Customer service representatives are the first line of contact many customers have with a company. Depending on the industry, their calls could be for something simple such as placing an order or checking on an order status, or the calls could be as complex as troubleshooting complicated computer software or reviewing a convoluted billing history.
No matter the industry, call centers serve as the entry point to corporate America for many employees. The jobs are often entry level, provide paid training, offer a full line of benefits, and introduce the concepts of team work and KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). Call centers are almost always hiring too as people leave their current positions to pursue a promotion, or vacancies are left because of a variety of other reasons. (We will cover this a bit later) If you have never worked in a call center before, the experience may seem overwhelming for a new hire. You receive basic training, then are thrust into the agent pool to start taking calls from a wide array of customer types with a wide array of personalities. So, what can you expect from your career in customer service should you pursue such a line of work?
1) Attendance is Paramount Call centers do not play around when it comes to attendance. Your job is to be there when scheduled. When you miss a day because you just don’t feel like going in, or even if you are legitimately sick, that means that there is one less body available to answer the calls. That means that all the calls you would have answered now have to wait longer to be answered. This affects customer satisfaction, long wait times, high call abandonment rates, escalations, and more adverse effects.
Because the need of the business is to have calls answered in a timely manner, your attendance is one of the most scrutinized and important aspects of the job. Call center attendance policies are some of the strictest in the corporate world. Each call center will have their own policies of course, but the standard practice is typically three to five occurrences in a rolling 12-month period. An “occurrence” could be defined as you missing a single day, or in some cases a single occurrence could be issued for up to three consecutive days out.
Over the course of a year, occurrences can add up quickly. Your first unplanned absence could result in a verbal warning, with the second resulting in a written warning, and the third resulting in termination. Attendance is singularly the main reason agents get terminated. It doesn’t matter the reason why you were out. If it was an unapproved absence on a day you were scheduled to work, you will receive an occurrence. It is not personal, and it is not unfair, it is simply a way by which call centers ensure that you are at your desk and taking calls when scheduled. That is your job and is what is expected of you.
Keep in mind, you can avoid occurrences by working with management to get pre-approved days off, or if you can find someone to cover your shift, you can avoid an occurrence that way as well. Also, occurrences typically have an expiration date. Some companies operate on a rolling period, meaning, should you receive an occurrence, it will fall from your record within a pre-determined amount of time such as a year.
2) Paid Training Teaches the System and Bare-Bones Basics One of the best things about call center work is that corporate wants their agents to be the best and brightest when it comes to providing service to their customers. During training you will receive a comprehensive breakdown of the products and services the company offers, you will learn how to navigate the customer service platform, you will learn about the phone hardware/software and what the various statuses mean (ACW, AUX, BREAK, etc…) What they don’t teach is how to communicate with people. If you are uncomfortable speaking with strangers over the phone, you will find it extremely difficult to do this job. Training does very little to prepare you for the irate callers, how to ignore the cursing, yelling, and personal insults directed at you by some very hostile callers. The only thing you will know is that you are NOT ALLOWED to hang up on them. It is your job to be yelled at as much as it is to provide world-class service.
3) Your Calls and Computer Activity Will Be Monitored Call center work is rapid-fire call after call during peak hours. Employees are expected to spend their entire shift in the system and logged in to the phones taking calls. You will most likely not be permitted to use the computer for anything else other than work-related tasks. If you are on social media, perusing the internet, or trying to get some shopping done on Amazon, expect to be coached and receive a verbal warning for your first infraction. Further infractions result in escalating corrective action up to and including termination. Almost every agent computer in a call center has screen recording software installed and running. This is done not necessarily as a “Big Brother is Watching” move, but a big part of CSR work entails using the correct screens, logging notes, and navigating to different modules within the software to provide information to your callers. When your calls are being audited (and they will be), the quality assurance team responsible for this will also be grading your call on your correct use of the system.
Yes, every inbound call you answer and every outbound call you make will be recorded. Your calls will regularly be graded against a series of corporate metrics such as, “Was a proper greeting and closing used?”, “Did you use the customers name three times throughout the call?”, “Did you avoid excessive hold times by checking back with the customer during research?”, “Was your tone professional and friendly?” and more.
4) METRICS METRICS METRICS!!! In addition to being at work, a CSR will be expected to meet key metrics (KPIs) in order to keep their job. The metrics are determined by corporate and are taken into consideration when it comes time for reviews and raises, or even for disciplinary action. As a CSR, you will be expected to answer a specific number of calls a day (adjusted for available call volume of course), handle those calls in a defined amount of time, be in an available status for a defined amount of time, and keep non-productive statuses like “Hold”, “Wrap Up”, and “Break” under a certain threshold. Most call centers have a dashboard on each agent desktop that shows the current standing of the agent against the metrics.
5) Extremely High Turnover Because call center work is often the first professional job for many people, newcomers to the workforce may not take the job and the metrics seriously. Employees are often very young and inexperienced or lackadaisical. Because of this, turnover is extremely high. People come and go at such a high rate that there is typically always a class of new hires in training ready to take the place of a current employee who won’t be around long enough to see the new class graduate.
6) Bad Attitudes are Prevalent Call center agents burn out fast. They are either not mentally equipped to deal with the fast pace and what they perceive as unfair rules and goals, or they think they are above the rules and when they discover they aren’t, they get combative and argumentative. They will talk loudly and negatively about the company to anyone who will listen. Supervisors and managers are also in a constant state of exhaustion because being a call center manager can seem an awful lot like babysitting a bunch of petulant children. This results in almost everyone from agents to managers appearing disgruntled and tired. Your best bet is to find those positive employees and associate with them. Falling in with a solid group of high-performers will keep you motivated and driven and less likely to head down a path of negativity.
7) A Stepping Stone to Something Bigger Call centers are typically the bottom of the mountain in a corporation. With hard work and perseverance, you can climb that mountain and eventually make your way out of the call center and into something more robust. A lot of folks in the corporate rank and file started off in the call center. It was there that they learned about the company products and services, the corporate culture, how to make sound business decisions, and showed their loyalty and dedication to the company. If you can stick it out for a year or two in a call center, you will be a prime candidate for positions elsewhere in the company.
Summation Call center work is not all doom and gloom though. As stated earlier, it is a great opportunity for workers looking to enter the corporate workforce. In call centers you will learn valuable skills that can transfer to other opportunities. It is a great résumé builder, call center jobs are plentiful, you get a professional office environment, hands-on experience with office equipment, and you learn the value hard work. You will receive accolades for jobs well-done, you will make awesome friends, and you will learn the value of not going off on a CSR because you have been in their shoes.
If you are interested in call center jobs, simply use the “Jobs & Companies” link at the top of this page and search for “Call Center” or “Customer Service Representative” positions within your city. If you have any questions about call centers or customer service work, feel free to comment below.