Category Archives: Call Center

Lack of social support at call centers fuels burnout

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For me, I do my calls in my room alone. If there is anyone else doing calls in the same room it feels very stressful. I like working alone. I also do calls about ten hours a week, and have been doing the same for twenty years. This way I don’t burnout by doing too much of the same stressful work. My other work hours are spent doing other things.

But, for those working at call centers, you can’t chat with your co-workers because they are on a call when you are not. You have to learn sign language to communicate with them or pass notes.

The substitute for being able to chat with others is to be constantly monitored like a slave. People are always looking over your shoulders or listening in to your calls. Call center agents in Russia call this — business as usual. But, for the rest of the world we are not used to the fact that the walls have ears.

The lack of job security is yet another form of lack of social support. People get canned for light and transient reasons all the time at call centers and also quit. Workers feel they have to put up with difficult customers, yet get very little recognition for their talents and skills.

Feeling undervalued, stressed out, monitored, and not allowed to talk to anyone would drive anyone out of their minds. Can’t a call center engineer a healthier way to do business? Maybe a call center where everyone gets their own room with windows that open; Lots of time to go to the bathroom and take walks or breaks; Chat time where people could chat with others; and some way to relieve oneself from the night schedule that drives Filipinos crazy at call centers. I think doing four hours a day of call center work and then spending the other four hours doing some other type of task makes more sense. It is also a way to get daylight and see your family — another form of social support.

Call Center is a career popular for those just graduating college

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For those just out of college, a call center job is a logical step. Call center work pays relatively well, and only requires two weeks of training. No experience is necessary either. You do need to be fluent in English and have some college under your belt.

Most call center work is done at night in the Philippines and in India. But, if you are lucky enough to get Australian clients, you might work during the day!

Training includes product knowledge, communication skills, and how to speak with a neutral or American accent.

The reason why call center jobs are so available is because the burnout rate and attrition is so high. People cannot handle working the night shift day after day, week after week. And in addition, the stress of having micromanaging higher ups and irate customers can drive a grown man to tears. Call center work is not for the faint of heart, but if you can handle it — all the more power to you!

Should email or chat support be paired with call center work?

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It is exhausting and insane to answer phones more than four hours a day. Even four hours is enough to thrive the average person to madness. When I’m on vacation in places that boost my energy, I wake up early and like to do long hours of calling to destinations all over the United States. But, after three days of this in my favorite relaxing desert or forest of choice, I lose my mind!

But, there must be ways for the call center industry to pair call center work with other related and easy to master work. But, what? I know — email support.

The beauty of email interaction with clients is that you can answer the emails in a bunch at a time convenient for you. I typically do emails once or twice per day. I let them stack up and then do them in a bunch. If I am on vacation, I will check in after a few days and then nail off all of my emails. It takes longer when you have a pile of two hundred staring you in the face. But, for call center agents, they are already used to answering questions all day long. Answering them by email doesn’t require a drastically different skill set (other than spelling and typing dexterity) and is much more relaxing than dealing with screaming, anxious clients.

Another way to pair call center work is to pair Australian call center work with American work. That way you can be awake for part of the daylight in the Philippines or India so you don’t lose your mind completely. If you are going to survive in the BPO industry long term, you need a sustainable way to keep sane and healthy which is not easy!

Chat support is another good idea. It is time sensitive, since you have to be online when the client is, but it offers more time flexibility. You can do chat support 24 hours a day while you can only legally call a residence in the United States from 9am to 9pm local time. Pairing chat support with call center work might help agents to get a little much biologically needed sunlight into their system.

Finally, simple data entry tasks are not time sensitive and are how I pair my day with call center activities. I add listings to various databases for my online directories. It is tedious and repetitive boring work, but I am used to it and can handle it two hours a day without banging my head against the wall.

But, what I want to know is — what kind of work pumps you up instead of draining you? For me, it is discussing interesting ideas and meditating on business decisions. I think I should do that once or twice a week to optimize my week. What about you?

