Man, it’s been almost a year since I’ve posted. I’ve been meaning to write something for awhile now, but kept getting caught up with work or just being too knackered to be anywhere close to bothered. (Along with not knowing what to write about, heh.) But let me tell you, these past months have been a real eye opener, so today I thought we’d talk about the absolute soul destroying joys that come with spending a silly amount of time working in a call centre… Buckle up ladies and gentlemen, it’s going to be a long one.
A bit of background to begin with. I’ve been in and out of a few different call centres for the past 5 years now, working for several high profile players in the Telecoms & Tech industries. (One of whom I’m still working for, so will definitely stay unnamed.) When I first began, I worked for Apple through an outsource company. The role was primarily doing tech support for their iOS devices, but I eventually progressed on to work with the Mac side of things, before finally being promoted to a Tier 2 agent. This involved taking any manager requests when customers were being unreasonable dicks, or when an issue was too advanced for a basic Tier 1 agent to deal with. This was my first contact centre based job and at the time I loved it, though I think younger me struggled a bit with the responsibility of case management that came with the promotion. Because of this, I ended up looking for a job elsewhere and found a role working in-house for one of the UK’s largest developers for Accountancy based software, Sage.
My job with Sage was genuinely great (for awhile) and also involved working in their call centre. But rather than doing all out tech support, I learned plenty about payroll processing, which includes a variety of tax calculations, pensions etc. (Boring stuff, but good to have on the ol’ resume.) This came as a bit of a surprise since the job was advertised as doing nothing but supporting tech issues with their Accounts & Payroll packages. But, not wanting to complain and always willing to learn, I adapted surprisingly well, staying there for a good couple years. (Incidentally, I’m the fucking god of pensions.. Just sayin’!)
So far, things have been pretty positive. You’re probably wondering, “Hey David, where’s the fucking rant at?” Worry you not my child, for things began going downhill fairly quickly once a change of hands came round with the higher ups and everyone started having sales targets dumped on them. Now as I just said, when I applied I was under the impression that I was only meant to deal with technical stuff. I can live with the added Payroll support but now they’re expecting me to hit a three grand sales target on-top of all that every month? Fuck clean off. Honestly, it got to the point that at the end of every call, I was having to take a good few minutes to rattle off other shit the business were offering just to see if the client was interested in wasting even more money on an inferior, buggy product. (Half the time I was only talking with some admin clerk anyways, someone who has zero authority to purchase anything on their companies behalf.)
People have told me that I could sell ice to an Eskimo, and the job I’m in now is fairly sales orientated, to which I’m finding some success in gaining some extra money. But at the time with all the shit I was already expected to do, along with other ridiculous changes made in the business, it all became too much and I found myself stressed as anything. It got to the point where I was snapping with customers when they let their lip run too far and a handful of managers for just being general pricks. (Not ideal to say the least.)
Now obviously I found it all a bit rough, but I know I wasn’t the only one. I remember this one bloke who worked there, not sure of his name but I know he’d been an agent with the company for years and was well liked within the department. Give it a month after the sales targets were bumped up, low and behold he’s on a performance plan for ‘not doing good enough’. Give it another few months and he’s gone. Not sure whether he got laid off or caved himself and moved on, but either way it’s a disgusting way to treat someone who’s dedicated years of their life to your company. A lot of Directors and CEO’s seem to forget that those at the bottom who deal with all of the customer interaction are the backbone of the company and without them, most organisations would crumble. (I can’t see half the bosses I’ve had doing the jobs I’ve done, especially for some of the pathetic pay packets I’ve been given over the years.)
Eventually things escalated (after being on a performance plan for sales myself, along with just being negative as hell about the job), and I found myself in a meeting, discussing my on-going future within the company. After about 15 minutes of sitting down and chatting with my team leader and some random lass from HR, I was sent out the room while they made a decision. After only a few minutes, I was called back in to be told that I was no longer employed with Sage. I made sure to tell them exactly what I thought of the company, pointing out that having a known issue in your product for over a year and a half whilst doing fuck all about it is quite simply retarded. (Seriously, anyone who uses Sage 50 Payroll, get yourselves Quickbooks or something for the love of god.) I was escorted back to my desk so I could collect my things, at which point I took the opportunity to leave loud and proud, saying bye to colleagues I actually got along with, making sure everyone knew exactly what was going down. (Wouldn’t surprise me if some customers overheard.)
Now obviously, this wasn’t ideal financially speaking. Needless to say though, I was quite relieved no longer having to show up at that shit show five days a week. After this I got lucky, managing to dive straight into a job at a local vape shop that I’d frequented for a couple years. It was certainly a nice change of pace and since I enjoyed vaping, I found myself thriving in the role. Eventually, I got promoted up to Store Manager, being put at the helm of a brand new shop the franchise owners opened in a nearby city. Unfortunately, business struggled and after about a year the store ended up being re-acquired by head office. (With many other stores on the same street now closed due to the area just being cursed or something.)
