How To Survive in a Call Center Job
Misinformed people may have low regard for call center agents, but the truth is, getting and keeping a call center job is not for the faint of heart. You will need all your skills, experience, know-how, and a good amount of patience just to stay here. You will have to pour in an extra helping of determination to get far.
If you are just starting in this line of work, the question of how to survive in a call center job is probably on your mind. This article will answer that question because, for those who manage to stay and thrive, there are a lot of rewards to be had.
What is a call center agent?
At its most basic definition, a call center agent is an employee that handles either outbound or inbound calls or emails on behalf of the company. It could be to promote a product, assist the company’s customers, or follow up on a customer’s payment. Your task will depend on the call center account to which you are assigned.
There is no specific university degree that is needed for you to become a call center agent. Some companies hire college undergraduates or even high school graduates. Professionals in a number of different fields such as nursing, journalism, and education also get jobs as call center agents when the demand for their specialization is low.
The basic requirement for anyone to become a call center agent is the ability to communicate in a way that can be easily understood by the client, whether it’s in the local dialect or in English. That’s it. All the other skills are taught during the training phase, including what to say and how to behave in specific situations.
But, you may ask, isn’t it that call center agents are looked down upon by people because of the belief that the agents “only take or make calls?” That if you’re a licensed nurse or teacher, it would be beneath you to become a call center agent?
People have different reasons for joining the call center industry. The top reason for most is that they are attracted to the salaries and benefits that call center companies offer.
Generally, salaries in a call center are way above the minimum and they are augmented by other perks such as performance bonuses, 14th-month pays (sometimes even 15th– and 16th– month pays), and as high as 25% commission for those whose task is to sell products.
Then there are the health insurance plans (popularly known as HMO for Health Maintenance Organization) that not only cover the employees but also dependents such as spouses, children, and parents.
Health cards have proven to be a boon, especially during the height of the pandemic, as these usually cover hospitalization, regular checkups, diagnostic tests and laboratory procedures, and emergency room visits. You won’t have to pay for anything as long as the cost is within the HMO coverage.
There are also rice, internet, and even electricity subsidies that are given regularly.
So what’s not to love being a call center agent?
Well, have you heard of the phrase, “I love my job; it’s the work I hate?”
Why is it hard being a call center agent?
The answer to this question can usually be summed up by these three sets of initials: AHT, FCR, and QA.
AHT stands for “average handling time.” Call centers, especially those that dish out customer service for foreign companies, earn money through the number of calls that are handled every day. The more calls handled, the higher the income.
This is the reason why AHT is such an important performance metric for call center agents. When your AHT is low, that means you can take more calls from customers needing help. So that shouldn’t be a problem, right? Just take one call after another as fast as you can.
Unfortunately, you have another metric that needs to be satisfied as well, which is the FCR or first call resolution. While companies would like to handle as many calls as possible, they need to be unique calls, not repeat calls.
So let’s say Customer Joe called once, that’s one count. But if he calls back again for the same concern or for even something totally different, that second call (and the succeeding calls made within a specified period) would not be counted anymore because the agent was supposed to cover everything before they ended the call.
In effect, AHT and FCR are kind of opposing forces, yet companies would want call center agents to hit those metrics as much as possible.
And then we have the QA or quality assurance. In regular call center companies, there is a department called the QA Team whose task is to listen to the recorded calls of agents, usually picked randomly, or they may listen in to an actual call. They are there to make sure that agents adhere to company guidelines for handling calls.
The QA Team has a checklist of what an agent should be saying and covering during the call, giving points or taking away points as the case may be. The points are then summed up and a certain score needs to be reached for the agent to get a passing mark. Otherwise, the call would be deemed failed, and you can only have a finite amount of failed calls before sanctions kick in, which, at the extreme, could mean losing your job.
There are other metrics that call center companies put in place depending on the nature of their business, but these three, which may come in different forms or names, are what usually give agents nightmares.
Now, couple these with the stress of handling all sorts of customers, from the clueless to the know-it-all and from the friendliest to the most irate, and you have got the perfect recipe for call center burnout.
What is call center burnout?
In 2019, the World Health Organization formally recognized burnout as an “occupational phenomenon that influences health status and makes people contact health services” even though it is not classified as a medical condition.
The WHO defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” The agency added that it’s characterized by “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job, and reduced professional efficacy.”