Call center service is so poor these days, but why?

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I notice that whenever I interview call center agents, or deal with them on the phone, the quality of the service is never that great. Either their interaction skills are not the best, or their product knowledge is poor. Some people are not so easy to understand on the phone either. So, what is the problem? Is it skills, training, or what?

In my opinion the problem in the call center industry is similar to that in the programming world. There is so much demand for these services that people who are just not that great are able to make a full-time living day after day, and year after year. People also quit so often, or get swallowed up by bigger corporations or larger projects, that good service providers are simply not easily available if you are hiring.

If conditions were different and there were a larger pool of people who wanted call center jobs, but fewer jobs, then companies could raise their educational requirements, have longer contracts (people quit after two months on a whim regularly,) and hire only the ideal candidates.

People outsource work to save money. But, when you read studies and see what the average wage is for a particular job in a particular country, or ask companies what they charge, the rates are deceiving. Knowing average rates doesn’t do you any good. Knowing how much someone you like enough to hire will charge means a lot more. I see that a lot of Filipino companies charge $7 per hour, but I don’t like any of their reps. In Central America it is more like $9 per hour. I have no idea of how good the average Panamanian reps are. India has even cheaper reps, but I am not so satisfied with their language or communication skills unless they are the owner (and that’s only some owners.) Americans seem to have the best communication skills, but are not always so good with understanding technical information. I don’t know if paying more will get me a better agent, or just being lucky. Eventually I want to hire agents to help me out. I wish I knew the secret.

Taking someone with a good personality and teaching them product and technical knowledge seems reasonable. But, can you take someone who is technically good and teach them to have a good personality? The odds seem against you – but, you never know!

10 customer service ideas for call centers

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There are lots of call centers out there, and many operate at affordable rates. You can copy someone’s business model and rates, but you cannot copy their customer service and it is customer service that wins the game. Here are some ideas for call centers to offer the best service.

1. Rep Selection
Many call centers either pick reps for you or give you one or two reps to interview. Basically they are dumping whomever they can’t place on your account which is not flattering. If you want to keep happy customers, give them lots of choices of reps, so that they can find someone they like even if it is a lot more effort for you. The other guys won’t do this, so you can stand out by being the most helpful.

2. Script Writing
When someone hires a call center, they normally have a script or a series of scripts for different purposes. The business owner should supply the call center with the script. But, what if the call center can understand the business model and refine or write their own scripts as a matter of policy? That seems like an excellent customer service idea.

3. Feedback
Many companies just don’t get back to you to let you know how things are going. If you make your employees get back to clients daily or weekly to let them know how things went, that might be very highly appreciated.

4. Contracts
New clients might not want constrictive contracts. They don’t know you and don’t know what to expect. A contract is a tool that guarantees how much monetary inventory the client will give to the call center, but doesn’t guarantee the quality of the service. In this sense contracts are completely unfair in favor of the service provider. If you want to attract smaller and newer clients, try to be very flexible with contracts otherwise you alienate them for no reason.

5. Metrics
Do you decide on metrics or do you meet with the client to decide together? Some clients want to spend a more flexible time with customers while others want the most efficient service possible even if that means cutting conversations short and being in a hurry. Customized metrics are important if you want to please your client.

6. Attrition
If your client likes a rep and then they just quit, that is very frustrating. It is important for a business to know who they are working with. I would not offer good money to anyone new. But, I would offer good money to someone tried and true who has at least six months on my personal account. If your reps quit on schedule every three months, we are not going to get to the six month mark. You might charge a higher rate for reps who have been with you longer. You might consider creating nicer working conditions so people don’t quit much.

7. Phone Lines
When I talk to overseas call centers, their phone lines are often poor quality internet lines. You are specializing in communication, so you should be top notch in all aspects of it.

