Saturday, 19 August 2017

Tom // Call Centre Operator

Last year, I worked for a few weeks in a call centre. I had just gone freelance, writing and editing, but was earning very little money, spending very little, but earning less.

The job was fucking awful but totally fascinating. I had to do this survey which involved trying to talk to the top 3% of earners in the UK, asking them questions about what kinds of media they read or watched: magazines, newspapers and TV news (essentially catalysing the diminishing quality of liberal media, by helping them tailor their content to rich twats…).

Practically speaking, this involved cold calling businesses and asking to speak to the most senior director or senior manager in the establishment. You almost never got through to them, only ending up speaking to their secretary, who, I realised quite quickly, is basically hired to prevent people like me from getting to talk to the director.

I was told by a friend who worked there, who was pretty much their star employee, that you basically had to treat the secretaries like dirt if you wanted to get through. They didn’t say this in the training. The best employees just guessed it and behaved accordingly. Instead, the supervisor’s main advice was to make more calls: the more calls you made, the more likely you would be to get through to an amenable 3%er.

And you really were expected to make a lot of calls. I think I was making about half the desired amount, I just couldn’t summon the nerves to make any more unsolicited calls than I was managing.

Unsurprisingly, I didn’t last long, ten shifts over three and a half weeks (a few days before the end of the trial period). I could tell I wasn't doing well. I hadn’t gotten a single 'complete' (where you complete a questionnaire with one of the 3%ers), not unusual, but most people were managing around one complete every three shifts. Also, I noticed that my supervisor was listening in on my calls and dishing out advice with increasing frequency.

I like to think I jumped before I was pushed, but it was a bit more pathetic than that. I got another job, a better one, better paid, but I wasn’t sure it would work out so I floated the idea of keeping the call centre on ice, mainly out of a determination not to be a quitter, and because it was quite nice to imagine getting through and being able to really report on it, since there was so much material for writing. But, alas, they assessed my record and decided it wouldn’t be worth me coming back…

This was without question the worst job I ever had. But I’ve so far avoided any explicit mention of sabotage. In fact, at first I wasn’t at all sure I managed to commit any kind of sabotage. They’d done a pretty good job of pre-empting anything really spicy. You were there to do one thing. They could quite accurately measure your performance, and if you didn’t manage it, you didn’t keep the job. They listened in if you got through to one of the 3%ers, so you couldn’t make anything up when filling out the survey. And there was absolutely no room for building solidarity amongst the staff, since they gave you different start times, moved you around three different rooms and afforded very little time to gather.

I could leave it there, since I figure it’s somewhat useful to offer a story illustrating how hard it can sometimes be to actually rebel, especially when you’re pretty bad at the job and kind of need to hang on to it.

But then again, I think there’s a kernel of subterfuge in simply communicating how utterly depressing it was that people were even being asked to do this: making call after call, in the vain hope of getting through to someone you fundamentally didn’t want to talk to, let alone flatter, and with the ultimate goal of finding out information that had zero social value.

I also take some solace from how bad I was at it, and how costly it must have been for them to hire me and pay for my training. These guys were getting people to make calls where, even for experienced employees, the success rate was about one “complete” for every two shifts. The value of the information they were gathering must have been enormous. So, I’m quite glad that I didn’t get any of it for them.

So I guess I win? Yeah, fuck you Ipsos!