Thank you for holding
One of my favourite blogs that I've been reading for some years is Call Centre Confidential. Like most people of my age, I've done a stint in a call centre and it's nice to see that years after I hung up my headset for good, the places are still populated by the kind of people Big Brother rejects for being too emotionally volatile.
My experience of call centres began while I was at university, when I worked for one night only trying to flog double glazing down the phone. After being told to "fuck off" a record 27 times in a row, I decided I'd phone someone who'd give me a better reception, and spent the remainder of my shift on the phone to my mum. I walked out of there determined never to return. They never paid me, either, but I imagine I ran up more in phone bills more than I'd earned.
It was another three years by the time I had to experience the horror of inbound calls for the very first time. By now, I'd just finished university with my head spinning at the thought of the fabulous media career I was about to have. It was not long before my head came quickly spiriting back down to Earth, my arse hitting the ground with quite a bump.
After rejecting all manner of jobs put forward to me by the recruitment consultancy, I was told that this job would be the last thing they'd offer me. I was running out of options: my bank's love letters had turned to poison pen and the rent wasn't going to pay itself. The 'client' was a major bank and the job was to sit in a large shed and answer calls from mortgage customers, IFAs and anyone else who fancied ringing me up and telling me: "ooh I do wish you'd speak up. What accent is that?"
Training, for me, was excruciating. I tried relatively hard to hide the fact that I didn't want to be there and that I didn't care, but I was easily sussed. To my surprise, I found that the permanent members of staff who were training with me felt exactly the same; a whole pack of people just going through the motions.
My four months chained to the headset were depressing ones. From that October until the following February, my life consisted little more of spending all morning on the phones, popping out for a cigarette in the rain, eating a dog-eared sandwich in the grey Formica cafeteria and spending all after noon on the phones. Occasionally I'd work until 9 pm and on some Saturdays too. As a temp, you were treated as a second class citizen: you paid a different price for meals in the canteen, for example. It's amazing how, when you're within sniffing distance of rock bottom, a little thing like that can help nudge you closer. I briefly campaigned against this but found that absolutely nobody cared.
Finally, I'd had enough. My attendance was becoming, er, erratic, to say the least and at 24, I felt like a 50 year old man. I knew that if I stayed, a lifetime of misery befell me. The same people day after day after day, stuck together in that corrugated shed, nobody saying what was blatantly obvious: everybody hates it here. Although, amazingly, I was headhunted by other banks, I rejected their advances and allowed myself to be 'let go' by my employer. My 'team leader', who was such a by-numbers, pantomime villain type of bitchy boss that I couldn't be bothered hating her, broke the news to me that I would be losing my job. Perhaps she was expecting me to cry or shout or generally react in some way, because she paused and looked at me thoughtfully, savouring every moment. We stared at each other for a bit and then, out of politeness, I asked why and she told me: "We just felt as if this job wasn't something you really wanted to do". My response? "Well DURRR, of course it isn't." And with that, my call centre days were over.
Now, when I phone call centres, I'm almost psychotically patient. I find it pays off and people actually want to help me. On the rare occasions when I really do have someone who hates the world on the other end of the phone, I simply cast my mind back to what it was like to sit in a cavernous room full of recent graduates, staring blankly at motivational posters on the walls and being described in great detail by Dorothy in the chair next to you the problem she was having with her spoiled son. It makes me realise how glad I am to be out of it and no amount of gum-chewing, refusals to consult a supervisor or reading directly from a script can take that beautiful feeling away. Call centre workers of the world, I salute you.