8. Coaching
Most successful call centers coach their workers. But, how much time do your clients spend coaching your workers who work for them? This is very important and should be a matter of policy that is worked out before you start a work relationship.

9. Communication
How easy is it for your client to talk directly with your workers? It might be difficult as they might be on different time zones. You need to make it easy for communication to take place.

10. Parties
Call centers are famous for having parties. Do you invite your clients to parties regularly even if it is by web cam? Maybe you should. It is fun and builds the bonds of a close relationship. Close relationships last longer than distant ones!

The types of clients you get at a call center

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People who work at call centers get all types of clients. Some are a pleasure, while others are just plain difficult or traumatizing. Here is an itemization of the types of clients you might bump into at a call center.

In a Hurry
Some clients are in a hurry and want to get off the phone as fast as possible. Some refuse to answer critical questions and ask you to call them back.

Refusal to Talk
Others just don’t want to talk to you. Perhaps they are busy or just don’t like you. Many won’t even listen to why you are calling, they just don’t want to talk.

Some clients are just angry. They might be angry at your company, or angry in general. It is easy to get angry clients when something happened to their phone service, their computer, internet, credit card or their account with your company.

Overly Talkative
Some customers just won’t shut up. They keep talking and talking. Any question you ask that requires a one word answer or a quick sentence ends up with minutes of rambling most of which is completely irrelevant to the question at hand.

Customers are often annoyed if they have to call in to a call center. Being put on hold, or talking to an automated attendant can be enraging. If the process could just be more simple!

This type of customer also talks a lot, but they interact with you in a meaningful way that you migth actually enjoy!

If you can think of any other types of call center clients, please write a comment to this blog!

If you work at a call center, should you be “too nice” to clients?

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One lady who worked at a call center was too nice to the customers. She gave them discounts when they had a problem. She was very patient to them when they were mean. She pulled strings in their favor. He colleagues criticized her for being too nice. But, at the end of the day her negative minded co-workers quit or got fired fast, and she lasted.

Sometimes a good call center strategy or business strategy is not about what gets you ahead, or even what makes you money. What is important is keeping your employees on board, keeping your customers and staying in business. In the long run, if you are still there, that is half the game.

If you are too nice to clients, in the long run they will probably stay with you for years. Companies that are successful normally have a huge base of clients who are loyal to them in the long run. Whatever you lose by giving an unwarrented discount is small compared to what you gain by keeping a client for ten years. Getting new clients is costly, but retaining old ones has been found to be a better investment. Some people say that getting a new client costs six times more than maintaining existing ties. So, it pays to keep who you have before you go spending a mint on marketing for new clients!

Call center hiring strategy: Pleasant vs. Knowledgable?

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If you have a call center, you’ll be very popular if you have pleasant people answer the phone. If you have had a rough day and you talk to a jerk on the phone, it can set you off your edge very easily. One mean person on the phone can ruin your day if you are sensitive. But, pleasant people don’t always have the skills to handle people’s business problems.

Smart people like computer programmers, technical agents, and senior business people have great skills. But, they are not always patient, kind, or empathetic.

So, how do you have that perfect mix of capable vs. pleasant workers? One call center client threatened to shoot themselves if they were put on hold once more. But, what if you had a pleasant person to babysit the client instead of putting them on hold. Yes, that is expensive, but would it make a difference? It probably would and might even be worth the cost if the clients are paying decent money for your service. Instead of talking to a robot, imagine being able to talk to a very pleasant person who could make small talk and route you to the correct person when they were ready. Your call might take equally long, but it would be much more pleasant.

On the other hand, what if you trained your most pleasant people to be technically saavy. Would it be possible? They might be able to learn light technical tasks in a few months, and it might be worth it if they stuck around. Could you also train your geeky people to be more personable? That might be a little more difficult. But, you might take the edge off their geeky behavior with some one-on-one smoothness training.

