I heard about this kind of job around the time I dropped out of college in 2002. I was always attracted to it for some reason — probably the communication part — and I needed to earn money, so that’s how I got started in the call center industry. I also liked the idea of working at night because I’m generally a night person.
But I never thought that what was primarily a pecuniary measure for myself could teach me so many things.
The first skill that I learned was sales, which I related in my second post on this blog. This was significant for me because this was the first time I ever thought, “Why aren’t they teaching this at school?”
I have only worked in 3 call centers, and in my last one, the focus was on quality. In the beginning, one recorded call from each agent had to be scanned for quality everyday. But then they eventually reduced it to two calls per agent per week. Our assigned quality assurance officer would make us listen to our own recordings, especially to point out our errors. Our quality guidelines were so strict that 6 seconds of dead air on a call would constitute a mark-off that was not measly. The way to avoid that was to create rapport with the caller.
I even used that to my advantage. I would ask where the caller was from and asked them what was interesting about their place. I was getting geography lessons on my calls.
When I was transferred to the “cream team”, my flaw was my tone of voice. I was just too relaxed that my tone was not upbeat. Until now I try to keep that in mind on my present English as a Second Language tutoring job. We called that Wow! Tone.
The last major lesson that I learned from the call center was: “Fake it ’til you make it.”
I have often heard this saying from Americans and I never liked it because I couldn’t understand how “fake” could be good. But I learned that it’s not about being dishonest. It’s about doing the job despite vexation, whether it be doubts or an irate interlocutor.
Speaking of irate, that’s how I learned this lesson. Through an irate caller.
I forgot his name but he was calling on behalf of his wife regarding her health insurance — lots of happy customers call about this. Right away he was attacking me. I can understand callers’ frustrations especially if their issue was not handled properly by the representative who first answered their call. But I’m a sincere and emotional person myself and I was doing my best to help him and yet that caller was especially vicious. He asked for a supervisor immediately and I felt bad for my “supervisor” who had to take the call. I remember he had to fax or mail some document and on that piece of paper he scribbled something like “Worst Customer Service Philippines”.
That call really troubled me. I couldn’t believe anybody could be that irate.
I was trying to find a way to handle something like that and then I got another unpleasant caller. She wasn’t mean but she was sarcastic as hell. That caller sounded like she didn’t give a care in the world and I thought that was a little off. But it got me to thinking that maybe in order to handle a diatribe I should be “off” as well and just fake it.
So I decided to try that for my next irate customer.
And it worked.
I couldn’t believe it. She ended up apologizing to me.
I would say that concludes my list of call center learning experiences.
The BPO industry is booming in the Philippines. We just surpassed India as call center capital a few years ago, although we’re more expensive. I don’t know if the call center industry will stay in the Philippines, but I do know it suits the Filipino personality. But unfortunately, it has become the typical job for college graduates because local industries are unable to provide competitive salaries. I know people who studied biology/biochemistry but work in call centers or another industry for that exact reason. And I have a friend who studied Communications and got a job in marketing for a shipping line and she wouldn’t even get paid unless the shipping line got paid.
I do feel that manufacturing is coming back to the Philippines, and it should. We have so many unskilled workers with no employment. And we have to produce more for wages to rise. It will be bad for the BPO sector, but the fact that we’re No. 1 in call centers despite being more expensive than India says something.
Whether the call center industry in the Philippines stays or goes, I do not know. But whatever we experience in life — even the call center — it’s important that we learn from it.
Photo Credit: Peter Binter