Forward - Thinking Organisations

Why Call Centers Suck

Call centers are a latent curse of modern times. In principle, the idea of a call center seems to fit perfectly into the scalable systems of big business, however in reality, call centers fall very short of the purpose or efficiency they were intended for.

So for example – lets say that Big Company ‘A’ has a view that they are going to open a call center to enhance customer service and efficiency. They want to improve the quality of their customer service, upsell existing customers onto new products and generally implement a faster, more accessible communication system that better oils the many thousands of nuts and bolts that bring revenue into the business. The company setups a call center, doesn’t fully understand the call center operating model, under scopes the cost and complexity only to then discover it needs to employ a whole bunch more people than it anticipated. However, budgets have been allocated and management want to make sure their cost efficiencies are maximized. Cutting costs, the company employs the extra workforce but typically skimps on the quality of staff and training to cut costs. The call center is, after all, operational and can be improved as time goes by and when more budget is available.

Skip forward 1 year and the call center is still functional yet owing to the basic mundane nature of the work and the continued push for growth, call center staff turnover has increased and the culture sucks. As the churn of new employees never stops, they are brought in and given the minimum training and put to work. In reality most of these staff have little desire to work there, but take the work as it is the only job they can get. They are being trained and paid to follow scripts, to churn out volume not quality, and to do, but not to think.

There is little commitment to the brand they are representing and what the company stands for. Meanwhile the company continues to release a slew of new products and facilities which the call center employees have a hard time keeping track of, let alone understanding how they can or could potentially relate to one another. The result is the maddening call center confusion of today’s commercial world. And who bears the consequence of this failed system – the customer, the very person it was intended to serve!

The description above is broad, yet it serves as general example of the many finer nuances and problems that call centers suffer from. Companies, both big and small, who have call centers need to consider the implications on their customers. They need to be aware of the frustration they cause and the added cost and time pressures they create for the very people they are supposed to be serving as well as the employees who are being paid to follow a script. In essence who is the call center actually being developed to serve – the customer or the desired efficiencies of the company developing them? This is what call centers get very wrong. They are inwardly focused.

My suggestion is that call centers need to rethink about why they exist and how their systems could add value to customers and their company simultaneously, in a post modern environment. Call centers need to stop being a function of economics and rather than a function of quality, value and service. A one size fits all approach was the modern way of doing things, yet a flexible agile solution is needed in a post modern world. Call centers need to be very clear what their real purpose should be and about who operates the phones – both management and operators. They can bring about the necessary change if they truly focus on creating the value they were intended for. Understandably the organization needs to operate in a disciplined manner by implementing processes, systems, regulations and necessary forms to complete, yet human beings are far more intuitive, emotional and dynamic than a list of instructions.

Some might argue that there is no place for independent thinking, emotional quotient and personal stories in a call center employees dialogue, yet in the post modern world this could perhaps be the dynamic edge that actually makes it work fluidly and serve the function in the way it was intended…


6 thoughts on “Why Call Centers Suck

  1. Call center jobs are stressful. The best call center jobs are the ones with flexibility. Its very hard to find that. Call centers can increase your stress levels and cause poor health.

  2. You should never (under any circumstances) accept a position at a call center who’s job description mentions any of the following:

    1. Takes back to back calls-
    * This means that the call center is likely understaffed and the ownership cf the company does not care that their customers have to hold in order to speak to someone. It also means that if you do take the job, it will be next to impossible to properly wrap up or disposition your call before the next one comes in. Also, it means that they likely intend to burn you out and replace you quickly. Back to back calls are the scourge of call center existence. Although you can expect them some of the time at any call center, you should not be experiencing them most of the time. Bottom Line: It shows that the company does not care about its customers and cares even less about its employees!

    2. Company is PCI complient-
    This likely eludes to a paperless environment and general distrust of you as an employee. Yes, there are several call centers that do not even allow an employee to have a pen and paper while on the floor! It is horrific enough when a call center does not allow their employees to have their cell phones, PDA’s, or even purses with them.

    3. Company has several “zero tolerance” policies-
    In practice, zero tolerance also means zero fairness. Most companies with an excessive amount of “zero tolerance” policies also have a revolving door mentality. People seldom spend even a year working for such call centers.

    4. Company admits to having an extremely strict attendance policy-
    Even if you are one of those people who are “never sick” or “never late”, a strict attendance policy can be trouble. Suppose bad weather or uncontrollable circumstances keep you away from work, or even worse, you fall ill. Nobody is completely immune to life’s little quirks. I have seen some companies that will actually fire an employee if they are late even once during their first 6 months. Taking a job with a strict attendance policy is like spinning the roulette wheel with you personal finances and well being. Strict attendance policies also elude to the fact that the company is understaffed and that you may have to go thru hell just to schedule time off because of that fact.

    5. Company is only hiring for call center positions and does not have any postings for higher up jobs on their website-
    Avoid the company that does not promote from within! Avoid companies that give no real expectation of advancement. Call centers generally burn people out quick. Don’t get yourself into a company that can’t or won’t advance or promote you after your first year!

  3. The reason why call centers suffer from high turn over and the reason why employees either quickly get burned out or stop caring over time is simple: Companies don’t approach their call center operations with the right attitude and they are unwilling to allocate the proper resources to assure that the employees are taken care of well enough to do their jobs comfortably. Call centers are notorious for hellishly strict attendance policies, difficulty scheduling needed time off, low pay, back-to-back calls due to not enough staff, lack of manager or supervisor support, lack of opportunity for employee advancement within the company, and lack of employee dignity and respect. All of these put together make the average call center into an employee torture chamber. I have skills and college education in many other areas, yet due to the economy, I am currently stuck working at a thankless and abusive call center job. Employers do next to nothing to make the workplace a place that anyone in their right mind would want to work. Employers please take note that if you would not want to work in your call center, then there are things that you need to fix. Until you stop running your emloyees ragged with long hours, strict attendence, back-to-back calls, and low pay, you cannot expect attitudes to improve or attrition to slow down. If the needs and suggestions of your employees are not adressed and taken into serious consideration, they will get frustrated and either do a bad job, leave, or get fired. This is the last call center job I will ever work. If I cannot find something else in my career field, I would rather go on government assistance than slave in another call center hell hole. It is not my fault that there aren’t any good jobs available. You will have to thank Obama for killing all of America’s better jobs (some of which I used to hold until being laid off).

  4. Hi there,
    Will have a look – let us know if it continues.

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