Having the perfect staff is a combination of good hiring, balance, and molding your staff to be the way you want them. In my opinion, instead of training people all at once, staff members should get two or three hours of training each week to kee them growing at all times. If you train them all in the beginning and they quit, you’ve lost a lot of ground which is why spreading it out makes sense.

How can a call center agent show compassion when their life is hell?

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If you have ever stepped into a call center, you will notice that human beings are attached to computers and machines like slaves. It is sort of like the Chinatown analagy where indentured servants are chained to a stove cooking kung-pao chicken all day long. How depressing — but, easy on the pao please!

The air in call centers isn’t so fresh, and there is noise and stress from nearby work stations. People work like sardines with tiny desks stacked next to each other. Bathroom breaks are not so easy to get either. On top of that you have to deal with irate clients on a regular basis and deal with annoying situations like credit cards that have been turned off, computers that won’t turn on, etc. It just seems like pure hell. No wonder the attrition rate is so high.

The problem is that big call center managers aren’t very creative people. I think they would benefit from reading my blog as well since I offer creative solutions to not so creative problems. If people live in slave-like conditions, how can they possibly stay on the job for more than four months or show compassion? The answer is they can’t. And the solution is to solve all of the hellish conditions one demon at a time.

1. Bathroom breaks
Call center agents should have a more flexible shift where they can take bathroom breaks whenever they like so long as they login the hours they were away from their post (AKA login how long the ball was away from the chain.)

2. Snooze breaks
Nothing beats a good snooze. You feel so much better afterwards. But, should your boss determine when you snooze, or your body? Your body has different needs on different days, so having a six and a half minute snooze at 3pm every Thursday might not be the solution. The freedom of choosing when to snooze is half the victory. There should also be snooze rooms where you can get a comfortable place to lie down in a quiet environment, perhaps with water sounds.

3. Air
I have a heart problem, so air is particularly critical to me. But, normal humans don’t feel good when they are around bad air. It makes more sense to be in a forest or near the beach to get clean air. And call centers have the freedom to be where they like.

4. Mean managers
Call centers can have certain managers who specialize in metrics, and analysis, and others who specialize in interacting with the workers in a way that doesn’t rub anyone the wrong way. “Your metrics are down 10% today Jose! But, I’m sure you’ll get the calls per hour metric back up, won’t you? — no pressure!”

5. Mean clients
If you figure out who the mean clients are and funnel them to someone who is better able to deal with them, your other agents won’t quit so often. Just one mean client per day can set off call center agents who I know!

6. Task shuffling
If you do call work all day long that can drive a person crazy. It is better to mix it up with data entry, writing, or some other task. It might be harder to find people who can do a good job on more than one task, but it would keep them around more. Being on the phone more than four hours a day in the long run drives me crazy which is why I limit my personal call work to 20 hours a week no matter what!

7. Stressful environment
It is obvious that a call center is the most stressful environment known to man-kind (or Manila-kind as the case may be.) To counteract that stress, why not have a call center in the most de-stressing environment like a beach. Instead of a huge office, why not have high-tech huts on an abandoned beach somewhere. You get clean air, relaxation, and a great environment. Agents could live in units near work and walk to work. And if they quit, they could go back to the city or wherever else they want. Doing the same thing in a forest or prairie makes equal sense.

It is much easier to show compassion if you have suffered in your past. But, being in an unbearable environment doesn’t enhance your ability to be kind to others. That is why a good environment, and a good system of taking breaks and dealing with others is imperative!

How can you clear your head at a call center?

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When you read the personal accounts of call center workers, the text always reads about how they are chained to a desk or leashed to their work-station. How horrible and slave-like. The truth is that call center workers feel they need to clear their head. A walk down the hall works miracles. A trip to the bathroom can be the break from heaven. Taking a walk in nature works well too. These long days tied to a desk may be the reason for high attrition rates. Perhaps more worker freedom to take breaks whenever and for as long as ever would solve the problem.

But, then what happens when you work overtime and your boss doesn’t change your break time? Then you might really lose your mind.

