Belfast Telegraph

Life in a call centre: Tough earning a crust 'chained to desk by phone'

While dealing with call centres can be a frustrating experience, Donna Deeney finds out what life can be like for some of the people at the other end of the line

Call centres right across the UK have created employment for tens of thousands of people, but for those of us who have never experienced what it is like having to talk to people, many of whom are angry and dissatisfied with the service or product they have received, it is hard to imagine what life is like for staff.

We hear stories of workers having to wear ridiculous hats to show they have reached or failed to reach their sales targets, and of having to ring a bell when a sale is made. But while this is not the case in every call centre, the pressure to meet targets is nonetheless a familiar mantra from anyone who has or who is currently earning their living in this way.

We spoke to some people who spent some of their working life "chained to a desk by a phone", as one woman described her four months in a call centre.

She said: "I left university at a time when there was literally no job opportunities in the area I had qualified for but there was no shortage of work at call centres, and wanting to earn even a few pounds more than the dole, I applied.

"We were put into teams for our training and once that was completed we were let loose on the customers.

"I was all fired up having bought into all the training, but I can tell you that didn't last long.

"We were expected to convince people they could not live without the product we were selling, but people aren't stupid and were not going to buy stuff they don't really want. So most of your day was taken up with people hanging up on you or telling you to go away, only they would generally put it a whole lot stronger than that.

"There were various levels of management standing over us to see if we were making any sales, and because I wasn't any good at it I would get held up as an example of how not to do it.

"It was humiliating but that seemed to be their way, to pit teams of workmates against each other.

"There would be some teams pulling out all the stops to reach targets which seemed to get more and more unattainable, and I felt bad because the team failed. Some of the people I worked with didn't seem to be bothered by that level of constant rejection and bad manners, but I left after two months and to be honest I don't know how I lasted that long."

Not all call centres are sales-driven but for those dealing with customer services, the job satisfaction doesn't appear to be any higher.

'Gregory' has been working at a call centre for the past 14 months helping people who were having difficulties with the product they bought.

He said he was one of only four people in a team of 20 who are still with the company.

He said: "Most people don't stick the job very long.

"There is an incredible turnover of staff but I have a family depending on me so I have to stay.

"My job isn't really sales-related but there are still targets to be met.

"We are being constantly watched and all our calls are monitored.

"If anyone lifted the lid of our building and looked down, we would look like a battery hen farm, that would be the best way I could describe our floor.

"It is huge and we are all crammed into our wee spaces and attached to our desk by our telephone headphones.

"Most of the people you take calls from are angry or frustrated because their product isn't working so the first thing you have to do is calm them down so you can actually help them.

"Some people, generally older people, aren't too bad, and it is good when you help them sort things and they even say thanks, but they are in the minority. You generally work an 11-hour shift and the first shift starts at 7am while the last shift will end at 11pm, so your sleeping patterns can get a bit disrupted.

"During our lunch hour you do get a laugh comparing the different calls you have taken and the things people think you can do over the phone. If you didn't laugh you would go bananas.

"This is not a job I thought I would still be at but there is not much choice out there so I am stuck here for the foreseeable future."

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