Confessions of a Former Call Center Agent
Few people understand as well as I do the challenges contact center agents face. I was not only once an agent, I was one of the worst agents in the history of customer care. Fortunately for me and everybody else, my career on the frontline was brief.
It’s not that I didn’t care about doing a good job on the phones; rather, I simply felt they rang too often. I would go to great measures to avoid answering calls. When I wasn’t pressing the "release" button to drop callers, I was faking severe gastroenteritis and hiding in the restroom.
I felt that the other agents were far too serious. They were always adhering to scripts and schedules, and worrying too much about whether or not they resolved customers’ issues. I, on the other hand, endeavored to make the few calls I actually answered fun and interesting without stressing out so much about the overall outcome. My supervisor, while sometimes entertained by my antics, was often enraged by my abandonment rate and freewheeling approach to customer service.
I remember one time she called me into her cubicle:
"Greg, we have a problem here," she said sternly.
"I’ll say we do," I responded. "I mean, who chose the carpeting and lighting in this joint?"
"Forget that, Greg. Here’s a copy of yesterday’s performance stats. As you can see, the other agents handled an average of 103 calls each. You handled 12."
"Well, if you’re going to look just at the numbers, then yeah, it looks bad," I replied. "But some things are more important than the bottom line – like how much I make customers laugh."
"That’s the other problem we have," she said. "We didn’t hire you so you could use your talk time to sharpen your stand-up comedy routine."
"But humor is very useful for building customer rapport and relationships."
"Yes, but sometimes you offend customers."
"What? Give me one example," I demanded.
"Okay. This morning you told that one customer they sounded like James Earl Jones."
"Yeah? So? How is that offensive? Mr. Jones has one of the most captivating voices in the world. Most people would consider it an honor to be compared to him."
"Well, that customer called back to speak to me afterward, and let’s just say that SHE was not pleased."
I continued to butt heads with management for the remainder of my time working in the contact center. I’m not saying that I was always right or that they were always wrong; I’m just saying I would be thrilled to have a voice like James Earl Jones.
I admit, I had a problem with authority. I didn’t even like it when my supervisor told me to "Have a nice evening" at the end of my shift. I’d say to myself, "I just spent the last 10 hours answering calls from irate people – I should have the freedom to have a perfectly miserable evening."
I became very spiteful. Anything my supervisor said to do, I’d either ignore her or break into tears so she’d ignore me. If she told me to go available for calls, I’d stay unavailable. If she told me to stop pressing the "mute" button during calls so I could swear at customers, I’d continue pressing it and using even more obscene language. If she yelled at me to come into her cubicle for a discussion, I’d… well, that I’d actually do because it got me off the phones.
Then, for reasons I’ll probably never fully understand, I got fired. Or maybe I quit.
As you can see, I had a tough first day on the phones.
I never could have imagined how difficult it was being a contact center agent. I was forced into stressful conversations with strangers, many of whom already decided they didn’t like me or anything I stood for… and those were just my co-workers. I had to spend the entire day sitting in a chair in a cramped space – except for during slow periods, when I’d nap under my workstation. And worst of all, I was expected to handle call after difficult call without making fun of customers or their families.
My hat goes off to contact center agents everywhere. If you are a manager or a supervisor, please let your agents read this post so they can see how all that they do, all that they’re up against, does not go unnoticed and is very much appreciated. Then tell them to get back to work immediately so that they don’t screw up the center’s service level results.
And finally, let them know that if they ever decide to ask a customer out on a date, they should make absolutely sure the call isn’t being monitored.