For awhile I ended up working for another start-up vape shop. The owners seemed to be cool at first, but it turned out to be a total cash grab and them basically expecting me to run everything whilst they hardly sank any decent money into the business. (These people already being successful, wealthy businessmen.) Once more, the job hunt beckoned. I bashed out a fair few applications whilst gritting my teeth through the bullshit, until eventually I got a response for a job working with one of the UK’s big six energy companies. The catch? That’s right, it’s a call centre. (Specifically dealing with customers bills.. Let me tell you, customers become real dicks when their money is involved.) I was fairly dubious going back into a contact centre, what with previous bad experiences, but I needed the money as the pay I was getting at the time was barely liveable. Needless to say I packed my bags, told the vape industry to go fuck itself and off I skipped back to the life of the telephone, cautious but optimistic.
4 weeks of training went by and all seemed well. Okay the systems they use for dealing with customer accounts is outclassed by DOS on the best of the days, but I can make this work. At this point we’ve been up to the floor and listened to experienced agents deal with calls a few times. Most of the ones they took seemed fairly straight forward, mostly just taking meter readings and updating customers bills. Easy enough stuff, just hindered again by the shitty software and PC’s. The biggest issue though? Customers.
They say the customer is always right… No… Just no. Now I’m not saying that all of them are complete morons, but a lot of the time customers are self entitled, believe they deserve everything and seem to gain a whole new level of disrespect when dealing with people over the phone. (Mainly because they can’t get knocked the fuck out for backchatting.) I mean seriously, I spoke to people who haven’t paid their energy bill for months on end, yet have the audacity to call up and kick off to us when they get a debt letter through the door and a knock from a collector. Now I sympathise, if people lose their job and fall upon hard times it can be tough, trust me I know from experience. But when you ring the company, start f’ing and blinding to someone down the phone who didn’t even know you existed up till this point, you’re a piece of shit.
Thankfully, this was only a temporary position and a stop gap to bring in some money, but mentally speaking it’s surprising how much the job had an impact upon me. Before working there, I can genuinely say I’d never experienced any feelings that could come close to anxiety or depression. But within the last couple months of the job and a good bit after, I was quite frankly a mess. I would come home after a shift, act like everything was fine but deep down inside I’d be having a full blown panic attack, freaking out about inconsequential things from earlier in the day like; “Oh god, what if that person now hates me because I said this?”, or “Shit, I’m sure I fucked that up. I’m going to get fired, then I won’t be able to pay my rent and I just don’t know how I’m going to deal.” Seriously, I’d be sitting on the settee watching a movie with the missus and find myself zoning out entirely for minutes on end with these kind of thoughts going through my head, the pit of my stomach writhing with this horrible sickness. I actually spent a good couple months unemployed before I ended up landing a job with the place I’m at now. It gave me a good bit of time to reflect and sort my head out, but the one thing I learned was that me and call centres just don’t mix… Apparently I didn’t give a fuck though, and here I am back in one for a good 6 months now.
I really don’t know why I do this to myself, heh… I started earlier in the year and the company I’m with are incredibly high profile, well known and I’m actually a big fan of their products. (The missus more so.) Though I knew in the pit of my stomach I was making a mistake when I first walked into the interview, the lure of a good pay packet and some pretty sweet employee incentives won me over. To be fair, out of all the call centres I’ve worked in this is by far the best. The problem is I’m beginning to head back in that direction I was earlier in the year, feeling the anxiety creeping back in and these negative thoughts plaguing my mind in the rare moments of peace I get. Though not as bad and frequent as they were, I feel like if I don’t escape this rinse and repeat cycle of diving in and out of call centres every year or two, I’m never going to get anywhere in my career and just damage my mental health even more.
Pause.. I started writing what was meant to be a quick history of my time in call centres, but it’s ended up dominating half the article.. My bad! With that, let’s move on to exactly what it is that makes call centres such soul destroying cesspits of hell.
By now, I’m starting to feel like it’s less the companies I’ve worked for and more the call centre environment that brings me down. Though some of my previous employers have been pretty shit in the way they’ve screwed their staff over, I’ve started to identify plenty patterns that seem to follow me no matter what company I’m on the phone for.
1. KPI’s.. KPI’s everywhere!
Aah, KPI’s. A term you’ll no doubt be familiar with if you’ve ever spent any time within a contact centre or sales based role. KPI stands for ‘Key Performance Indicator’ and is basically all the targets you’re expected to hit within your day to day role. Though most jobs have these kinds of targets in some way, I find they’re ramped up not only in quantity, but intensity within call centres. Here’s a few of the one’s I’ve found that exist in every call centre I’ve been in:
– AHT (Average Handling Time, basically how long you’re spending on average with each customer.)
– Hold (How long you’ve got customers on hold… Obviously.)
– ACW (After Call Work, how long you’re spending finishing notes in the customers account after they’ve hung up.)