In short, burnout is an occupational phenomenon. It only happens in the workplace. And it sure does, especially in a call center setting given the workload, the pressure to satisfy performance metrics, and the constant interaction (a lot of times stressful) with different types of people.
Add to that the lack of a work-life balance because of the constantly changing work schedule (imagine working on Christmas or New Year’s Eve) and it’s understandable why there is a high level of attrition (resignation of employees) and absenteeism in the call center industry.
Call center companies have their work cut out for them. Surely, they do not want a high turnover rate among employees, and so they need to look out for signs of burnout.
What are the signs of call center burnout?
Mind you, a call center job is never physically tiring. You literally just sit there for your entire workday, get two 15-minute coffee breaks and a 1-hour lunch break (even if you take it at midnight if you happen to be working on a graveyard shift). You are also allowed to avail of the occasional “bathroom break” as soon as your current call is finished and there’s no queueing, meaning there aren’t many calls waiting to be answered.
What gets many call center agents, though, is the tediousness of the job (answering calls or emails all day) and the stress of coping with different types of customers, all while making sure that the calls satisfy AHT, FCR, and QA.
Thus, companies would need to make sure that supervisors/team leads regularly conduct a one-on-one meeting with each employee. The higher-ups, in turn, talk to the supervisors to find out if burnout is already there or is imminent.
What needs to be observed are the following:
1. Physical manifestations
⚫ loss of appetite
2. Mental manifestations
⚫ disengagement (comes in late and leaves on the dot)
⚫ negativity (complains all the time and has no good thing to say about their work or the company in general)
⚫ isolation (doesn’t attend company events, frequently calls in sick)
⚫ irritability (gets angry easily at anyone and anything)
⚫ poor performance on the job (commits careless errors and doesn’t hit target metrics)
When any or a few of these symptoms are seen in an employee, it may be that they are close to burnout. If most or all are manifested, then most likely there is already burnout and the likelihood of employee resignation.
For the company, this means going through the process of hiring and training new employees again, which can have an impact on the company’s resources and even cause delays in hitting targets.
Whatever the case may be, the company needs to act fast to maintain agents’ well-being and prevent burnout.
What can management do to help employees overcome call center burnout?
Fortunately, all is not lost. Even when there is already burnout, a company can still “save” an employee, especially if they have been previously productive and relied upon as key contributors. Here’s what management can do to help call center agents:
⚫ Be on the lookout for burnout – as mentioned, some signs and symptoms point to burnout that management should recognize
⚫ Offer manager support – once burnout has been identified, get the supervisor/team lead or even upper management working to mitigate the situation
⚫ Protect talented agents – the harsh reality is that when worse comes to worst, priority should be given to keeping the more productive employees
⚫ Prioritize stress reduction – performance metrics should not be the be-all, end-all of the company
⚫ Encourage your call center agents – a lot of times, a simple encouraging word from upper management sincerely given personally can perk up sagging morale
⚫ Improve call center training – training should not be focused only on the tools and skills needed to perform tasks but also on coping with stress
⚫ Improve agent autonomy – while micromanaging may prevent employees from slacking, it can cause a lot of stress and cultivate a feeling of resentment
⚫ Focus on job growth – the goal is to help employees continuously improve themselves and not just hit performance metrics
⚫ Incentivize call center agents – the “carrot-and-stick” approach may no longer be appropriate today as employees tend to do better with the promise of rewards than the threat of punishment
What can call center agents do to avoid burnout?
Of course, management can only do so much to help call center agents avoid or overcome burnout. For the most part, it’s really up to the employee to make sure that they don’t reach that point.
25 Call Center Survival Tips and Tricks (That Are Legit)
1. Vent out when you’re frustrated, but make sure you hit the mute button first.
2. Sound and feel confident. Customers won’t give you hell if they think you are always in control of the situation.
3. Jot down the steps you have taken while on the call so that you can simply copy and paste them into your call log when the call ends.
4. Control the call. It’s one way to keep your AHT down.
5. Don’t take it personally. Whatever the customer says shouldn’t affect you because they don’t know you. They are just frustrated and need to vent out.
6. Don’t say “sorry.” Customers don’t need your sympathy but your help. Saying “I understand your situation and will do my best to help you” will make them feel better.
7. Continue to learn. When you have the time, research things related to your job. Pick the brains of your supervisor. Getting armed and ready for your next call is half the battle won.
8. Feel and sound relaxed. Don’t let the emotions of your customer affect or rattle you. You are the professional they need.
