Brutal Truths of Call Center Work (An Agent’s Perspective)

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Call center work is not for the faint of heart. It is physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing. But who can say no to the benefits?

These companies cover healthcare, pay more than twice the minimum wage, and allow you to work in comfortable environments. Free coffee, air-con, and sleeping quarters? Sign me up!

The Philippines is the world’s call center capital. The business thrives and contributes trillions to our economy.

My reasons for applying in a call center:

  • The recruitment process was easy (no experience required; I was hired in a day and started working next week)
  • My initial pay was good (basic salary was 17k plus 2k allowance)
  • I got to sit all night in a super comfy air-conditioned production floor
  • It was a chance to live in the city, just several kilometers from my favorite bars

With my salary, I was able to afford a studio apartment, support my hobbies and vices, and live just the way I wanted to. Awesome, right? But on the other side of the story lies some brutal truths.

Fact: Call center work can help you achieve financial freedom

Also a fact: You don’t get much freedom when it comes to how you live your life

Good things come at a price. You must show up for work strictly on time: nine hours a day, five days a week, no lates, no excuses. Vacation leaves may or may not get approved. Plus, there’s work on Philippine holidays, US holidays, and even weekends!

And that’s not all — once I came to work on Christmas Eve.

Attendance is a big thing in call centers. You just can’t slack off. You’re not even supposed to use your phone at work. Once you clock in, you’re company property. Welcome to the corporate world!

Fact: Call center work is easy — you don’t even need a college degree

Also a fact: Call center work is repetitive, monotonous, and physically demanding

The kind of work that we’re talking about is usually customer service or some other kind of “easy” work. This includes the following but not limited to:

  • Answering customer inquiries and complaints
  • Collecting payments
  • Selling upgrades and services (sales)
  • Technical support
  • Retail
  • Repetitive, monotonous tasks
  • Data entry

What people actually “do” in a call center/contact center depends on the “account” or the business(es) they are servicing. There are financial accounts, telecommunication accounts, technical accounts, medical accounts, and so on.

Of course, you wanna work for an “easy account” and still get paid. The adage “same shit, different day” rings absolutely true in call centers. This is where the “soul-crushing” aspect comes in.

What to expect in call center work:

  • Cry after dealing with a difficult customer
  • Stay in the phone for an hour or so
  • Lose all sense of self-respect and dignity after hearing curses and derogatory comments
  • Be surprised at how irrational and irate some people can get
  • Deal with a sore throat and headache after your shift
  • Feel an urge to slam your phone and smash your keyboard
  • Go crazy

(Okay, some exaggeration right there.)

To be fair, happily celebrated “wins” still exist. You feel special when you do something outstanding, like impress a customer or earn high scores. Also, the management will support you and care for you at all times (if you’re lucky!). Take note: not all centers have good managers. Research the company well and don’t hesitate to ask questions during your interview.

Fact: Call center agents are cool, English-speaking, Starbucks-wielding millennials

Also a fact: Call center agents are sleepless, cigarette-smoking robots

People are perceived as “lesser professionals” for working in call centers, which accept high school graduates and/or college dropouts. Besides, who would think that answering the phone for foreign customers is something to be proud of? My parents had to deal with questions like,

“UP graduate siya, eh bakit siya nag-call center lang?”

Call center work is easy money, easy employment, and easy career. In the BPO industry, all you really have to do is show up for work, do as your supervisors say, sit back, talk, and think a little. After that, you can afford most of the things you like, while supporting your family, raising your children, and paying for exorbitant tuition fees.

If all that you really want out of your job/career is money, then go for it. If you have awesome leadership skills and want to pursue a managerial role, you have a bright future here. Lastly, remember the price to pay: working odd hours/graveyard shifts, sacrificing the pursuit of other hobbies, losing a bit of your soul, feeling exhaustion beyond description.

Final Word

I’ve been “top agent” multiple times. I’ve had the good, the bad, and the ugly. Undoubtedly, four years of hustling in call centers has not been time wasted — I’ve experienced great things in life, thanks to financial freedom.

But it’s not something I can do for the rest of my life. If you’re getting started in the corporate world in general, the call center is a good place to start. The perks are cool and the benefits are great. So if you want to just have a job and not be poor, go ahead.

Who knows? It might just be the career that’s right for you.