These three are the core targets of any job that involves you being stuck infront of a telephone all day, but if you’re expected to sell stuff then believe me there’s going to be more. From your net revenue, attachment rates and overall sales value in terms of cash, you best hope you’re making those millionaire bosses of yours richer, otherwise you could very well be out of a job.
2. Pressure, oh god the pressure!
Now, I found this to be less so in a purely tech support role, but in some way all call centres are nothing but pits of high pressure and expectations. Like seriously, you and your team could be given one particular focus for a week or two… The weeks pass by, great! You’ve nailed it, the target’s been hit! Unfortunately, because you were so focused on this one statistic since we kept pushing you constantly to hit it, these other targets have gone to shit. So basically you all need to do better and get these met by next week… The week goes by, great! You did it! The target’s been met, but wait, now this one has slipped… Starting to see the pattern?
Again, a lot of jobs are like this, with some sort of pressure from the higher ups to achieve a certain goal. But I feel that my time spent in retail within a storefront was faaaaaaaar less intense. At least you got some time to breathe, in a call centre you’ve got to deal with nigh-on constant calls and pretty much no time in-between. Christ, some companies have even put systems in place that automatically kick you back into a call after 20 – 30 seconds, meaning you’re basically non-stop the entire day. Whenever I make this complaint, most people tell me to be grateful and that my day should go by quicker because of it. In some ways I see their point. I’m always grateful for employment in this day and age and it does keep me busy, but after years of having to speak to literally a hundreds of customers a week, most of whom are complaining in some way, with no time to stop and clear your head? You’re going to get burnt out pretty quickly. (Again, even more so if you’re talking about their money.)
3. A lack of progression.
If there’s one thing I look for in a company, it’s an opportunity to progress and truly make a career for myself. If there’s one thing I certainly haven’t found in any call centre, it’s this. Now yes, you can progress down some routes when the opportunity arises (which is rarely), but most contact centres tend to have literally hundreds of employees at any one time. (With a staff turnover like you’ve never seen!) Because of this, competition can be fierce. Yes, I progressed fairly quick during my time in Apple, but I found things to be different back then, with people being generally happier in their jobs and less crap coming from the top down. If you want to move on to become a team leader or quality assessor (basically listening and marking peoples calls) then great! Because that’s essentially your only option in a call centre.
Now yes I’ve met quite a few people who’ve progressed into these kinds of roles after many years with a company, but at the same time I’ve also met plenty others who’ve been with the organisation even longer and are still stuck at entry level. You’re no doubt thinking “Well that’s obviously because they have no ambition or are just bad at the job”, and in some cases you’re probably right. If there’s one thing I do know, it’s that making a cosy little campfire up inside your bosses arse is a far more effective strategy it seems to get a promotion. Seriously, I’ve seen a few prime examples of people who’re pretty average at their job but are top class brown-nosers, managing to get good with the bosses and snake their way up the corporate ladder… Okay, you’re probably thinking I just sound like a jealous dick at this point, but no. I’m all for people doing well and succeeding, and as I’ve said in this article several times I have done myself. What I’m not for is people who haven’t earned their praise being promoted whilst genuinely hard working individuals get overlooked and are stuck taking shit at the bottom.
All of this ultimately leaves you…
4. Stuck in a rut.
Again, this isn’t everyone I’ve met and some have managed to find success. But I can honestly say that a good 80% of the people I’ve worked with in some way disliked or outright hated their jobs, many openly stating that it’s had an impact on their mental health. Right now I’m sitting here writing this as it’s the only thing I’ve felt in any way inspired to properly talk about. If you’re reading this and can relate, then the only thing I can say to you is work on getting yourself out of there and know that there’s plenty people struggling with you.
I live in the North East of England and there’s a silly amount of call centres up here. Many claim it’s because we’ve got the most friendly accents in the UK (they’re not wrong if you exclude Byker side), but it means that so many people in this area have experienced what I’ve described here today. Of course, many people around the world go through struggles with stress and mental health at work. It’s great that companies are starting to open up to this matter with a more sensible and welcoming approach, but ultimately I can’t see anything really changing for me when it comes to call centres. This past week, I’ve updated my CV and have been sending out a fair few applications to various different companies. My dad thinks I should look at car sales since I’ve apparently got the gift of the gab.. It’s tempting, certainly good money. At this point though, I honestly couldn’t care what I’m doing so long as I’m not in a call centre… Or McDonald’s.
Thank you if you’ve actually read this all the way to the end! I haven’t written in awhile as I’ve just had total writers block, but I definitely plan to get more active and try to have something new at least once a month. (More if I can!) I know this page originally started out more focusing on Video Games / Vape related content, but to be honest I don’t think I’ll be posting anything vape related from this point forward. There’s certainly some interesting stuff that’s been going down recently in the gaming industry though so I’ll no doubt take a good look at some topics and get something knocked up for you guys real soon.
Until then, I’ma finish on a really shitty dad joke…
So when I first proposed to my wife, I gave her a bottle of tonic water…
… She was schwepped off her feet.
– Mike from Work, 2019. (You beautiful bastard! ;D)