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How to Survive Working in A Call Center

Updated on March 18, 2013

Do well and make it painless!

There might be a time in your life that you find yourself working in a call center. This type of work often isn't fun. It can be hectic. It's very regimented. Every time the phone rings, you might just get a customer with the people skills of Hannibal Lecter and the charm of Joseph Stalin. This guide is meant to tell you how to survive the experience and make it as painless as possible. I should also mention this guide is written with inbound call centers in mind such as technical support or billing offices as opposed to outbound call centers that might do telemarketing or debt collection. If you're going to work or are currently working in an outbound center you still might find a few things here of use to you.


Try to get the best scores possible on your quality evaluations

Call centers record their calls and you are evaluated on your performance on these calls according to whatever the company's guidelines are. You may think the guidelines are stupid and in many instances they are. You want to get the highest scores that you can on these evaluations. There are a few reasons that you want to do this. It makes you look good and can help you get promoted and working off the phones if that is your ambition. It can also go a long way toward keeping management off your back. Poor quality scores are going to get you on their radar and they are going to spend a lot of time talking to you about it. This can be very annoying. If you are someone who finds themselves working at a call center until you find something better then you definitely don't want management breathing down your neck. There is no reason at all that your detour into the world of call centers needs to be painful and traumatic. Poor quality scores can also get you fired so there is also that to consider. I would also recommend not endlessly complaining to your superiors about quality guidelines. It will get you nowhere. Trying to be some sort of revolutionary like Emma Goldman in a call center environment isn't worth it.

Respect the customer no matter what

There is no way around it. Some customers are mean. Some customers are stupid. Some customers have a maddening sense of entitlement. You may get verbal abuse thrown at you. Do not fight fire with fire. Do not hurl invective back at a customer if they throw it at you. Do not try to be a wise guy or a wise girl. Find yourself a calm place in your head and respond as cooly as possible. It is easier said than done but it's vital. It might be helpful to think of yourself as an actor. You are the calm, brave representative in the most uninteresting television drama ever about life in a call center. Of course, there are times when a customer crosses the line. Some companies will allow a representative to end a call with an abusive customer. Some companies require the representative to get a manager involved. In situations where a customer is crossing the line you will just have to follow whatever guidelines the company you work for has in place.

You need to strive to speak to the customer in the most cheerful, polite manner that you can manage. You are not a robot, an android or a cyborg. Act like a human being. Put some inflection in your voice. Your demeanor has a huge impact on how an interaction goes. Act like you're in a good mood. You might just trick yourself into thinking you're actually in a good mood. Your upbeat, cheerful manner might rub off on the customer. That won't always be the case but it's more likely the call will go smoothly if you act upbeat and cheerful. It will also make your day go more smoothly and there is no arguing against that being a supremely good thing.


If you're on a call then focus on that call and nothing else

Some call centers have some degree of internet access. Some have their computers completely locked down so that you can only access work related applications and websites. If you're able to surf the internet between calls then do not distract yourself with some Flash game, news website, online shopping or anything else. It'll distract you and could lengthen your call and if you're taking too long on your calls that will get you on management's radar as well. I have worked on a call center's quality assurance team and we could see what was on the representative's screen. This is most likely going to be the case in any center that you find yourself working in. I've seen some pretty personal communications on people's screen. I've seen some rather embarrassing items being shopped for. I would strongly suggest keeping anything you wouldn't want your mother seeing off your screen.

If your center allows you to have books or magazines at your desk then do your best not to be distracted by them either. If you're on a call then the books and the magazines need to be closed.


Be comfortable typing and talking at the same time

When I worked in a call center I encountered more than a few people that seemed to have trouble doing this. It definitely hurt their performance. Typing and talking saves you quite a bit of time. It has a positive impact on one of the most important metrics in most call centers which is average handle time. Average handle time is the average time of each of your interactions starting with the imitation of the call and including all the other related tasks like inputting the notes into the billing system or wherever else they happen to be stored. There will likely be a target for your average handle time that they want you meeting. If you don't meet that metric then management will hassle you and that is the last thing you want. If you're already comfortable typing while talking before you get hired then you are well on your way to becoming an elite call center representative. If you are not then get into the habit of doing it . You won't be perfect at first but if you try you will be sure to get it down.

