So I recently arrived back to good old England after two years of trotting round the world. One quick curry and a cup of tea later I was suitably frozen enough to begin plotting my escape to sunnier climes. This meant finding work, pronto. Shoving mild anxiety at having a REAL structured job again out the way, soon enough I found myself working in a call centre for a big supermarket dealing with the nations problems regarding their store cards. And believe me, this nation has problems.
I had no idea that three months answering the phone would take me on such an exploration of the many different facets of human nature, which becomes a whole different ball game when you take physical interaction away. Being a faceless outlet paid to be a tirelessly helpful verbal punching bag will leave you dazzled as the good, the bad and the ugly come out in force and pick up their phones.
It all started off fairly promisingly with a week and a half of training, which involved quietly snoozing through PowerPoint presentations, taking full advantage of the free vending machine and the best bit by far: team building. Day one: catch phrase, day two: building towers out of spaghetti and perching marshmallows on top, by day three we were gleefully wrapping eggs in newspaper and hurling them to the ground – the aim being they mustn’t break (they all broke). I was loving it. And then suddenly one day without warning the PowerPoint presentations stopped, the eggs were put away and we were unleashed on the phones, utterly unprepared. Quite naturally pandemonium ensued.
I remember taking a moment in the chaos to survey the scene, just for a wide eyed second. People frantically scrabbling for the ‘call hold’ button, hands up, notes flying liberally, strange unintelligible sentences, and one poor little mite next to me nearly in tears. For once in my life, not being overly concerned about things like this, I was the calmest person in the room. And I have to say I found the whole thing thoroughly amusing.
It’s a lot to take in working in a call centre. It starts with that little feeling of dread when the click in your headset goes off and your own pre-recorded greeting welcomes you into at least seven minutes of stress – a whole world of winding problems that invariably lead to more problems and unless you’re a seasoned veteran it’s impossible to know it all. About 8 people had bowed out by day 5. After a week or so you begin to pick up the basics and you can see the look of triumph on peoples faces when they manage to complete a call without asking for help. Being a little calmer with the job gives you the opportunity to settle into your desk and view the insanity that is call centre life. Because basic or veteran, nothing can prepare you for the weirdness, and sometimes downright outrageousness of the Great British public.
Although it all sounds very efficient over the phone (occasionally at least) I can assure you it’s a very different picture in the room. People have their station and gradually they will disappear behind mountains of empty coffee cups and wrappers. As the day wears on people begin to melt into their seats. There’s a cacophony of that sickly sweet high pitched phone voice we’re all guilty of usually saying either ‘bare with me there Mr Smith’ or ‘can I pop you on hold?’. Only overshadowed by booming cries of ‘CAN I CONFIRM YOUR EMAIL IS FROGFACE@….’ or one main culprit who seems to be continually bawling ‘CAN YOU REPEAT THAT PLEASE!?’
…And you would not believe the rage. The incandescent fury of some of the people over say, oh a 50p voucher. I’m aware that people work hard to collect points, but having come from India where people with no legs and half a face are asking for 10p to stay alive, you have to forgive me for not really giving a shit that your cinema tokens haven’t arrived. I have been told that I’m ‘fucking idiot’, that they are going to the press, that our company is a disgrace to modern humanity (how this particular one had vocal chords left is a miracle), unsavoury – and totally unfounded I may add – references to my sexual promiscuity and have been accused of being part of a grand conspiracy to steal points off someone’s card to personally use at Thorpe Park. None of these things are going to make me give a shit either 🙂
In a nutshell, I heard you the first time, if you still insist on repeating it a further 5 times you will be on mute, and I will be reading the Daily Mail. If you’re being vile just because you can, you will be on mute and I will be pointing at my headset, telling everyone what you’re spouting and getting sympathetic looks from my colleagues. Let us speak, WE ARE TRYING TO HELP YOU, believe me we want to get off the phone and never hear from you again as well. Don’t phone me if you are having a miscarriage!!! It freaks me out and I don’t like having to explain that to my manager as I almost transfer you to Samaritans. True story.
Thank goodness though as with everything there is a bright side to the dark. At the start of the day or when break time is over there is a certain ‘going into battle’ mentality, and with a sigh and looks of grim determination you’ll don your headset. And it’s your fellow phone warriors that get you through the day. Well placed looks between you and your long suffering pals can pull you back when you feel your own temper fraying, and I’ve often been reduced to tears of helpless laughter watching peoples pure bewilderment or desperate attempts to talk their way out of something they don’t really know the answers to, and some callers are so funny you can’t help laughing with them. I remember an unfortunate time i was reading the Daily mail online and a call came through simultaneously with a picture comparing Kim Jong Il’s eyebrows to the Fresh Prince of Bel Air leading to me snorting a mouthful of tea over my keyboard and uncontrollably cackling away with a very confused but giggling customer on the end of the line.
To all of you lovely souls who are having problems (even silly ones) and still have the time and manners to be pleasant and speak to me like I’m a human being rather than the reincarnation of Hitler, thank you. Especially after dealing with the rest of the rabble I’m more than happy to go the extra mile, no matter how ridiculous your questions, just in return for a touch of humanity. For example the lovely Ms. Crabtree from York, I was genuinely sorry that you couldn’t get your magazine subscription with its free gift or the courage to invite your handsome postman in for a cuppa, but thank you for phoning back NINE times to get through to me so you could thank me personally for the 30 pound voucher and bunch of flowers I managed to get to you.
I guess I think it should be mandatory for everyone to do a month in a call centre, its amazing to hear how people think they can talk to you when you are just a voice. It pushed my patience and tolerance to the limit but every time you manage to come out smiling its like a small triumph in the face of a nation that has become so blinded by its own sense of entitlement, it can’t see how demeaning their frantic grasping for any tidbits the giant corporations choose to throw out for them at the expense of being a rational or just nice person really is. That side of it is truly depressing, but it’s the others, the people who manage to hang on to a sense of reality and their manners that make the difference, the pensioners that can’t keep up with a world of technology that has left them behind but cheerfully phone us up for help turning their printers on, and the ones that are just so hopelessly baffled by the whole thing its hilarious, just the normal decent people. It’s those people that restore your faith in the world and at the end of the day it’s them you just want to send out a heartfelt thanks to for being lovely rays of sunshine in a a dark world of call centre first world problems.