Here he stands.
An elite member of a guard of calling and answering warriors. Whipped by the waves of clients’ sudden bad temper, abandoned to the stream of infinite grievances, often lost in the exhausting heat of the battle with persisting objections.
Undervalued and forgotten, although recently making a comeback into the society due to the global isolation.
Tele-samurai – a construct which I defined for this short publication. I did it, because I feel there is a need for a bit of imagination in the boring world of eight-hour (and more) manoeuvring in the infinite depths of telecommunication.
Let us assume that we gradually become such a warrior once we begin our work with inbound calls (therefore Inbound means Recruit). However, the reality quite often places higher demands upon us right from the start.
Alarm clock can be a ruthless bastard. Scum, which yells at you, telling you that in a short while you are going to put on the headphones and start answering hundreds of phone calls. Maybe you feel angry? Discouraged? You think of all these people, who will keep asking you obvious or very difficult questions the whole day. You wonder which call is going to throw you off-balance. You imagine the moment you leave work when you don’t have to answer any calls anymore.
Maybe it’s you who will be calling? Cold calls? Or calls structured around a converted base, so that, while remaining cold, they are warm enough to grill some steaks?
And after work, at a house party, everyone knows that it’s you who will order pizza. You dial a number, and when the restaurant answers, you recite unknowingly:
- Good morning, Karen’s house party, I’m contacting you with regard to a pepperoni pizza which we ordered, please kindly put me through to the decision ma…
Enough. Time to change my job. I’m flying to Hawaii, to catch trouts in the blowhole.
Not everyone can relate to this approach, but millions of people consider their work in such a manner. I was also one of them. I have devoted six years of my life, with short gaps here and there, to work at customer call centres and telephone sales departments. I have worked in the telecommunications industry, in the insurance industry, in e-commerce, in the software production industry, and for the last year (which, by the way, I consider the toughest so far) my main tasks have been servicing and maintaining the talks with my own clients.
I decided to write this little, trashy piece, because I wanted to offer a little help. You don’t have to and don’t need to, feel bad each morning before you start your work. I provide here a handful of practical pieces of advice, a bit of history, humour and, first and foremost, 100% commitment. Even if the work of a telephone customer advisor is not a real challenge for you, I am certain that you will also manage to find something of interest in this booklet.
What I wouldn’t give to be offered some constructive advice, which could make my life a lot easier when I was just starting my journey in this business field. My work would have been much simpler and more enjoyable if only I knew someone, who had worked “on the headphones” for a year or two and could offer me a few suggestions…
Most people treat call centres as a sort of stop in their professional career, quite often as a temporary adventure, because this job is rarely treated seriously. This is a huge mistake on their part. Even if you don’t see your future in this business area, you can still learn a lot – most probably more than you realize.
The work in this field is a path of a warrior – much like the samurai codex. Just as the samurai was expected to remain obedient to his master, so it is recommended for us to take a hard stance on a few principles and abide by them. You cannot fear the most challenging problems with which you will have to cope, the surrender is not an option either (e.g. while handling a difficult client) – after all, such behaviour is unsporting 🙂
Apart from these platitudes which are repeated over and over again during training, your path requires patience, everyday learning (range of products, offer, range of services, techniques, ways of talking, itd.). Similarly to the path of this glorious, mythical warrior.
Interestingly enough, you will not only have to face the client, your team-leader, manager or supervisor, but yourself as well. Let’s face it – today things look a bit better (thanks to a movie about one charismatic Wall Street broker), but this line of work is still met with a bit of ridicule from the outsiders. Those are the people, for whom the marker of social success is “not having to struggle with people on the other side of the phone”.
Thank you for downloading this booklet and investing the most precious currency at your disposal – your own free time – to read it. I hope that it will make you laugh a bit and help you to sort out some things. Maybe you would like to add something or you don’t agree with something written here – I’ll be happy to hear you out on that. I realise that there are thousands of telephone consultants out there whose experience, skills and charisma are unmatched as compared to my own “fighting technique”. It is all the more reason for me to learn about their opinions on this paper.
It is not any other tale of some successful person. It is a history of failures and a list of mistakes which you no longer have to make, and some advice from a professional colleague. Please excuse me if you have felt offended by my audacity of giving advice to anyone. I also warn you, that there is a scant number of obscenities, which I intentionally redacted.
