The story of a call center operator
By Anoop Mohandas, February 22, 2015
I am a credit analyst now, but I received my first income selling insurance. My uncle was the first one to accept my policy for life insurance. In quick succession, the rest of the family followed to match him in loyalty. Rest assured, I sold insurance outside the family as well. That was how I honed my skills in person to person communication.
A short stop later, in 2004, I was hired to become a call center operator. The short answer as to what makes call centers attractive: quick money, legally acquired.
The standard income of a call center employee now ranges from Rs.8000/- to Rs.15,000/- per month. For a college graduate, it is an ideal short-term solution to get financial independence from parents or guardians, but it should just be a short-term occupation until you find the job of your choice. Call centers brought a lot of employment opportunities for youngsters.
Energetic at 18
Call centers hire people above 18 up to the age of 30. Fluency in English, lose the native accent, cultivate persuasive skills. In 2004, if you knew English, you were in. It is tougher now. Call centers are looking for youth with fluency not just in English, but French, Spanish and other European languages. Indians do have a strong native accent. A lot of call centers have now relocated to an even cheaper market - Philippines.
The call centers I worked in, addressed customers in UK or USA - a nine-hour night shift, with one hour break.I worked at first in Choice Connex, then Wipro as CCP - both in Mumbai; later in AVIVA Global Services, Bangalore, for selling automobile insurance to UK residents. Regardless of where your callers abroad may come from, you are barred from telling them that you are in India. All calls must be conducted only in English, regardless of a different preference expressed by the customer. My name was ‘Archie’.
Adjust or leave
Night shifts play havoc with your health. Calls are queued up and routed through the software application, Avaya. Once a call gets over, the next call is connected immediately. You can barely breathe a sigh of relief. It is not a profession. You are recruited as semi-skilled manpower. Irrespective of the subjects in which you graduate from college, so long as the applicant speaks English well, he or she is eligible for this job. Good customer handling skills give you an edge. Skills of persuasion rank high too, if the center’s is oriented towards tele-sales. That is all.
Disrupted night sleep, irregular eating habits - you can eat only when directed by the manager - new staff find it difficult to adapt and fall ill. The problem is compounded because, however ill you may feel, you do not have permission to take leave for the probation period of 3 months. In some companies, that is 6 months.
Traveling alone at night is dangerous for women. Most of them go home with a driver who is a complete stranger. The worst can happen. Employers should find a way to protect ladies. A proper transport facility with security should be provided.
Male employees also face injury or death if they drive home from work, severely sleep deprived. The most harrowing case I remember is of a friend who drove home on his bike. He fell asleep. The vehicle hit the divider. He was flung into the air and was pierced by the spike of a fence in his abdomen as he fell back down. He died immediately.
Culture at call centers
Most employees adjust. It is not mentally taxing, you are seated inside, there is no physical exertion. It is monotonous conversation. Ready scripts are handed to all staff to channel their conversation with customers, to handle a sales call or to handle a rebuttal if the call receiver is disinterested. You are just reading a script. Soon, it is memorized. Very soon, you get fed up with the job.
To relieve yourself of the boredom, a lot of horse play takes place amongst these boys and girls, mostly in their 20s. For all the conventional rectitude that is expected of them in the Indian community, it all goes through the window inside the call center office. They know the script by heart. Still strapped with headsets connected to a lengthy wire, it is a very liberal ambience, applicable to both genders - a lot of kidding, a lot of games, an extended family. A customer’s patience may be sorely tested.
Underneath the succinct phrase, “May I please place your call on hold…while I retrieve that information for you,” this young person may tear off his headset and dash for the washroom, or … be tussling with a friend. So long as you operate your calls satisfactorily, nobody cares.
How to stay ahead
I wrote my own script, though. In AVIVA Global Services, I increased the sales of a company that was selling a package named “legal care”. I doubled my success rate in sales. When questions were raised, I revealed that I was using the script that I prepared. Impressed by my success, my script was shared with others. I got a promotion and became quality analyst cum trainer. From that point on, I made it my business to find out more about competitors, ring them up, find out more about the product they offered and take a detailed look at the market environment for this insurance, thereby acquiring knowledge.
If you are engaged in tele-sales, and fail to make a sale, your manager will make his displeasure known. Some companies give excellent incentives if you make a sale. For instance, if you made a sale, you would receive Rs.500/- for each sale you make. But if your performance stagnates more than a week, you must make the time to attend coaching sessions to attain better performance. Lack of sales is the expressway to exit a tele-sales job.
AHT (Average Handle Time) is crucial too. That is, the time taken by the employee to handle one customer. If the average time is 3 minutes, 160 calls can be handled by that person in an 8-hour shift.
No credit for call center experience
When you return home to sleep, it is broad daylight in a tropical country, temperature rising. Strapped between earphones, bacterial infection in your ears is a certainty. You can count on it.
Your jaw is aching from talking over 8 hours. You are tired, weak, sleepy and conversation with your beloved is the furthest thing on your mind.
Call center jobs can be handled comfortably if you receive full family support and employers care about your welfare. There are no government regulations on this. The level of comfort the employee enjoys depends largely on family support and the employer, including their requests for overtime commitments. Don’t skip meals. Drink lots of water. At home, a room should be dedicated for your sleep, with closed curtains and perhaps an air-conditioner.
In India, call centers have a high attrition rate, as graduates look for better options, greater job satisfaction. Youth in their 20s resent and rebel at abuse because sales are meagre. They look for a better quality of life, more respect. There is more to a job than cash accumulation. You will not receive any credit from a different economic sector for your experience.
It is the backend for me
I quit call centers after three and a half years, when I was hired as team leader for JP Morgan Chase, banking and finance industry. I was ecstatic.
I progressed 3 years later to becoming team leader for financial consultants in Wells Fargo, Bangalore. I revel in the satisfaction that just last year, I have been ranked at the top as team leader as per the international GALLUP survey.
This is my story.