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The Secret Life of a Call Center Agent

Updated on July 14, 2014

You Want the Truth? You Can't Handle the...

Asking about my previous years as a call center representative is like asking your grandpa about fighting in the war. My lips are usually sealed and only my nightmares reveal the truth. So not everyone suffers from call center traumatic stress disorder or CCTSD but many previous employees who acquired Cubiclitis or Monkey Rage Syndrome find it difficult to discuss life in the service industry trenches. Most careers require you to interact with customers or at least other employees on a daily basis. There is often a warm friendly exchange among peers or a healthy acknowledgement of our shared humanity with valued customers. However, for certain types of individuals who neither desire nor thrive on constant extroverted interaction the experience can be draining. Being in the typical call center environment for an extended length of time can be rewarding, educational, humorous but also emotionally scarring for the wrong personality. Please, leave me alone. I do not have a case of the "Monday's"

Excuse me, I believe you have my stapler...

Most people will ask why you made the choice to be a customer service agent. If you avoid the question out of uncertainty yet want to appear clever you will reenact the dramatic speech Eric Bana gave as Hoot from the movie Black Hawk Down..."people ask me why I do it man. Why? They won't understand ".... And I say look "career counselor" with your fancy psychology degree or Mom and Dad, the customer service life chose me. You apply to call center positions for the same reason you apply for most employment. You like to eat. You have grown fond of having a roof over your head. You need a car so you can drive to the movie theater, club, art museum, bookstore when you have a day off. You haven't hit the Powerball jackpot yet. Most employees say they never intended to stay at a call center... forever. Then inevitably employees become comfortable or as I "projected" they become so worn down they give up on all their hopes and dreams. A reps cubicle has become a secondary home complete with doilies, knitting needles, fans, blankets, photo's of grandchildren even a bowl of those savory little rock hard candies with the fruity center teeter on the edge of their desk.(possibly a mini fridge next to their portable heater at their feet) That statement " given up on their hopes and dreams" is unfair and overly dramatic. Who doesn't enjoy being chained to a box answering endless back to back repetitive inbound questions day after day after day after day...Do you enjoy talking incessantly, scolded over quality metrics, work every major holiday, be available any shift and every weekend? Dream come true. Do you mind if I place you on a brief hold while I curl up in the fetal position and cry under my desk? Thank you.

Yeah. Did You Get That Memo?

Besides making the best of every single day, call center work allowed me to meet, date and fall in love with some highly creative people. Customer service and consulting demands people who are verbal virtuosos and empathetic communicators. Your voice is your instrument. You apply your knowledge and language proficiency multi-tasking skills and usually you're "encouraged" to up sell a companies product all in under three minutes, twenty seconds. Okay, time me. Go! Call centers are full of musicians, photographers, painters, writers, web designers etc..who are working their way through college or trying to earn enough money to work on their craft outside of 9to5. There is also a significant number of military veterans who make extremely effective leaders and business managers. After working in an industry with such varied demands as security, sales, education, billing and social media technology you begin to see all the elements of personality that allow employees to thrive. Sales people assume " techies" are nerdy geeks and the technology savvy believe sales reps are narcissistic assholes. Neither stereotype is true of course but each group eventually learns to interact and communicate through teamwork. Every one has something to contribute. You do what you need to do in order to earn money, make a living and survive. If you love your work all the better. If you don't, having a good sense of humor is one of the most underestimated qualities in an employee. Humor puts a negative situation into perspective and relieves tension and stress. A sense of the absurd is imperative in customer service. There were days when my colleagues understanding and laughter prevented me from walking out the door. They would put their microphones on mute and imitate a customers tough Bronx, New York accent. "Hey,Tony. I got your service right here." My favorite manager used to sign into to my computer when I forgot to lock it so he could instant message my co-workers about how much I supposedly loved boy band N Sync. Although I've often compared my experience in call centers to a slow agonizing death there were many positive aspects. You learn patience, humility and effective listening skills. You learn empathy, sympathy and cooperation. You make friends, enemies, and useful contacts. But if you don't have a sense of humor you probably won't be successful at any endeavor except maybe funeral director or accountant.There is nothing funny about math. Sorry guys.

What Would You Do?

Given the choices listed in the video above which option would you choose?

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What Do You Want to Do With Your Life?

After speaking with career counselors for a few years and taking the Myers-Briggs Personality Assessment a hundred times I discovered I'm an INFP. What is an INFP? Intuitive Thinking Feeling Perceiving personality. A "Dreamer-Idealist".There are traits I recognize in myself from the assessment description but it's not an exact science. Exploring and expanding the use of our true talents takes time and effort. The process is constantly evolving. When we're children we allow ourselves to imagine we are doctors, teachers, policemen, actors and race car drivers or a combination of all of these occupations at once. We have the audacious freedom to sincerely believe we can do whatever we choose. As adults we cut off our own creativity and force each other to chose just one vocation ( and you'd better damn well like it) for the rest of our days. What happened to our courage and confidence in believing we could do or be what we choose? Why do we give up on our dreams? If you hate your "day job" keep looking. Keep searching. Find ways to incorporate what you love into your every day reality. You may never suspect but there will always be secret admirers in the crowd cheering you on.

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