10 Reasons Call Centre Work Is So Painful

Nobody is likely to list ringing a call centre in their favourite life activities, but it's not a particularly joyous occupation for the 200,000-odd Australians who work in them either. Here's 10 facts that might give you pause the next time you're about to let fly during a call.

Picture by waltjabsco

The data here is all drawn from the 2010 Australian Contact Centre Industry Benchmarking Report, an annual study conducted by consultancy callcentres.net which tracks the call centre business in Australia. The survey covers 729 call centres across Australia, so it's a pretty representative sample — and it reveals some pretty depressing results.

1. No-one is doing this for a career

There's 198,200 "contact centre seats" in Australia, which means that at any given time just under 1% of the population is working in one. But they're not sticking around. The turnover within the industry over the past year was 40% for full-time staff, and an even higher 44% for part-time workers. Even in the year before, when the global financial crisis meant that staff had less opportunity to seek other jobs, the turnover rate was 28%.

2. It doesn't pay that well

The average full-time call centre workers has an annual salary of $45,147, which is well below the average weekly earnings in Australia. While there are occasional opportunities to work penalty shifts — Friday and Saturday nights are apparently difficult to fill — these still don't lead to a massive increase in pay.

3. The pay is falling in real terms

Over the last year, pay rates in the sector have gone up by less than 1%. The consumer price index has risen by 3.1% in that period, so effective pay rates have fallen.

4. Call centres are the poor cousin within the company

While outsourcing of call centres (to specialised service providers here or overseas) is a controversial topic, it's less common than it might appear. Of companies operating contact centres, 76% do so in house. However, the call centre is often treated as an effectively separate division: for instance, 41% of companies have no plans to integrate their call centre operations with other business systems.

5. Call centres bear the brunt of customer contact

In companies that do operate call centres, they do all the grunt work, handling 79% of customer contact. The next highest is branches or retail outlets, with a relatively measly 11%.

6. Their job is to end the call fast

A typical call centre workers is expected to handle 75 calls a day. Performance is often measured on metrics such as speed of answering (average: 41 seconds) and handling time (average: 340 seconds). If you feel like you're being rushed off the phone, there's a reason.

7. Call centre bosses don't realise how bad things are

The callcentres.net research found that companies operating call centres typically quote an 85% customer satisfaction rating. However, when consumers are surveyed, that figure drops to 65% or lower. Australians are particularly harsh critics of call centres, but if in-house measurement is so off the mark, then it's unlikely we'll see improvements for either staff or callers.

8. You probably can't work from home

Call centres are an obvious candidate for working from home — all you need is a reasonable Internet connection — but it's not a very common option. Just 19% of the companies surveyed incorporated teleworking.

9. Companies aren't making tech improvements that could help

We've already mentioned the 41% of companies that don't want to integrate systems properly to make problems easier to resolve, and other technological advances are often ignored too. Just 9% of Australian call centres offer an automated callback facility, and less than 2% use biometric voice recognition to access caller details in advance. (6% have speech recognition, though that presumably includes Vodafone's completely dire and useless offering.)

10. Forget service, you're an expense

Ultimately, if you ring a company, you are costing them money: the average cost of handling a call is $8. That's the measure underlying every single interaction you'll have.

Ultimately, when you ring a call centre, you're usually trying to solve a problem, and you're entitled to feel a little annoyed when that doesn't happen. But taking it out on the person who happened to take your call won't help anybody. Being polite is a much better bet.

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Comments

    http://www.lifehacker.com.au/2010/07/more-tactics-for-putting-off-telemarketers/

    Removing this website from my favourites. You guys are blatantly pointless. Clearly the "poorer cousin" of Allure Media is Life Hacker. Hypocritical dribble.

      Big difference between inbound call centre stuff (the focus here) and outbound telemarketing.

        Agreed!
        'Stupid.' you are stupid :P

      Obviously didn't read it correctly.

      Ah well, off you go.. One less uneducated muppet to post stupid comments on lifehacker.

      Pleased to meet you, 'Stupid.' - your parents really hit the nail when they named you ;).

    My call centre experience was a good one. I worked with great people, the management were fair and backed us up when angry customers called. We received letters and calls of appreciation from our customers. Granted, I was part of the, albeit small, department that handled customer support.

    It should be noted that there is a difference between cold-calling and warm-calling customer service centres, and customer support lines. In each of these cases, you will inevitably receive different responses from the customer because the situations are different.

