The Call Centre A modern day cultural horror story???

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Head of Information Management

Cardio Ltd

As a call centre customer I get frustrated like everyone else at the long waiting times, automated responses and the lack of information, but the real eye-opener for me came about when I experienced working in one and then providing technical support and training for operational teams within that environment.

Picture if you will the daily, and all too familiar pressure of having to – answer calls within the shortest number of rings – answer each call in the correct way (‘Good Morning, My name is…how can I help? Can I have your account number? etc..’) – ask the right questions – listen – provide the right answers or advice (sometimes within a tight time frame) – log the conversation on an ever slow computer system – be polite – close the call – to name but a few procedures that call centre operatives have to go through a 100 times a day.

Then there are the nice big television screens on the wall that are installed by management to flash and beep and constantly show lots of data like call volumes and response times, which are sold to staff as a way to improve their performance, but actually just serve as a distraction as you look to see how much longer your next toilet/cigarette/lunch break is going to be delayed as there are 50 calls waiting in the queue and there will be no chance of escape before then.

The UK call -centre industry currently employs 2% of the UK workforce, yet over 60 % of these people leave their job within two years. Although some businesses boast a significantly lower percentage, it is still a problem that I believe needs to be addressed, especially in this current climate where the need for staff retention is truly significant.

Why is staff turnover so high in call centres? Is it because it is monotonous or unrewarding? Or is it, as I believe, that the call centre culture is so significant to the people that work there, but it is the last thing managers think about. Think of the job that you have enjoyed going to the most and I can pretty much guarantee that a big part of that was the people that you worked with. No-one likes to work completely alone without social interaction or conversation. As an employee this is a great environment to be in, but as an employer it’s going to come a poor second to your focus on the maximising of profit. I believe this is a mistake.

A big part of any successful role is also how much emphasis, time and quality is placed on your personal development; no-one wants to be stuck in the same position day after day, year after year without learning something new or expanding their skill set, being promoted or being given more responsibility. Time and again in this climate employers want to reduce cost and drive efficiencies, so budgets not the training are always the top priority.

The solution?

Culture, Culture, Culture!!!

A new high performing environment where the management can see improvement in achieving targets, lowering costs and staff retention, and where employees feel valued and empowered to perform as well as they can, and where perhaps most importantly the customer (whether they be internal or external) feels they are getting an excellent service.

I want to hear from people who have worked in the Call Centre environment and to know more about your cultural horror and success stories. What has and hasn’t worked for you? How can we improve them for everyone?

Sales Trainer

Sage UK

I’ve worked in several different call centre positions from frontline customer service to back office to training and management.

One of the things that de-motivated me when I was an agent was around performance management. In order for you to progress through the business, you had to be performing to all your KPIs. The trouble was, that you were targeted on so much, it was almost impossible to keep track of where you were.

A typical agent is targeted on: ACW, Aux, call handling time, hold, calls per hour, quality, sales through service, credits.... You’d also be targeted on quality, so you’d have so many calls marked in a month or quarter and you had to achieve a certain score. On top of all that, you’d have to do an e-learning test on products and services and then you’d have to produce evidence of how you’ve displayed the company values and principles that quarter.

Each of these measures would be converted into a percentage and account for a certain part of your final score which would determine your bonus. Minimum standards would be required in all areas too.

Now that might seem hard to follow, because it is! An average frontline agent doesn’t have the time to even understand all that, let alone make sure they’re on top of their targets or collating evidence to show they’ve been “trustworthy” or “out the box”

What made it even worse was that every 6 months to a year, the company would change the measures depending on business needs. So just when you thought you’d got it sussed, the goalposts changed and you’d be back to square one. Even when the company went to great lengths to “simplify” it, it still didn’t make it any easier as all the same things were measured.

My point is that if agents understood what was required of them and the performance management process was easier for them to track and understand; more agents would be willing to step up and go that extra mile for the customers because there’d be something in it for them and it would be easier for them to see the fruits of their hard work.



I understand call centre culture as you do I have worked for o2 natwest bank ventura/outsourced to northen rock. coors. and others. one think I hated was the boring same old part of the job. I was told a long time ago after 5 years you would become so sick of taking calls you will want to find different work well after 3 years doing the taking calls all day made me want to leave when i was at o2 after one year the targets got so high it was almost impossible to pass and i got 3 fatal marks so I resigned. I knew people who had been their for 7 years who resigned so I can understand. As I understand its the biggest problems with call centres based in other country's is the culture language knowing English is fine but you need to be able to think in English just like France and other country's their is no one standard for English in England you of southerners , northerners, scoucshers Scottish, Irish. If your in south africa in a call centre like wal-mart has it is very hard to unnderstand the call centre culture. I wanted to be a manager but it was always catch 22 if you dont have 6 months experience in management you cant apply for a managers role. I think 3 years experience would qualify me for such a role. one thing i have noticed foreign call centres can not deal with difficult customers when the customers become difficult i find the advisers transferring the customers to our store which is breaking procedures. I don't mind taking the escalated calls and resolving the complaints I seem to deal with so many escalated calls that the call centre can not deal with. I the key to communication is to listen advisers who can not listen dont last long. I have applied for a managers role that involves me travelling to south africa a few weeks a year I am wondering if I stand a chance in getting it but I will give it my best shot I am doing a bit of research on call centre culture. I used to sell PPI payment protection insurance and I hated it as you just end up trying to get customers to take ppi for no reason at all. its wrong to use some ones personal details to try to sell insurance.

Account Manager


The job of an agent sounds like quite a thankless one where KPI,s must turn you into process driven robots

Sitting next to our wee customer care team in my new company I appreciate what you are going through


Scintella Solutions

I believe that technology is at the root of many employee related issues in the call centre. When I first got involved with call centres the very first versions of workforce management tools were being road tested. Working in the Telephone Service Centre was considered the pinnacle of one's customer service career. Granted, in terms of efficiency (narrowly defined) call centres are much improved, as a result of huge improvement of telephony and workforce management technology; but as a direct result the employee went from being the most important part in the customer service chain to being a necessary appendix of the process. Working conditions are poor - odd and changing schedules, performance monitoring on a scale not seen in any other work discipline, stressful interactions with customers, etc. etc. Predictably, turnover in call centres is massive: it seems that organizations are often more concerned with maintaining capital equipment than its human capital.

Lots of companies talk about being customer centric - putting the customer before (immediate, short term) profit is the way to success. I firmly believe that this approach focuses on the wrong element in the chain. As the saying goes, you can take a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. For all the emphasis on customer-centricity, if the employee sees no benefit in this approach to him or her, making this strategy work is akin to pushing a rope. Without employee buy-in the organization is not going to be successful.

So - here are some things to consider.

1. Make the employee feel like an adult. Most of them manage successful lives outside of work; they raise families, pay mortgages, volunteer, etc. It is really hard for many to then have to ask for a toilet break at work. Find ways not to treat the employees like infants.

2. Educate employees in the dynamics of call centres. If they understand why processes work the way they do (should?), they will be much more inclined to be part of them. By the way, if you do this expect loads of suggestions about improving processes - you'll find that people want to get involved.

3. Be flexible as managers. Like tall buildings, if call centre structures are too rigid, they will break. The twin towers in New York were able to sway 3 feet either way in high winds; allow some flex for your employees as well.

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