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Call Center Woes

The Dark side of Call Centers

“A telephone based shared service for specific customer activities used for a number of customer related functions like marketing, selling, dispensing information, advice, technical support etc.” This is the technical definition of a call centre but to put it simply it’s basically a plush back-end office for banks, airlines and telecom companies which require large-scale data entry and revenue accounting work to be done.

Call centers in India pay anything between Rs 7000 and 12000 to their junior most employees, generally called CRAs (customer relationship associates). All that money for sitting in air-conditioned offices with state of the art equipment!!!!! Doesn’t it all sound too good to be true? Well, from personal experience I can say the drawbacks outweigh the benefits.

The weird hours
All call centers work between 5 p.m to around 9 a.m – and individual shifts might even extend to 10 hrs on some days. So while the rest of the world snoozes, call centre employees sweat. This is fun initially but your entire body clock goes for a toss. So basically you work through the night, go home, sleep, and before you know it you’re running back to work. Social life becomes a sob-story and in my six month stint I don’t remember a single occasion when I went out with my buddies for a drink or a movie. So call centers pay a hell of a lot but what they take away is the time you need to spend your earnings. Though these may seem like juvenile problems, I’m speaking for the majority out here which of course is an overwhelming number of fresh graduates.

The working environment
Most call centers are swanky offices replete with high tech equipment, located in modern buildings. Some of them even have their own gymnasiums and all of them have huge cafeterias (sorry, the food’s not on the house). The walls and pillars are adorned with colorful posters while the cubicle structured shop floors house branded desktops with ergonomically designed chairs. All these amenities make call centers very attractive but the charm slowly wears off.

The call centre I worked for was an outbound call centre – which basically means we call customers, they don’t call us. I worked for a credit card firm and our job was to call clients based in the U.S who haven’t paid their monthly bills. Firangs never want to pay up and though you do disclose your fictitious name, (Oh yes!!! You have to go by some American name) they prefer addressing you with the “F-word”. You might feel like giving it back but then there’s always someone monitoring your calls and you can risk losing your salary or your job for any such misdemeanors.

The work pressures
A major part of your salary is in the form of incentives based on performance and compliance to set protocols. Performance is evaluated on the basis of pre-determined parameters such as talk time (the lesser the better) and the interval between consecutive calls (less than 3 secs preferably). On a daily basis, I handled somewhere between 500 to 700 calls.

So it’s a high pressure job and even if you have to dash to the loo, you’re required to take permission from your team leader (who might if you ask one too many times, get you a nappy but not allow get off the line.). Break times (dinner breaks at two in the morning) have to be strictly observed failing which one can get severely reprimanded. It’s a modern day sweatshop which serves you free coffee just so you don’t fall asleep. Apart from work related tensions, irregular sleeping and eating habits begin to take a toll on your health.

Backaches, headaches, nausea, acidity are universal ailments in a call centre. One more grievance and this is strictly a personal opinion is that a lot of employees get addicted to smoking – some ’cause it helps them to stay awake and some to cope up with the tension. The hallways are filled with ciggy-puffing teens. Call centers are a gloomy site ’cause most people look like zombies with dark circles around their eyes at the end of their shifts. These are probably the reason why call centers have an almost 40% attrition rate, the highest for any industry. A call centre has to provide round-the -clock service 365 days a year and therefore there are very few holidays other than weekends. In my case since the clients were Americans so only July 4th (the US Independence day) and Christmas were off.

All said and done, I recommend call centers only as part time solution to add some quick weight to your wallet. Though I spent six months, three is what I recommend. The fist month is a ball, during which they train you so that you get good hang of the accent you need to use and the required product knowledge. This training takes place in the daytime and part of the curriculum includes watching movies!!! (JFK, American Pie, etc were the ones we caught).

The company pays you during the training period during which there are evaluations in the form of presentations, speeches and even group plays. These really help a lot of people open up and gain confidence and it was a first time experience for me for which I’m obliged to the company. Product training gives a good overview of how things work. For me, it was credit cards. It’s fun to gain knowledge about how the monthly/yearly interest is calculated and how credit card companies make their profits. The next two months whiz by before the monotony sets in and then it’s time to quit. For those who look at working at a call centre as a career job, the saving grace is that if you stick around for at least a couple of years, a promotion will be on the cards.

If promoted, the next position is that of a ‘Team Leader’, where the added incentive is having the complete freedom to take a leak when you want and for however long you want. (No more calls to be handled either).

India is fast emerging as the call centre capital of the world with many MNCs and start-ups setting up operations here. NASSCOM estimates that about 68,000 people are employed in the Indian IT-enabled services industry and forecasts this could rise to 1.1 million by 2008. What makes us so viable??? Countries like Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Canada and the Philippines have long provided call centre services but India, with its cheaper, skilled, English-speaking and IT-savvy workforce is more attractive. Indian manpower costs 1/10th of what it does overseas.

Even engineers are available for dramatically low salaries (compared to US and Europe). Right now, working at a call centre seems to be the best choice for fresh graduates looking to land a job as soon as possible.

Most call centers are located in the suburbs; Epicentre and Zenta in Powai, TransWorks at SakiNaka, Intellinet at Vashi, E-Funds at Malad. In Delhi, all major call centers from GE to Dakhs are in Gurgaon. Most have bus or Qualis/ Sumo services to transport you to your workplace and back.

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