    I wouldn't hesitate going back to my old call centre if they needed me, or if there were legitimate career opportunities from it. But I would NEVER take a cold-calling assignment. And on that note, I think KPIs make customer service, in any form, something to despise.

    Angus,
    This is great. I used to work in a call centre which strived to make everything easy on both the customer and the guy behind the phone (me). In saying that I realise how hard it can be to work in a call centre. So this is what it feels like to be grateful.

    I feel like I should mention, in case anybody else reads this, that anybody who comes off as rude to a customer service agent will start a spiral of bad service. Would you help someone who yelled at you? I didn't.

    The best technique I've heard about helping call volumes is to post a live chart on the company website that shows current wait times. That's a guaranteed helper to the call centre worker.

    "less than 2% use biometric voice recognition to access caller details in advance"

    Is that like measuring your voice to recognize you? That's usually what biometrics are related to. Just not really sure what you're getting at here, especially in light of the "speech recognition" metric quoted immediately afterwards.

      Yep, biometrics = your voice used to identify you as a unique user, voice rec = attempts to understand what you're asking.

    Ive worked in a call center for an ISP and I can tell you my wages were a lot less than whats mentioned above. I was lucky to clear even half of that before tax.

    As somebody trying to retrofit an existing call centre to bring it to line with PCI-DSS, I'm not at all surprised that the option to telecommute is so rare. Doing it in a verifiably secure way, especially with the turnover that call centres have, would be a nightmare.

    I work for a government call centre, and luckily conditions are a lot better than detailed in the article. I earn well above the wage listed there (started lower but after 3 years have gotten a bit higher), and we get CPI increases as well as performance based increases.
    Our handle times are less about keeping calls short, but more about doing more work while keeping you on the phone, I'm more likely to keep you on longer so my talk/work ratio looks nicer.

    @Lukus - then that means some staff earn over $100k which is pretty good! (And I know this is the case.)

    @Angus & Peter Hardy - regarding telecommute, I think the proportion of 19% work-at-home capability
    in call centres is actually pretty good! How many corporations (not self-employed) would offer this as a permanent option? I doubt it would be higher than 19%.

      My gut feeling is to agree with Angus - it's an industry in which primary contact with the rest of the world is by phone, so in theory it shouldn't really matter where that phone actually is. So even though 19% is good, it should be higher.

      In the real world, though, I'm actually surprised it's even that high.

    I was originally employed to work in a guvmint service desk centre, it has now been dumbed down to a call centre where we can't troubleshoot and solve problems anymore, all to keep the stats looking good, unfortunately I am in the country where on the floor support can literally be days away. Customer service has dropped off, but the stats look good, unless you have comms issues of course

      i here ya buddy, managers fap over stats, but i keep snappin' necks and cashin' cheques.

    woo call centres! Working in one from 7 till 5 right now and dear fucking christ it's boring.

    FML call centre work is the worst and im stuck in it! the experience carrys little weight anywhere else! SOMEBODY HELP ME I JUST WANT A REAL JOB! IM NOT A FKN ROBOT! I WANT TO BE ABLE TO GO TO THE TOILETTE WITHOUT BEING LECTURED FOR TAKING A DAILY TOTAL OF LONGER THEN 8MINUTES! IM SICK OF STARING AT A SCREEN FOR HOURS ON END WITH NO BREAKS TO REST MY EYES AND NO TIME TO CATCH MY BREATH FROM SPEAKING WITH CUSTOMERS! 75 people a day is my average day and lately iv been having 80-90 THIS IS INBOUND HEALTH INSURANCE!!!

    Mr Logical I feel your pain, I work for an energy company, everytime I pick up the phone theres a customer yelling, I dread every call that drops in, Every second of my day ebing accounted for, Call Centre work is the worst sort off work, You are treated like absolute shit by everyone who calls. Would not recommend this work to ANYONE.

    Hey, try working at a fast food restaurant! Where you are treated as though you don't exist, except for if you happen to make a mistake, because god forbid you are human, when you are the scum of the earth.

      Dear god, listen to you lot. Poor me poor me I'm stuck in a call centre. I was on the phones for 4 years before I was given a team leader job, now onto a call centre manager role. All outbound cold calling yew! If you can't do it, stop wasting time whinging on forums get off your ass and do something else- that being said..... Would you like to pay with VISA or MasterCard? Haha. Little girls.

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