and unleashed an anti-management tirade which would have landed us both in hot water were they not already working their notice. As it was it was just me fighting to keep my job. Lesson learnt.

But is monitoring all bad? Of course I’d rather not be monitored and have my conversation style forensically unpicked, but is there an up side? According to this article in Call Centre Helper there is, with the writer pointing out that

Over the years, I have often found that it is possible to gauge a call centre’s efficiency by its attitude to listening to calls. A bad call centre usually has no facilities for listening to calls. In a well-run call centre, senior management will listen to calls on a regular basis and provide immediate feedback to agents.

I’ll never love monitoring, and will always continue in the belief that monitoring is another part of the power imbalance in the Call Centre, but this something I’d agree with. In my worst call centre job I was monitored only once in two years. The reason for this quite simply is that for management monitoring calls is a time-consuming hassle they’d prefer not to do, particularly in the kind of call centre where everyone is over-burdened to the maximum.  To listen in to half an hour of calls takes half an hour of a managers time, in addition to the time taken to feed-back which is likely to be at least another half hour and even then they’d probably only hear a very narrow range of scenarios – not enough to really gauge performance. Faced with a call centre of even twenty agents regular monitoring becomes a huge task. The problem which then occurs is that managers will always be desperate for some way of measuring the performance of their staff and without monitoring they then turn to the dreaded call stats.