You MUST have received at least one call in your lifetime from a stranger who was trying to sell you something, or get some kind of opinion from you, or just make it the goal of their life to annoy you (that’s not true of course). That person was me for 5 years! So I hope for your sake that you treated them politely and not hang up on their open and sensitive feelings. Just kidding. Please keep reading.
I worked at a call centre that specialised in conducting social research in the form of telephone interviews on behalf of government agencies and academic institutions. We usually worked outside of business hours and, depending on the type of survey, we spoke with people of all demographics and Australian states of residence. Sometimes we would call people whose name would be known as part of the study, but most of the time we called people whose name was not recorded and hence we knew nothing about them – this was called cold calling. We conducted research surveys related to health and wellbeing (asking people a bunch of health, exercise, diet and wellbeing questions), attending university (conducting studies to understand how satisfied people where with their university experience), asking the public’s opinion on current socio-political issues and much more.
So what did I – a foreigner in a new country – learn from doing this arguably tough job over 5 years, no less?
This job teaches you mental strength and resilience.
Imagine picking up the phone and calling a random stranger who knows nothing about you. As soon as they pick up – if they pick up and if you haven’t fainted from anxiety by the time they pick up – you have a tiny window in which you have to explain who you are, what you want and why you are asking for this person’s precious time. This is a very difficult thing to do. You need to have a quick and succinct introduction; you need to sound a specific way and you need to be able to address any concerns that the respondent may have, truthfully and efficiently. There are a million and one things that you can do or say wrong that will result in losing the respondent’s attention and trust. But because you’re being pushed to hit certain targets on the job, it’s important to keep calling and keep trying, until you finally successfully get a survey.
What I’m trying to say is that the job teaches you how to deal with rejection and how to move past that in pursuit of success.
Moreover, people can be real a*****es on the phone. I’ve been abused, mocked and insulted numerous times. It’s never nice and everyone hates it. But it’s important to have thick skin and to know when to hang up. I’ve come across serious cases on the phone where a respondent was in a difficult situation or needed urgent help of some kind. If that sort of thing happens you need to follow the required procedures and ask for support where needed. But overall, you inevitably learn how to be more resilient and mature in dealing with difficult situations.
You learn to think fast on your feet.
A few months before I started working at the call centre, I actually received a call from them asking me questions about my experience as a high school student. When I picked up the phone – as a respondent- the first thing that came to mind was “how did you get my number” and “how is this private information” protected. Under the Privacy Act of 1988, the Australian Government has set out what are called the Australian Privacy Principles. This is a legal framework under which your data is protected, as well as any information leading back to you in any way.
The difficult thing is to convey this to a respondent who doesn’t know who you are or why you’re calling or what they could possibly ever have to do with you. Another tricky thing is to be able to quickly explain to someone that you’re not actually asking them for money just because you’re a stranger calling them.
Every respondent you get will react and respond in their own unique manner when you start talking. You need to think extremely fast on your feet about what you’re going to say, the tone of voice you’ll use and whatever angle you will implement to maximise your chances of keeping them on the phone.
You learn valuable customer service skills.
You learn how to talk in a polite and courteous manner to people whom you’re essentially trying to “sell” something to. You learn to adjust your manner, your tone, your angle and your attitude, depending to the demographic you’re addressing (for example teenage versus senior people). No matter the case, you learn how to remain respectful and professional at all times. This is especially important when the “customer” can’t see you. You’re merely relying on your soft, angelic, soothing, convincing voice to keep them interested.
Even if you may not know it, you’re gaining experience in an office environment.
When I first started my call centre job I treated it as “just” a uni job that makes me some money on the side.
No, no, no, no, no. It is a lot more than that. There were so many benefits of working there that my next employer recognised and hence became more inclined to offer me a position.
Among other things, my prospective employer was happy that I had previous experience working in an office environment such as the call centre. I never thought of any call centre as an “office setting”, but it is! And not only that, the fact that I stayed at the job over 5 years shows that I could be trusted to be a loyal and dedicated employee.
