Call Centres Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Call Centres

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Call centres are huge offices full of people paid to speak to other people on the phone. This is the 'Nirvana' you reach after a call queuing system and it's staffed by 'agents'1. It can be composed of many different people although students seem to be regulars, indirectly they arrive at the bank manager's behest. The agents are... er, well-trained individuals who are pleased to take your call and solve all of your problems. However, they are restrained by the following guidelines:

  • CHT or Call Handling Time - This, as the name suggests, is the amount of time you have to deal with any given call. Most call centres have a CHT target time, usually measured in seconds. They often tie this into your bonus so that if you insist on spending five minutes chatting about the weather to every caller you don't get as much extra money at the end of the month. Unless, of course, you work for the Met Office.

  • ACW or After Call Work - This is only used in some call centres, and is the amount of time you spend after a call doing stuff before you are ready to take another call. Again this is often tied into your bonus, so meet that target or lose more of your bonus.

  • Call Ob or Call Observation - This is the most feared of all assessments in a call centre. Basically a number of calls will be 'observed', often by your manager, and then marked on a scale. This, believe it or not, is also linked to your bonus with the added incentive that you need to be good or you get taken away from the phones and put back into training. The scale all depends on who employs you and what they want. Not following prepared scripts and skipping bits out tends to land you with a big fat F.

    To add a bit of excitement you will rarely, if ever, have any idea that a particular call is currently under observation. So despite the fact that you've got a headache, or have had an argument with your partner just before work, you will have to greet all callers with a smile in your voice and a song in your heart. It is believed that many drama agents send out-of-work actors, those on their books, to work in call centres in order 'to keep their hands in'.

  • Log on - This is the amount of time you spend on the phones, based on a percentage. If you are ten minutes late you will need to spend an extra ten minutes after your official finish time or the stats go down. This again is linked to the bonus. Can you see a recurring theme here?

If it weren't for these trifling little points, and the fact that call centre employers expect their employees to actually talk about the company's product, then many people I know could happily retire to live out their days in these amiable, chatty wee offices.

Some call centres deal only with one product or with one company. This basically makes it easier for the agents, as they only have a limited number of questions to be asked. Some others operate for several different companies and the agent needs to learn several sets of answers. Much fun can be had when the computer system decides to tell the agent that the call is for Company A when in fact the customer is really calling in about Company B. But not to worry; according to the IT boffins this can never happen.

Finally agents who work in call centres are expected to be there on time and turn up. This comes as a shock to some who thought that it was optional, similar to double maths on a Friday afternoon, and that Friday was a POETS day. But once you're at work, they do sometimes offer you the chance to go home. This is called e-time or x-time or even skiving off. This has nothing to do with e-commerce or even The X-Files but is in fact the way that the call centres reduce the number of staff when there are few calls coming in. All it means is that you get to go home but your Log On stats are not harmed by the fact that you left, unpaid, a couple of hours after turning up.

1This is call centre speak for the people who actually man, or woman, the phones.

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