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Epic Fails

Words of Warning from a Call Centre Veteran Epic Fails

Words of Warning from a Call Centre Veteran
Comedy gold? Simple answer: No

If you need a job to fund yourself through university, you might consider working in a call centre. Why not? There’s certainly nothing wrong with working in a call centre, right? Hot Rant, a blog for angry people, has a slightly different opinion on the traditional student stomping ground… 


They say you should write about what you know. And despite the fact that I’ve never quite managed to figure out exactly who ‘they’ are, ‘they’ certainly have a point. So what do I know? Well, most of all, I know first-hand the soul-crushing woe that comes from working in a call centre. And it’s this affliction upon which I will focus my attention.

First and foremost, it’s important to provide some context. The call-centre can seem like an attractive proposition for some: flexible hours, the chance to meet new people, a lack of really stressful work. Don't be fooled, for the harsh reality is so very different. 

As a call centre veteran (I have worked various spells over the years to support myself through university, and as a postgraduate to create a much-needed financial buffer zone), I can now reveal the psychological torment that takes hold when holed up in one of these places for too long.

A brief summary of my call centre résumé should be sufficient to convince you to stay away. I have sold boiler insurance to old ladies, but was forced by the client to lie to them about the validity of the cover period. I have attempted to convince unsuspecting members of the public to sign up to a Kerry Katona-fronted bingo website. I have pressed Texan good ol’ boys into revealing their true opinions on "aloominum" wheels through the night.

I have been told, variously, to “get a proper job” and, in a quaintly British sort of way, to “get knotted.” In addition to this, I have been branded a “timewaster”, and most damagingly of all: a “clown.” The truth hurts.

Furthermore, the call-centre has a tendency to attract a certain type of person, comprised of penurious students (understandable), attention-seeking, out-of-work actors and singers (irritating) and, finally, nutters who always want to strike up conversations with you, despite your best ‘leave me alone’ lack of eye contact and negative body language. Moreover, it’s always these nutters who seem to get promoted to the level of supervisor, at which point their over-eager friendship is replaced by the steely-eyed pedantry of a true jobsworth.

Another grave problem with the call-centre is the hygiene levels. These places are veritable hives of illness. If one person has a cold, everyone will soon have it. Packed in like battery hens, sneezes and coughs spread like wildfire. Oh, and I won't even get started on sharing headsets and mouthpieces. Your only protection against call-centreitis? The wet-wipe.

My antipathy toward the call-centre runs deep. In fact, my main problem with the Oscar-grabbing smash, Slumdog Millionaire, was not its overly schematic structure, wildly uneven tone or even Dev Patel’s gormless central performance; rather, it was that screenwriter Simon Beaufoy dared to suggest that any good whatsoever could come from a call centre. 

Without giving too much away to those who haven’t seen it, a major plot catalyst stems from a humorous chance encounter in a call centre. Had I not been trying to impress a young(ish) lady at the time, I surely would have hurled my popcorn at the screen and lunged manically at the projectionist screaming, "THE LIES! THE LIES!"

Having said all this, the call centre is not without its opportunities for Beckettian gallows humour. The whole process is so spectacularly inane that once one develops a sense of acceptance, black comedy can creep in. This humour can range from the basic (laughing at the names that come up on your screen. To wit: Captain Pollock, Peter Sutcliffe, Mr. Jesus Christ, Mrs Qunt - all true) to the more complex (howling with tearful mirth on the bus home as you assess the existential calamity of what you actually do for six pounds an hour).

Occasionally when sitting there like an automated chicken whose only role is to irritate and disturb, you will chance upon a member of the public who is sensitive to your plight, and will engage in empathetic conversation before either returning to their episode of EastEnders, or (and amazingly it does happen) acquiescing to your pleading request, and partaking in a questionnaire about the location and usability of their local cash machine.

Getting someone to agree to do a phone questionnaire is not in itself cause for celebration, however, because that would be making the assumption that Joe Public is cognizant of basic skills such as listening, talking and counting. One memorable scene from Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's groundbreaking sitcom, The Office, epitomises both the thundering inanity of the typical questionnaire and the terminally frustrating inability of the majority of said public to process a simple request, like scoring on a scale from one to five.

My post-call-centre search for employment has been largely characterised by agonising spells of inactivity and soul-searching, followed by manic, hot-flush internet sessions spent hammering endless combinations into the search criteria of various job sites, only to be faced with the constant, mocking six-word epithet “Fancy a Career in Media Sales?” But still I persist, because my determination to avoid these stinking hell-holes is strong.

I’ve never been one for New Year’s Resolutions; my theory being simply: “If you want to do something, do it now.” But at the turn of this year, I made an exception. At the time of writing, I've been clean of call-centres now for the best part of ten months. I feel like a new man.

I think I'm doing well. Do yourself a favour; don't make the same mistakes I did. Stay away from call centres.

Image courtesy of Katy Warner, ‘Outside the Box’

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