ANSWERING THE CALL-WHAT TO EXPECT WORKING IN CUSTOMER SERVICE CALL CENTERS
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.
What moves you...literally?!?!
In warehouse, retail and food service, many of the jobs are very similar and the challenges the same (scheduling, working with customers, completing repetitive tasks, etc.). What motivates you to make a move? Reputation, brand, incrementally better pay, something else? So many of our employer partners are asking, sometimes begging for the solution that will fill their open roles. How can they get you to move?
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Opportunity Isn't Scarce
I just want to talk about something that I feel isn't really understood by a lot of people looking for their next employment opportunity. It's a simple idea, but it may seem radical, even contradictory to everything we've been taught: Opportunity isn't scarce.
You may be thinking that I'm a fool and that's a valid reaction, but just listen to what I have to say. Economically speaking, everything from our allotment of time on Earth to the number of jobs on the market is scarce and that's not what I'm disputing. I'm disputing the idea that we're limited in opportunities by the field we're in.
I've seen it frequently that a lot of highly qualified people are unable to find work in their field, sometimes due to no fault of their own.
Most people say keep looking, keep looking, keep looking, you'll break in somehow.
Quit looking for work in your field if you can't find it.
Start looking for work in an adjoining field or look for a lower-level position. Let me give an example:
You're 22 years old, you've got a BBA in Operations Management, and no work experience.
You're not finding much in the way of Management-level positions in Supply Chain Management.
So you've got two choices: Either look for something in an adjoining field or look for a lower-level position.
So let's say you do both, because you're a proactive go-getter hungry to cut your teeth in the workforce and you have two positions available:
I. Purchasing Assistant - You'd be in Supply Chain Management, but at the bottom rung of the ladder.
II. Account Manager - You'd be in the Sales Department and also at the bottom rung of the ladder.
So which do you choose?
It really depends on what you're looking for. With the former, you're going to refine and hone your skills in Operations and eventually move up from Purchasing Assistant into more senior roles. With the latter, you're going to diversify your skillset and learn how to handle clients and to generate revenue for the company.
Whoever you are, wherever you are in your professional career, you can always learn more and while there is a scarcity of jobs in the world (especially in single fields when we target them), we can always learn from whatever employment opportunity we currently are engaged in.
I say this as someone who has worked Retail and Hospitality and is looking to move into Human Resources. One may think that my previous work experience is irrelevant and while it's true that it's highly unlikely I'll be offering my advice on wine pairings in a professional setting once I complete the transition, that doesn't mean that my time was wasted. It was just utilized in a different way and it offered me different opportunities to learn and develop myself.
Don't ever be afraid to humble yourself and start at the bottom of a field you have no experience in (even if you have a degree in it) and equally so, don't ever be afraid to explore new opportunities to diversify your skillset and develop new lenses through which to look at problems you're facing and will face in the future.
Opportunity is the one thing I can say isn't scarce, as long as we're humble enough to look for it even in places we wouldn't otherwise give a second thought.
Thanks for reading,
After a layoff and 6 months of looking I now have 2 offers on the table. One offer is full time with a small company (35 employees) for a Estimator position that pays 73k salary with a possible 10% raise after my first year. This pays about 15% less and is a lesser title than what I have been accustom to. The second option is a contract position for a major aircraft company as a Contentious Improvement Specialist II position at $40 an hour + OT, that has the potential of a 100k + salary position with the Co. after 6 months. An issue with the major aircraft Co. is they are here because they have taken over a large program that is failing by the supplier and they could be moving the program to there home facility in 2 to 3 years if the shortage problem is solved. I do not think my wife will want move if I got the salary position so I wouldnt be continuing with the Co. if they pull out. I know I could perform well with each position but at 52 years of age, should I sacrifice wage and title for a better chance of security, or roll the dice and take the chance of looking for a job again in a short time.
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A resume more than 2 pages is too much. A resume is meant for relevant work history for jobs you are applying for. Of course there are exceptions - like a federal or military resume. Those are set to a specific criteria that had to be followed for document review.