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How can you make your call centre inefficient yet miserable?

Years ago, working for The Chaser newspaper, I wrote an article about working in call centres. I’m revisiting them here to see if this will turn up on any breakroom walls, like the previous one did…

hands tied with phone cord

It’s been a long time since I worked in a call centre, thank God, but I still remember the dull pain of asking “What name please?” three times a minute (on average) as a directory assistance drone. Even at four-hour shifts, I’d be unable to think clearly for at least an hour and I’d leave that place furious. Worst of all, they paid me $50 a fortnight more than I’d been getting on the dole.

That’s $50 any right-thinking person would hand back not to be subjected to the worst excesses of the call centre. (That would be Molly the Moove to Improove Cow, who wore sunglasses and tried to inspire us to better things by singing, “I like to moo-ve it, moo-ve it – moo-ve to improo-ve it, proo-ve it.” There are a few reasons I’m not a vegetarian, and she’s definitely one of them.)

In my time, I worked across at least four different call centres, and it’s never going to be the most amazing job in the world. Nobody sliding into a headset is expecting their day to be the most thrilling of all time – aside from the five-minute dash to the toilet you’re allowed at some stage, as long as you remember to log off within 30 seconds past the mandated minute you’re given at the start of your shift – but there are definitely ways to make your call centre a depressing place for both workers and customers.

If you’re planning on a high turnover of employees, endlessly furious callers and a generally depressed workforce, here are five things you should do:

  1. Hold back a portion of your employees’ pay as a ‘bonus’ tied to unreasonable targets such as ‘100 per cent accuracy’ and ‘being able to defecate and be back on the phones within five minutes’.
  2. Offer refunds for obvious service issues or errors, but only after making callers argue the toss through at least five knockbacks before rectifying the mistake in 20 seconds.
  3. Before callers get through to what they inevitably refer to as “a real person”, make them wait for 30–40 minutes in a queue so they can pace around and get even more fired-up about the issue. The best way to do this is a combination of not enough staff and also sending staff home without pay during quiet periods so there’s nobody around to jump on a headset when something goes wrong.
  4. Automate your systems as much as possible. Offer a callback service that doesn’t ever happen. Establish lengthy, unskippable phone trees with multiple options accessible only if the caller has a tome of arcane material at hand. Whenever someone is transferred, flip a coin to disconnect them instead.
  5. Gather a small team of the most irritating ‘lifers’ in your organisation – you know, the ones who are somehow exempt from the official hotdesking policy that ensures nobody gets the opportunity to feel any sense of ownership over their workspace – to brainstorm a motivational mascot for the whole team. Something quirky and fun, bovine yet cool.

Or you can just move the whole thing offshore, don’t give your overseas phone drones any training beyond learning to recite certain scripts and pretending they’re named ‘Hazel’, and double-check the connection is never as good as it used to be when the call centre was in Wollongong.

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