On the phone

The clock is ticking, 8 minutes left.
I look at my computer screen and type in my password to enter Windows. Welcome the screen says while loading. The desktop appears, and with it the same daily warning message I’m ignoring by now.
7 minutes left.
I start Internet Explorer and go to our company’s search engine and the program to change personal details of clients.
6 minutes left.
I type in another user name and password to open our employee’s website to see the exact times of my breaks. They are different every day and differ from my colleagues. Another username and password to actually see today’s schedule.
5 minutes left and starting up a program which we use to send copies of documents. It’s an MS Dos program and needs to be started up twice, once for each branch of our company; off course with a username and password to login.
3 minutes left.
I start up a program I forgot what to use for but at least no passwords, that’s fast! And another program, double again, to see clients information. I start up the next program also to send out particular forms, username and password required.
About 2 minutes left.
I plug in my headphones to the phone and type in login codes. I check my e-mail for any news and check the ‘news’ articles for any changes or disturbances in our offers and systems. I am ready, right on time. I dial #501 on my phone, and I am available for my first call of the day.

Clients call in all kinds of moods with all kinds of backgrounds and all kinds of questions. I try to connect to all of them, acting friendly and professional. First question; put on hold to search the right answer, the right conditions and indemnifications, back to client again to share the answer, was it clear, any other questions? No? Have a nice day and you have just spoken with Miranda van Schadewijk. #508 to register our contact. # 501 available again. Next question, next connection; is she happy or angry or sad? Can I make a joke or ease the frustration? Research the answer as fast as possible. This is it, no buts or what ifs. # 508 to register the call. # 501 again. People have 1, 3 or even 5 questions. Sometimes I forward the call to a different department. Sometimes I ask for additional information calling short numbers on my phone and back again to my client. Is he still there? Did she hang up on me? Quickly, # 508 so I can register the call before a new question is fired at me.

Coffee break! #505 exactly 15 minutes. I chat with colleagues, eat some cookies and check my watch every 2 minutes. If I’m back too late, someone will call me on my phone to ask what’s happening. Back on the phone again, # 501 trying to answer clients questions and demands in the best way possible while keeping call times short. In time, I should reach an average of 450 seconds per call! This seems still quite unreachable to me, but others seem to do it. # 503 lunch break. Exactly 30 minutes. Eating my home made healthy salad as fast as I can. I am a slow eater you know. Friends make jokes about it sometimes. Looking at my watch to see how long I still have, 7 minutes, good I can breathe a bit, and drink some water. Woops, time goes fast, 1 minute to go, back to my screen and headset. # 501 available on time! Client on hold. # 508 registering the call. # 501 available. Good afternoon, how can I help you? # 508 # 505 coffee break. Trying to relax, but actually stressing about the time. # 501 availabe. # 504 personal care (this means toilet break). # 501 available again. Last call. # 500 signed out! Just spend about 8 hours on the phone and computer. I’m exhausted. I login to another website to register my working hours and then sign out of my computer, walk downstairs and bike home. My head is racing, my body is tense and my shoulders are painful.

I had some fun and warm conversations making small jokes with people on the other side of the line. I had some tough conversations with people wanting to express their anger and frustration about the insurance system and society at large. Did I provide the right information to all of them? I hope so.

My whole day is so tightly scheduled from minute to minute; it feels very unnatural to me. I probably need more time to get used to it. It’s not just the stress of watching the clock all the time, especially during breaks. It’s also the unfinished conversations or even sentences with colleagues. And it’s my body feeling mechanical, as if put on an assembly line. Put between lines of |available|conversation with clients|researching the answer|presenting the result|registering calls|coffee breaks|lunch|personal care| not much space to move left or right.

Entertainment is provided every now and then to make our work more enjoyable. Coachings are offered for us to grow and develop our skills. I can’t help but wondering: Is this the best way to organize such work? How could we bring in meaningful changes into the workday? Am I the only one who actually wants that? How is this call center work part of a bigger picture of current society?


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