Call Centers, or How I Learned to Stop Caring and Love Pay Cuts
How the Industry Can Drive You Mad
When I was 18 years old, I was getting quite tired of working at a grocery store. On and off for several years, I juggled different positions such as cashier or being a cart pusher, and when this proved tiring, I ultimately decided to find a new avenue of employment. Being a fresh graduate, I had next to no qualifications that could have made me a benefit to any employer. Myself, I knew that I was at least moderately good with computers and that I was a fast typist.
I live in a small town. Our primary industry used to be work provided by the rail industry before it closed the majority of its shops. Now, a lot of work for those without diplomas comes from our large amount of call centers. I believe in my town there are close to twenty different call centers that are regularly hiring. One of them at this time was a place I won’t name, now closed due to downsizing. It was built inside of an abandoned mall and was housed in an office space. I was hired in late 2014; I believe around the month of October was when I officially started. I was hired on the spot, they only required a high school degree, and given that I had a disdain towards the idea of post-secondary education, I decided it would be a worthy venue. My starting pay was $14.25 an hour, plus an additional 75 cents if I was timely with all my breaks and avoided showing up late to work, which I did with ease.
The training there was very minimal; we received roughly a week or two of training regarding the basics of tele-communication repair for basic home phones. Essentially, our responsibility was to take phone calls, troubleshoot over the headset and then, if the issue was beyond our control, we would schedule a maintenance appointment to have someone appear on site to assist.
As are most first days on the job, I was incredibly nervous. Truth be told, I consider myself a moderately shy person, so the prospect of a career in which I’d be speaking all day was nerve-wracking. It was also somewhat anxiety inducing to know that I was the youngest person on staff, and thus the person with the least experience. There isn’t truly much to say about how my job worked. It was fairly straightforward in which the phone would ring, I’d try to assist, and then 90% of the time I would end the call scheduling and arguing an apartment with the person on the other line.
Some of the more frustrating calls were calls from areas around the hickish side of where I lived. Not only was it difficult to understand the majority of the customers, but at the time, (and I am unsure if this has changed) there were not a lot of technicians that we could dispatch to the area. This often resulted in a lot of tension on calls, with customers having to wait an average of five days to two weeks, oftentimes without home phone, TV, or internet.
The stress of the calls began to get to me around mid-November. That, and the ultimate environment was dragging me down. For one, the office stank. Several people present clearly neither knew about nor cared about personal hygiene. The kitchens, as well as the sinks, were also often filthy, and this drove my germ phobia up the wall. Another frustration, possibly caused by my lack of care at the time as a young man, were my supervisors. As a new hire, it was common place to screw up; it’s a relatively normal process. However, it seemed twice a week I was being dragged to my manager’s desk and being told how I was making mistakes.
Near the end of November, I was involved in an accident while leaving a store which resulted in me having several bones in my hands fractured and taking my ability to type away from me. I was forced into a cast for nearly a month and was almost fired from my job even after presenting them with a hospital written notice about my condition. Thankfully, I was given the time it would take for my hand to heal off, and was able to enjoy the holidays with my family.
Upon my return, the tension of the workplace was now less subtle than before. My managers had made me feel as though I was a problem employee for something that was beyond my control. I also noticed that my ability to simply forgive and forget most callers was waning, I was approaching burnout. I was forcibly retrained by the company, which resulted in a pay cut down to $12, as a result of myself during the secondary training being considered a “non-employee” of the company. This pay cut would now be the last I would see with my tenure with the company.
Around this time, I was also experiencing turmoil within my personal life, causing me great anxiety. I began having to take longer bathroom breaks, as being on the phone would cause me to have panic attacks at times. I was still timely, with both showing up when I was supposed to as well as showing up on time for breaks, but my overuse of our walk away time was adding up, and soon I was being called into the manager’s office more and more. This resulted in myself receiving another pay cut, bringing me down close to minimum wage, just by a few cents off.
I was receiving a breaking point and was slowly becoming extremely depressed with my life; my outlook turned widely pessimistic. I felt as though I was going to be trapped in that office for the rest of my working adult life, as I was too submissive and afraid to quit. Anytime I had now to spare at home no longer went towards my hobbies, but lying in bed and being unable to function due to the stress on my mind and body. Around February was when I finally reached my wits end.
I was on another call with another hick-like who lived in a remote area where we only sent technicians once a month due to lack of coverage. The call was placed for his mother, whose home phone was cutting out and ultimately stopped functioning all together. The waiting time for this man’s appointment was in the ballpark from a month to two months. It was on this call that I realized that the company I was working for, as well as its management, had truly failed me as an employee in need of assistance. Slowly, the man on the other line was growing increasingly aggravated with me, despite my best efforts to get him a sooner appointment. When I tried to transfer to my supervisor, he declined and said, “There’s nothing I can do, so why bother bringing that racket to me?” with a laugh. After calling the dispatcher of the company as well, I was left with no other options. When I informed the man that there was no possible way for a sooner appointment, he unleashed a tirade of personal insults on me. In that moment, I snapped on him back, informing him that it was not my issue that he was too short-minded to see how my company worked and abruptly ended the call. In a state of panic, I realized what I had just done and felt that at any moment I would be hauled away to be fired. I decided to take lunch early, and when I returned I would deal with the consequences of my actions.
When I returned, there was no unruly mob of upper management waiting for me at my desk. I had been contemplating quitting for roughly a month, but during this lunch break, it was the only thing on my mind. I had phoned my mother, and she told me it would be in my best interest not to do so. I decided to agree with her until I took my first call upon returning from break. When I answered the phone and did my intro, I was greeted with a woman shouting on the other end about how she had been transferred around department to department. I realized she needed to speak to the sales department of a particular cell phone brand and informed her I would transfer her over. The woman snapped on me, telling me that I was an idiot and too lazy to do anything, wishing to hand off responsibility. In that moment, I felt myself mentally black out and went off, informing her how little I cared for her issue and firing back with a flurry of angry remarks regarding her inability to keep track of menial things like her bills. When I finally snapped out of my anger, I had quit my job and was waiting for the bus on the side of the road.
In the weeks and months that followed, I attempted to find work. Ultimately, I was forced for a brief time to return to my super market job, which I eventually quit due to finding work at another call center. This job also panned out due to similar stress, and I was later diagnosed with an anxiety related condition and attended therapy. Through these lessons, I decided to pursue school and now, at age 20, I am pursuing a degree in information technology.
Call center jobs are not inherently bad jobs, but the difficult customers, poor management, and otherwise negative environment they host made it all the more painstaking to deal with. If management took more time to raise up their employees as opposing to put them down, and attempted to intervene and teach employees de-escalation skills for difficult calls, it would make it a far more enriching experience. Ultimately, I’ve learned that call centers simply are not for me, and that if you’re young, you shouldn’t always chase after what has the biggest dollar value attached to it.