Eight years ago, I started my journey when I took the job of a Technical Support Representative at a BPO company. I didn’t know then that I will be building my career off of this industry. At that time, I thought it was "cool" to work at night and sleep during the day. I thought that was a small price to pay considering the attractive compensation of higher basic salary than the average 9-5 office girl. I didn’t even consider that the office was hours away from my home, what with transportation allowance, I figured that shouldn’t be a problem.
It was cool at first. The informal work organization known as a "team" and your usually amiable and hip boss called a "team leader", the rowdiness of a workplace you would never see in any other corporate setting, the "team buildings" that are funded by the company where you spend more time with your teammates rather than your family. It’s enough to make you forget all the stress that exists when you actually work. The irate customers, the endless rules and do’s and dont’s of the company, the seemingly undeserved promotions, office politics, the fact that you now wish you slept at night. All these are somehow compensated for. Then – as any call center veteran may have learned – it gets too much to handle on a daily basis. I found myself dreading the hours at work, hating the thought of coming to work, and wishing so hard that the week go by as quick as possible. When, at long last, you cannot deny your loathing towards your company – you leave, vowing never to work for a call center again. Then you end up working for another one.
Over the years I found that it is very hard to find work outside the BPO industry once you have started working for one. If you are a graduate of Accountancy but worked as a Customer Service Associate in some call center in Makati, you’ll find that you probably won’t be on top of the hiring queue of Accounting Firms. But you’ll probably get an interview with another call center and get the job within a day or two. While your other college classmates started as assistants in your field of study and worked their way up, you probably got stuck taking/making calls and talking to people halfway around the globe. So by the time you decided to leave and get a day(time) job related to your course and do get hired, you’ll probably be working for that classmate. It can happen – but there will have to be sacrifices – mainly the compensation. Although I hate to admit it, the main motivation for employment is always monetary. This is not to say that all people want to do is make money. The money is a means to an end. Usually the end being to support families – help a sibling through high school or college, tend to a parent’s medical expenses, etc. Most of the people I met in the industry have these reasons. For that alone, they feel that this opportunity is worth the stress – physically and mentally.
This is not a hate blog for call centers, don’t get me wrong. I currently still am working for one and have been mostly happy and successful in doing so. This is me stopping to reflect on what I have learned and gained from the journey – so far – hopefully giving insight to those who might want to try their hand on this line of work. Before you throw yourself into the BPO jungle, here are a few things to expect – and what you need to have to survive.
1. In your first 6 months as a probationary employee, you are not allowed any time off work (leaves). Yes, this is usually true for most companies. But BPOs get paid by the number of calls/hours that are delivered every day, so absenteeism is a very big issue that affects company profit. If you are absent any time before you are a regular employee, expect a fuss. From a chat with your boss, to a written memo (read: warning).
2. If you are in a team, expect to spend time with them even outside the office. BPOs are big on team outings to "build camaraderie among team members". This translates to eating out or going to out-of-town trips. If you have a wife/girlfriend/husband/boyfriend, expect a few fights during these monthly rituals.
3. Speak English. Notice those annoying people on the jeepney/fx/train talking in English but they obviously are Filipino? They’re probably a trainee in a call center that is strict in implementing the EOP (English Only Policy). It’s okay when you’re inside the company premises, but this is seriously annoying when you’re in a blatantly public place. Good English speakers, on the other hand, always have an advantage in a BPO. You can broaden your understanding of the English language by listening/watching US films, news, and TV shows.
4. Get less sleeping time. If you are unfortunate enough to be in the graveyard shift, expect your sleeping hours to shorten to 4-6 hours a day. Be it due to your body adjusting, or you find there are other things better/necessary to do in the morning than sleep, it is bound to happen. Don’t let it be a cycle. Prioritize sleep more than anything. You may be young today, but don’t let age catch up with you faster than it should.
5. Social life changes. Because of your bizarre work schedule and rest days, it will be difficult to find time to meet your high school or college friends, or even spend time with your family. You might not be able to attend weddings, christenings, birthdays, as much as you’d want. Even worse, family emergencies may be hard to deal with without compromising your work. Though most BPOs would grant emergency leaves, it usually has conditions and is not very flexible. If your family is at stake but your company does not seem to understand and is willing to let you go, by all means – let them. No job is more important than a loved one.
6. Be a tough cookie. Call centers are not for the faint-hearted and the emotionally unstable. Once in a while you will get angry customers who will yell and throw obscenities at you. Remember: it is never personal. The customer does not know you personally and is just upset at their situation. Yes, you may never be able to take their anger down, but hold your ground and stick to your training on professionalism and customer-handling. Keep your cool at all times, because at the end of the day, it’s just a job.
7. Have a goal. Don’t be one of those people whose only goal for the day is finish work. While you are in the BPO, there are opportunities to grow. Don’t ignore it. I made that mistake and regretted it years later. The call center is a perfect place to build your skills – be it leadership, data analysis, or human resource management. There are other departments within the company that you may work better in. Don’t box yourself in.
8. Save money. Single people who work for call centers are at an advantage. When they live with their parents, it’s an even bigger advantage. They have no rent to pay and only have to worry for themselves. So rather than spending your money to your heart’s desire every payday, save some. It’s not something everyone wants to do, and I do have difficulty doing the same thing, but it is necessary. Invest in a condo, open a savings account, buy an insurance plan. Anything to be financially prepared for the future.
9. Integrity. Be honest in your work at all times. A lot of good people have lost jobs just because of a stupid but very serious mistake. When in doubt, don’t do it at all. People may ignore the fact that you’re an honest person and there really are no special awards for being honest. This is because it’s expected of an employee. It’s not bonus attribute, you should already have it when you start in any profession. Sometimes how you leave a place is more important than how you entered it.
10. Relax. Find time to unwind during your rest days. Reconnect with people who are most important in your life. Start or continue a hobby. See a movie. Read a book. Go to church, or go to the beach. Sometimes you have to completely step out of your box so you can look at life from a different perspective. I find that a nice long trip saves me from almost giving up.
11. Change is always going to happen. In a company where rules are always changing to meet customer demands, be prepared to have constant revisions on how things are done. Don’t get used to routine. Don’t cling to it when change happens. To survive, you have to be tolerant to change and mature enough to adjust.
Some people think being in a call center is nothing more than sitting in front of a computer and talking on the phone. I wish it’s as easy as it looks. Being in this industry requires a certain amount of staying power, determination, confidence and lots of patience. It’s just like any other job, really. Except it’s different in so many ways.