A Few Things About Callgirls and Callboys

Posted on June 22, 2011

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It’s exactly 3:00 AM Korea Time. I can’t sleep again and I have to leave later at 7:00 AM. As I lie in my bed trying to make my self fall asleep, a lot of random thoughts wander in my head again. I suddenly thought of my previous job and the misconceptions people have about it.

I’ve listed the most common misconceptions of most people about the industry and about the people working for it.

Myth # 1: Working in a call center is an easy job.

When I was still a call center virgin until I was already tenured in the industry, I always encounter a scenario wherein a person is trying to persuade another person in applying in a call center because all they have to do is sit and talk on the phone. Similarly, in numerous occasions, I hear applicants telling recruitment specialists that they want the job because it’s easy and it’s not stressful.

Every time I hear this, I can’t help but smile. This is a manifestation that Filipinos, although Philippines is becoming a huge hub for outsourcing industry, lack understanding about it.

While it’s true that the agents sit most of the working hours and talk on the phone, it’s not easy as what most people think it is.

A call center can be divided into two classifications. An agent could be in inbound or outbound. Usually, inbound agents do customer service, technical support or directory assistance. For outbound agents, it would either be collections or sales.

Call center agents answer calls or call customers in consideration of a number of rules, which is more commonly known in the industry as the metrics. The common metrics are Average Handling Time (AHT), After Call Work (ACW), Attendance and Auxes, Quality Score and whether you reach the goal/ quota (this is used in collections and sales and they don’t usually have the AHT).

In this industry, time is gold. You have to be ready on your station a few minutes before your actual work time starts but of course, you’re not paid for that but if you log in to your Avaya (the phones that we use) a minute after your shift starts, it would incur you a demerit. Also, in some companies, using your leave credits is not that easy and you have to go to work even if your sickness is communicable.

Another thing is that people discount the fact that not all calls are inquiries. In reality, when you’re working let’s say for the customer service department, the calls you will have are mostly if not all, complaints. These complaints are coupled with various emotions of customers. Some are calm, some are frustrated, some are very irate. Customers curse the company, and at times, the cursing can be directed towards you. You will hear name calling and racial discrimination is as ordinary as saying hello. Even if this is the case, you still need to follow the call flow to have a passing Quality score. You still have to empathize, probe, deliver the standard spiels and practice positive positioning. This should all happen in a couple of minutes, say 7 minutes. You still have to maintain your AHT near if not within the standards whatever happens. This is what you have to do for 8 hours and most of the times if absenteeism is high you get to render a mandatory overtime for 2 hours. This is everyday for 5 days, then you have to render rest day overtime cutting your 2 rest days to 1.

Not that stressful huh? Easy?

In addition, since most of the clients are US based companies, you work graveyard and you work on holidays. Schedules are always shifting. Working in the call center would destroy your body clock, will cause you high levels of stress and in the long run would jeopardize your health.

Myth # 2: Call center agents have high salary.

When you tell people you work in a call center most of them would exclaim that you have a high salary.

In the Philippines, finding a job that would give you a decent salary and a number of benefits is hard if you did not graduate from a prestigious school. Working in a call center is appealing to a lot of Filipinos because the wage is above minimum and you get a lot of perks like free food, bonuses and health insurance. All these and more even if you don’t have a bachelor’s degree or you’re age is more than 40. However, saying that they receive high salaries is an understatement.

The reason why some call center employees receive huge amount of money on paydays is usually because of their incentives. Without these incentives, most of the times, their take home pay is as low as an ordinary Filipino employee’s.

I remember when I was working for customer service in my previous company, my basic salary as shown in the contract is quite appealing but come payday, less the taxes and without the incentive, the salary of the company’s security personnel is higher than what we receive. We almost have the same take home pay as the utility personnel. Sometimes, I muse to myself, “this is what we get for all the stress, is it even worth it?” Most of the times, I’m still thankful though because I am aware that employees from another department have lower basic pay.

Unless you’re a bigwig in the company, you will not receive that high salary. When you get the chance to see the bigger picture, you will find it very disappointing, that these agents are overworked yet underpaid.

We used to have one station per member of management team but because of recession, companies started taking cost cutting measures. For instance, the workstation above, I share it with a manager and I have to wait for the manager’s shift to end so I can use it. I personally believe that some of the measures they’re taking are absurd.

Myth # 3: When you work in a call center then you must be fluent in English. Similarly, if you want to apply in a call center your English skills should be great.

An applicant in a call center would undergo several assessments regarding English skills. There might be a pen and paper test or computer based test for Reading Comprehension, Vocabulary, Subject- Verb Agreement, Listening Skills etc. Definitely, there would be a series of interviews.

This application process makes the call center wannabes fret and say they might not get hired because they are not that good in English.

The pen and paper test or computer based test can really make some anxious, but as long as you pass it, you can speak English and you’re confident then you’d be in.

Based on my experience and observations, as long as you’re confident in interviews even if you’re not fluent, it is highly likely that you will get hired specially on months where accounts are ramping up. What matters is you can speak the language and you can deliver the message clearly. It would help if you speak with an American accent but it is not necessarily a requirement. Grammar slips are very common even to those who are tenured and even with the bosses, so it’s not a big issue.

As a Quality Coach for a couple of years, I’ve monitored hundreds of calls, both from Philippines and from other countries and believe me, even those who are native speakers of English could not get it right all the time.

Myth # 4: Those who work in the call center do not have a good educational background.

While most of the common Filipinos are awed with people working in the call center, there are still a significant number of people who looks down on it as a job. Maybe because they think that people working for the industry are underachievers but this I proved wrong when I started working in the industry. Unbelievably, most of the people I worked with are from prestigious schools like University of the Philippines, Ateneo, La Salle and UST to name a few. Some of them are part of the management team now who started as agents as well. These people have imparted their knowledge to me in one way or another and they are incredibly smart and awesome people.

In the first contact center I worked for, one of my colleagues received a call from an apparently Filipino doctor. It was a complaint and we cannot do what the consumer wants us to do because it was really impossible. The consumer got very irate until the anger was already personally directed to my colleague. She was called incompetent and was even asked where she graduated from. The consumer’s words were degrading and it was not even significant to the issue. I admired my colleague for handling the situation with such grace despite being abashed and she informed the consumer what her university was, which is a prestigious all girls school in the Philippines.

Do you know anyone working in the call center? Might be your mom, pop, friend or another relative? I hope through this post people would have a clearer picture of what call center employees are experiencing and people might be more understanding.

A multi- tasker indeed. Posing for the camera while waiting for a call. This is when I was still an agent and they are some of my great friends.

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