Ask your customers questions

Don't assume anything. This is especially important if you're providing technical support in a call center. You want to ask your customer open ended questions to get at the root cause of their issue. This also goes for any other type of call center. You can't help the customer if you don't know what the problem is. You need to probe the customer like you're some sort of alien abductor. They will appreciate it.

Conclusion

I know I may come off a tad cynical and a bit like a boss who is a killjoy. I view most 9 to 5 jobs with that kind of cynicism. There tends to be a lot of absurdity in the working world and it's impossible to escape that. I also endorse following the rules to the letter despite my own anti-authoritarian tendencies. I think following the rules no matter how ridiculous they might seem is key to making your time working in a call center as painless possible. I eventually began to enjoy my job in a call center once I got the hang of everything. You might have the same experience. I believe that having to work for 8 hours a day is really unfortunate but until compulsory work is abolished I believe it should be as painless as possible. I truly hope that you've found a thing or two in this guide that is useful to you.


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    • profile image

      Julie2016 11 months ago

      My first day at a call center is tomorrow, and I'm kind of drug it. I'm thankful for the job (especially in Spokane, WA) but I'm doing everything possible to be mentally prepared for this environment. Your article hit on a lot of very relevant points, and I found it very helpful. I added it to my bookmarks so I can review when I need inspiration :) Thanks!

    • profile image

      Death Spiral 2 years ago

      The quality section is right , if your quality scores are at goal or better the off the phone time becomes easier to get. I know this from experience. My quality scores were always good and that gave mucho off the phone time. I did not care too much about the other plethora of goal metrics to maintain including attendance (mine was poor) and still sailed thru my entire employment span up to me just quitting out of disappointment with the work atmosphere. The other section about respecting the customer is basically like getting your own balls ripped off filled with air and stomped on two or three times a day with some customers to keep your job. After leaving the contact center in a way it felt like my balls grew back.

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      Louie 3 years ago

      Very enlightening and helpful article, esp. for someone planning to work in a call center (as I am). Thank you Paul. :-)

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 4 years ago from USA

      Lucky for me, I've never had to do this type of work, but I empathize with those who are man or woman enough to take it. When I get a particularly good rep, I make sure to express kudos because I know someone is probably listening over their shoulder, poor thing. Occasionally I've even emailed compliments for excellent problem resolution. Good hub. It lets folks know what the experience is like on the other side of the telephone.

    • carrie Lee Night profile image

      Kept private 4 years ago from Northeast United States

      Praise to those who can hack it :) Thank you for writing about a personal experience to help those who have no choice but to stick with it. :) Have a wonderful weekend.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 4 years ago from San Diego California

      I worked in a call center for about five minutes once and when I discovered what I had gotten into I pretended to go to the bathroom and left the place at a dead run for my car. It was a completely dog eat dog, sink or swim environment that wasn't for me. Very well written hub.

    • Angela Kane profile image

      Angela Kane 4 years ago from Las Vegas, Nevada

      I have many clients that work in call centers and they can be very stressful. Your tips and suggestions are excellent. I especially agree with focusing on a particular call. Many people have too much going on which causes the customer service to suffer. The best service I receive are the ones that require little information and time and that get resolved.

    • freecampingaussie profile image

      freecampingaussie 4 years ago from Southern Spain

      I enjoyed this hub as I have worked in a call centre for a while ! We are touring Cornwall in England right now so not on hubpages as much as usual !

    • lesliebyars profile image

      Buster Johnson 4 years ago from Alabama

      I thought about working in a call center but I never have. This hub gives me a lot to ponder, great work.