9. Put your customer on hold when you need to ask for advice from your supervisor or to do other things that you need to focus on. Just make sure to inform the customer first and explain to them why you need to put them on hold.
10. Never, ever forget to get back to your customer on hold from time to time if it’s taking you long. If the customer drops out of the call while they are on hold, you can be sure it’s a negative hit on your FCR and QA. You may also have an even angrier customer the next time they call.
11. Always thank your customer for holding.
12. Keep a pack of really, really cheap pencils close by. If you become frustrated or angry during a call, get one pencil out and break it. That will get you to calm down. Stress balls can also work.
13. If you’re not taking notes, fidget with something. It could be a cheap pencil, a stress ball, or a Rubik’s cube. That can let the stress out that might be building inside of you.
14. Enjoy the call as much as you can. When you’re not dealing with an irate customer, make the conversation fun and easy-going. Smile even. The customer will feel it in your voice and most likely will be more cooperative.
15. Make friends with your co-employees. You’re practically in the same boat with them.
16. During lunch break or coffee break, share stories with your co-employees on weird or funny calls you have gotten. That not only breaks the ice but you might get some useful insights in return that you can apply on your next call.
17. Accept that mistakes happen, and don’t forget to tell your team lead or supervisor the first chance you get. Remember that your “TL” is your ally and you should expect them to defend you should your mistake blow up.
18. Make sure you know what you’re doing. Research and continue learning about the tools and other things you need to help your customers. If you are well-versed in what you do, there’s a minimal chance for a mistake and you will have the full confidence that you can solve your customer’s problem. You’ll feel less stressed.
19. Probe for the real issue. Don’t take the customer’s words at face value. If your customer says, “My modem is not working” because they can’t connect to the internet, don’t troubleshoot immediately for a modem issue. It could be something else.
20. Have a lot of patience for the elderly and those with little computer knowledge. Keep in mind that not everybody will have the same understanding when it comes to technology. When someone says, “My internet is not working,” it could mean they can’t open a website or send an email or play a YouTube video. That’s why item #19 on our list is very important.
21. Enjoy your spare time. Sometimes, manna comes from heaven in the form of “avail time” when calls suddenly stop coming in. Instead of moping about a just-concluded call that was so difficult, move on and have a snack or a good chat with your neighbor. What you should be doing is getting rid of the negative vibe from that call.
22. Set your eyes on career growth. Always remember that being a call center agent is just the first step. With the right attitude and consistently good performance, you can progress to being a team lead, operations manager, service delivery lead, and so on up the corporate ladder. It’s the best way to motivate yourself to do good or even better every day.
23. Don’t forget to take your breaks, regularly and properly. Not only will they allow you to depressurize but also re-energize you especially when there’s a long queue of calls to take and make. Sacrificing breaks for the sake of hitting all of your metrics is the surest way to burnout.
24. Do proper breathing during stressful situations. When an irate customer is getting to you and you feel anger welling up, ask politely if you can put them on hold, then calm yourself up by breathing in for four seconds, holding it in for four seconds, breathing out for four seconds, and then holding that out for another four seconds. Repeat the whole process until you feel you are back to your calm, sane self once again.
25. Focus on the good things. When you feel you are nearing the end of your rope, think of the things that make call center life better than in other jobs. Is there free coffee or iced tea? A gym or entertainment room that you can use for free? Are you up for a promotion or is the 13th-month or 14th-month pay on the way? Is there a person you would like to become closer to? This is looking at the bright side, and it could help uplift your sagging spirit.
If you’re thinking of joining the call center industry but are hesitant to do so because of the “horror stories” you have heard from those who have come before you, remember that each one of us will have a different experience. It’s because each individual is built differently. Our coping mechanisms are different, just like our personalities. Yours may be suited to being a call center agent, and you might be missing out on a lot of opportunities and rewards because you didn’t try.
And for all the stress and pressure that a call center job brings, there is also a lot of fun to be had. Call centers regularly conduct social and sporting events and the perks are, as have been mentioned earlier, truly tremendous.
It’s no wonder that the Philippines has become one of the top, if not the top location for the customer service industry in the world. A lot of foreign business process outsourcing (BPO) companies have put up their offices in the country because of how easy it is to set up shop here. For example, Weremote’s BPO and Call Center Seat Lease can help a company to establish a call center operation quickly and painlessly and at cost-effective rates.
If you’re a BPO company planning to put up your call center, you can click here to start a successful business.