The paragraph which you are reading at the moment has been written during a time when everyone was locked down at home due to the reason which is known all too well. Nobody has anticipated that during the first and second quarter of 2020 so many companies will have to rely on the telephone consultants. I have recently read a rather interesting article which predicted full automatization of this particular area of work by the use of AI mechanisms. I personally think that it is a scenario which will remain in the realm of business sci-fi for the several decades to come. An intelligent person immediately senses that he/she is conversing with an unconscious automaton and, despite the advanced technology at his/her disposal, will opt for communication with a living being. That being said – what do we actually know about consciousness? How far are we from creating a conscious machine? What if we’ve already created one? Let’s consider e.g. the algorithms used by Youtube or social media – these are self-learning systems which can predict the movements of their users. Should we also consider the research of professors Robert Jahn and Brenda Dune, it might turn out that, due to being blinded by our own egos, we have missed the moment in which science fiction has evolved into reality.
I wondered for a long time whether I should take on the stance of an extremely professional advisor, coach, trainer, guru, specialist and mentor, or should I simply be myself tell you my story in all honesty, straight from the heart. I opted for the second path. It seems to me that in the age of technical improvement of each and every device it is the authenticity that starts to become a highly desired product. Those who have worked “on the headphones” know that this line of work does not exist without a cigarette break or a bit of effing and jeffing into the void. The professional and ever-composed mentors exist only in the motivational tales told during the job interviews.
Whether this effing and jeffing is to your advantage – that’s a different cup of tea altogether.
Chapter I. Motivation, calibration and the like
„Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”
I would like to tell you a story.
It was 2014. Shuffling my feet, I was headed towards my new office. I remember that I had some weird, baggy clothes on, some really worn-out shoes and a few thousand PLN of debt on my account. In my earbuds rumbled a remix of songs by Hippie Sabotage, in tune with my steps. Wonderful times, when their songs have not yet reached hundreds of millions of views on Youtube. I hummed in my mind:
I robbed a bank in Tampa And I thought I had it made. But the hounds picked up my trail within the glades…
The coincidence which led me to this moment and state of mind is a much longer and more interesting story. Either way, my enthusiasm towards the new job amounted to about minus billion on a 10-point scale. Additionally, I had huge trouble concentrating, I was also haunted by depressive thoughts and a feeling that I am all by myself with these things.
How come they employed me in the first place? Now I think that I have simply used the one and only thing which I had left at the moment: Special Predisposition towards Eloquently Expressing Charisma and Humour, a.k.a. SPEECH. Although it was severely weakened at the time, I decided that the job opportunity is worth a shot. Besides, let’s be honest – the requirements for many projects at contact centers are not that high. That does not mean, however, that one can easily stay in that boat for long.
Inside me smouldered a flickering will to act, so I began my work in order to keep myself from turning to ash. The call center which I became a part of supported several big companies. I was thrown in at the deep end straightaway, because my team was not dealing with incoming calls. What I did was making calls in order to sell new releases of one publishing company to other companies and state facilities. Despite the fact that it was a typical sales business, the publishing house paid special attention to supporting every client and placed importance on the high call standards.
I’ll be brutally honest with you – I chose this job because my financial situation forced me to do it. Not for the world did I want to work there. Already on the first day of trainings I was paralyzed with an irrational fear and haunted by thoughts such as:
- what the hell am I doing here?
- this work is some kind of a lame joke
- they will make fun of me
- how will I manage those phone calls? I never did it before
- this is gonna be a torture
- f**k me
And so on, and so on…
An experienced psychologist would say that the problem in this situation was not the line of work, but my own brain, which created such scenarios. However, I spoke with other participants of these training sessions and – believe it or not – many people thought the same. Which would allow me to formulate a hypothesis that either all of us are sick and that is why we applied for this job or we became sick due to applying for this job. I don’t know which is a worse scenario.
As it turned out, I was doing just fine – my phone calls were well-conducted and it seemed that I’m simply fit for this job. When I began my work, the greatest obstacles which I faced were my attitude, motivation and some external factors. By these factors I mean a group of friends who unremorsefully made fun of my job and reproached me for my alleged lack of ambition. Naturally, all these remarks were indirect – just some occasional, small needles given to me, aimed at an already clapped-out ego of a guy who wanted to advance despite all odds.
