Saturday, April 11, 2009

Lessons on the Floor

*This is dedicated to everyone who has been a call center agent. More posts about the call center life soon.

Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught – Oscar Wilde

Graduating with an engineering degree, I thought I was fully equipped with everything I need to embark on my journey as a full-pledge member of the working mass. But nothing, not even the fact that I spent almost half of my college life as a working student primed me for that whole new world out there. When I decided that I want to work in the flourishing call center industry, I was brimming with confidence. I thought I was ready to conquer. But I can’t be more wrong.

Curly call center agent in 2007 (don't look at my eyebags pls)

Aside from the fact that I flunked my first interview, my first months in the call center were a real challenge. I had to work overtime for a special English training since I kept stuttering on the phone. There were times when I wanted to quit, there were those calls that I thought would never end. And there were days of pure depression.

Nothing has prepared me for it. This is life – outside of the four walls of the classroom. Most of the time there are no retakes, special projects or room for mistakes. That’s when I realized it’s true; if you thought your professor was a terror wait ‘til you meet your supervisor and when all the theories and postulates can’t help you solve the problem, look around and start picking up lessons - lessons on the floor.

An irate customer asking for a supervisor, a talkative grandma who refuses to put the phone down, a billing or technical issue more complicated than a differential calculus problem– every call center agent dreads these kinds of calls. But I learned that this too shall pass. Every call is bound to end; it may take 10, 20 or heaven forbid 30 minutes but it will end. Just as every bad hair day, every heartache and broken period of your life will. It is just a matter of time.

One important call driver, and for me the most difficult to attain, is Average Handling Time or AHT. Seize the day – almost everyone has told me that. But not until I worked in this time-conscious industry, have I learned that every second is truly important. Every second contributes to every minute of every hour of my life that not one should be wasted in dead air or in a moment of not knowing what to do. Same in life – be dynamic, constantly seek and create defining moments.

Now, we sit around all day and we don’t sweat or overwork a muscle but it doesn’t mean that working in the call center is not a stressful job. There are times when it just gets to you – the complaints, the never-ending questions and technical problems, the waking up so early in the morning, the struggle of trying to stay awake when everyone else is soundly sleeping. It’s simply hard. But it is all a matter of proper mindset. Everything is.

Never assume. Mistakes are mostly born out of wrong assumptions. In this industry based on facts, this is a major blunder. That is why I have learned to always ask relevant questions and practice probing skills. Everything has an answer; it is just a matter of knowing the right questions to ask.

Lastly, when in doubt – log out. Well, not literally log-out but perhaps pause for a moment, take a deep breath, ask a question or escalate to Level 2. There are times when letting go is as noble as holding on. Don’t hold too long and too much when you know that things are irreparable and it is beyond your control to take actions. Learn to let go but do it in the proper way (don’t press release, okay?).

These are just some of the lessons that helped me survive every single day on the floor. These were the same things I have been taught of all my life. Not that I didn’t listen, it’s just that the most important lessons in life can never be taught - they have to be learned.