Having a wireless headset allows you to walk around the room a bit between calls — how liberating.

Some agents clear their head by visiting places they’ve always wanted to go — but, online. Dubai, Stone Henge, Las Vegas, Paris, etc. Basically anywhere other than Manila!

I think that there should be professional clients who are pleasant to talk to. Every hour, each agent should get to talk to a really pleasant client. Maybe a female with a soothing voice, or perhaps somebody very caring, or sexy.

Personally, I have been doing calls for decades and realize how important it is to talk a nap, have a meal or take a walk in the middle of a work day. I am not advocating the Spanish siesta system. But, I do something similar with three or four hours off in the middle of the day. But, then I work all night!

India’s scam call centers get in trouble

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A call center in India was telling people in the United States that they were in trouble with the IRS for tax evasion or tax fraud. Luckily, I know that the IRS writes letters and doesn’t email or leave voice mail unless you have a personal relationship with a particular agent. the US Justice Department claimed that people had been scammed out of $300 million with this scam.

There were 20 people arrested in American and India did several raids to arrest several dozen in India regarding this scam. The individual knownn as “Shaggy” who allegedly masterminded the entire scam has taken refuge in the United Arab Emirates — out of reach of Indian authorities.

Meanwhile Indian authorities have seized an Audi that the alleged mastermind Thakkar gave to his girlfriend and are looking for other assets.

The main technique used during the scam operation is typical. They bullied Americans with threats of arrest, jail, confiscated assets, and more. The IRS threatens to confiscate assets, but I have not heard of them threatening people with jail time unless their Attorneys have reviewed your case and a serious case of fraud has been proven such as in the case of the famous gangster Al Capone from decades ago. The government couldn’t find enough dirt to jail Capone on his criminal activities, but were able to bust him on tax evasion of all things.

Maybe this scam call center should get a written testimonial from Al Capone (no longer living) to prove that real people do get jailed for evading taxes.

The moral of the story here is to be on the lookout for scams from India. But, there is tremendous dishonesty right here at home too. Most Americans have their bristles up when someone tries to scam them and are even suspicious of you when you are not trying to scam them. It is that occassional person who is not registering that they are being taken advantage of that the scammers capitalize on. Make sure that person is not you!

If Trump taxed Filipino call centers at 35%, would quality change?

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You get what you pay for, right? Wrong!
Sometimes you pay more for a service, but get worse service. You won’t be using that service much longer, right? Service in the Philippines for call center work is not always that professional. Agents quit their jobs after a few months on a whim as a matter of practice. People do not answer emails consistently. You find broken links on websites and other aspects of unprofessional business. I had an interview with a call center and I couldn’t hear them because the phone line they were using was not clear. If you specialize in communication, why can’t I hear you properly?

Trump would love to bring jobs back to the United States. But, if an American company charges $40 per hour for call center services and you can get someone in Manila at $7 at a company or $2 if you hire them directly, why would you pay $40? Even with a 35% outsourcing tax, $7 becomes $9.45. If you charge $9.45 you need to have higher standards. And if that price went back down to $7 you might keep those standards now that you have made a habit of them.

The Filipinos need to learn that their sloppy business behavior needs to change. As long as they get endless supplies of work thrown at them, they will not learn to be better. In fact, they have too much work in the Philippines. So much work that people quit on a whim. This is a problem. They need to face a severe work shortage in the Philippines so that they take work more seriously — and Trump’s tax might do exactly that.

There are other factors that could force the Filipino outsourcing culture to change. The minute India decides to run their call centers better and treat customers with respect, the Philippines will be in huge trouble. India’s disrespect and bad manners was Manila’s blessing as Filipinos have very good manners as a culture. The Philippines sucked up almost all of India’s call center business as big companies wanted manners. But, with competition from Africa, South & Central America and Eastern Europe continue, there might be big competition for call center jobs. It is just a matter of time, but the world will go this direction.