I was talking with my friend the other day – she was actually one of the few people, who did not have any reservations about my line of work. I told her about all that laid heavy on my heart and how I felt about it. She answered me with a question:
- Tell me, how do you think your work benefits the other people?
It was hard to answer this question sincerely, especially since the publishing house I was working for did not have a particularly good reputation, but on the other hand… For a small fee I could help fulfill the duties of an accountant or an HR worker – I was offering people some helpful knowledge. Basically I was there to help. OK, maybe you’ll consider it a bit far-fetched, but such an attitude helps in any line of work.
To put it in more universal terms – if you have trouble finding “sense” in your daily job (and I don’t want to wax transcendental here) just realize your own worthiness. The fact that you help people. And, what is more, you are given an engagement, for which you are paid. The gratitude will move you to a whole new level of thinking.
Consider how the situation looks like in the field of customer service – regardless of the trade, for which you offer your services. The client usually calls with some kind of problem – he/she must block the card, because he/she has been robbed or simply lost it.
He/she would like to know when his/her order will arrive.
He/she has problems choosing the right computer.
He cares about fast delivery rate, because his beloved wife has a birthday in a few days, and he simply forgot to buy her a present among his numerous daily duties.
He/she has a problem installing software he just bought – with his hard-earned money.
He ordered briefs, but it turned out they are too little. What’s more, they were supposed to have a penguin print, and he/she can clearly see that the print is dolphins!
I could give you many more examples, but please take note that almost all of them will be connected with a certain situation, which, for a man such as you, will be just a problem (apart from phone calls, when a client wants e.g. simply to place an order – but that is also a hand extended towards them).
And yes – the client often makes an angry call. He/she is frustrated. However, he/she is not angry at you, although he/she often loses his/her temper and projects his/her negative emotions towards you, but generally he/she is just dejected. What does a samurai do in a situation like this?
They say that a skilled warrior could cut his opponent in half with a single stroke of his sword. Don’t get me wrong, don’t ask the client discreetly for his/her address and don’t watch “47 Ronin” as a part of your training. Fast, decisive resolution of the problem is the best option. However, I will try to write more on that in chapter VI entitled “Difficult Client”.
Going back to the attitude – start off by realising your own worth. You are not a soulless machine. Your job is challenging enough. Without your work many people would think that no one is able to help them, they will be torn apart by needless stress and might as well be in some deep shit.
Consider how you would like to be served in a shop, bank or any financial institution? What do you expect from a person who answers your phone call? If you start to treat each client this way it will start to get noticed.
However, that is not even the best thing. Arguably the most gratifying aspect of your work is seeing oneself as a better person due to the value you carry. Don’t give too much thought to the character of the product, specific aims and other down-to-earth matters. Just be good, and you’ll receive back twice as much positivity in any given aspect. In my career I often failed to realize what exactly I was saying when I was asking people how I may help them.
What can be an obstacle in sound execution of my work and how to overcome it?
OK, if we’re about to stick to the concept of Tele-samurai, then here’s a little exercise for you.
Reflect on what might interrupt your workflow, and then consider some solutions. Each of us will come up with a slightly different list, that is why I prepared for you the starting point consisting of three problems and solutions. It is not about the specific ones listed below – they might seem slightly unrealistic and trivial to some people. On the basis of the examples provided below you can analyze your problems and create your own list, which will help you in your daily work.
PROBLEM No. 1. My friends will think poorly of my job.
SOLUTION: Should I have such people in my circle of friends then? I work, I help people. I do it all the best I can, and due to being reliable on a small scale, I am able to achieve my greater goals.
PROBLEM No. 2. Unpleasant clients will try to get on my nerves.
SOLUTION: I don’t know the whole story behind the person on the other side of the phone. I will try to put myself in his/her shoes. Try to understand his/her emotions. I will do everything I can to help him/her. I realise that often, despite all my efforts, the client will not be satisfied, but that’s just a matter of statistics. Nevertheless, I believe that if I help him/her now it will make him/her feel grateful – if not today then in a few weeks time.
PROBLEM No. 3. My voice sounds weird over the phone.
SOLUTION: Maybe I can turn it to my advantage? I’ll be easily recognizable. Each apparent weakness will be turned into an asset. Should it still bother me, I will work on voice projection.
These examples are rather vague, but I would like you to see their common characteristic – each of these problems can be turned around and used to your advantage. It is much easier with the attitude described above.