Whether it’s a job at McDonald’s, in retail, or at a call centre, it’s all about how you market it to future employers!
Being able to pick up the phone and convince a stranger of absolutely anything is a talent.
Not everyone can do this. Some people started working at the call centre only to give up a few months later. It can take a toll on you.
But it’s definitely possible to improve. If you want to be better at it and if you learn from others and practice enough, you can definitely gain more confidence and achieve satisfactory job targets. It’s very important to be open to feedback from supervisors and try to implement it as best as you can. And being able to take on feedback and to show that you have improved as a result is definitely something you can show off during future job interviews.
It absolutely has its perks to speak a foreign language when living and working in a multicultural society.
The reason why I was hired at the call centre to begin with was because I could speak a second language, Greek. This was a huge advantage as I would have never found out about the job otherwise.
The result was that I got to conduct interviews in both English and in Greek. Given that Greek is spoken at home by over 230,000 people and is the seventh most commonly spoken language in Australia, I felt very valued as an employee. I also felt that I was contributing in ensuring that the voices of my ethnic community were being heard when it comes to research that addresses important government topics, such as health and aged care.
It’s good to know that in a nation as multicultural as that of Australia, there is -at least some- use for possessing foreign language skills.
It’s difficult to convince people when you don’t come from a common culture.
I swear I had so much anxiety when I had to cold-call people and conduct survey interviews in English. This thankfully reduced over time.
I realised that when trying to persuade someone of something, it is extremely important to try and understand the psyche, the culture and the way of thinking of the audience that you’re addressing. This is of course very hard to do when you don’t know who you’re going to get on the phone. It’s completely random with every cold call.
Having an accent also doesn’t help. Quite often I felt that I had to work harder when trying to recruit a respondent to do a survey, in English. But in this way, I understood a lot about Australian culture and the social DNA of the Australian people.
My English radically improved.
It had to.
It turns out that when people hear you stumble on your words on the phone or they catch spelling or other mistakes, they are way less inclined to trust you and much more likely to hang up. I therefore became determined to make fewer mistakes, to reduce my accent and to talk with more confidence overall. I would shamelessly ask people to explain how to pronounce certain words and I practiced in my head what I would say before jumping on a call.
Needless to say, improving my English language skills has been fantastic help and very necessary for my better integration in my new hone country.
There is definitely a place for conducting social research and a real need for the associated outcomes.
I’m not saying this specifically in relation to the role that I had or the company I was working for, but more as a general idea.
It was often the case that research that we conducted collected important data that was then used to amend government policies, aiming for positive change. I have to admit that there was a small feeling of pride when I would see a newspaper article citing research results that I’d been involved in collecting. Policy makers depend on this sort of research to make decisions that will affect a society’s future.
The question with this sort of thing is, of course, was the data used and presented in an unbiased and responsible way? Was the political motive for governmental policy change sound? Was this all for the greater good of society? I’m not saying that it was or that it wasn’t, merely that this is a whole other question that I will not address here.
Finally, the job helped me integrate into Australian society.
When I started working at the call centre I still felt “fresh off the boat” and very new in Melbourne. I didn’t know much about life or the people that live here.
I was given the opportunity to interact and make friends with people that came from very different worlds from mine. I met people that I never would have interacted with within my university course setting. I met people that came from other countries like myself, people that were old and had another job on the side and I met a whole bunch of young people that helped me see beyond what I had already known in the “smaller” world of Athens. I realised that there’s a whole world out there that I don’t know about and a whole side to life in Melbourne that I was oblivious to. I met artists, musicians, historians, anthropologists and many other people from interesting professions, cultural backgrounds and walks of life, that frankly made me more open-minded and more tolerant as a person. I am forever grateful to my call centre experience for helping open up my mind.
I also met my amazing partner while working at the call centre, which I never expected to happen! And I made some good friends along the way. Turns out that suffering together on the job can really bring people close!
I’ll leave you with a strong message: