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I am 68 years old, and a retired English teacher. I have a Master’s degree in Education major in English as a Second Language. I taught English Grammar and Composition to high school students for 10 years, and English Speech and Writing to college students for 28 years. Right now I teach English part time in the college level in the school from which I retired three years ago.

I am healthy and energetic. Since I am proficient in the English language, both oral and written, what is the possibility of my being employed by a call center?

Ms. Retired-But-Not-Yet-Tired

 

Thank you for your letter which, quite possibly, expresses the need of many retirees like you who are still able to work, and want to keep on working so that they can live their lives to the fullest.

I forwarded your e-mail to Recruitment Managers of five call centers. All of them have the same reply:  Why not? They have no age requirement for call center agents (inbound and/or outbound or telemarketers), which are the entry positions open for interested persons, regardless of age, education and gender. Your age, status and teaching experience will not entitle you to special considerations. Although you have had considerable teaching experience, the position of trainer or team leader requires successful working experience as customer service representative (CSR) and/or telemarketer.

Would a retiree like you want to work at a call center? Let me give you some important data about the work ethic and unique culture of the call center world. In 2004, I interviewed several CSRs and telemarketers, team leaders and Recruitment Managers to enable me to respond to some readers of People at Work of the Philippine Daily Inquirer who wanted to know about careers in the call center industry.

Proficiency in English does not only refer to speaking and writing with correct grammar, but also speaking like an American. The CSR and telemarketer talk to Americans and their callers are Americans living in the USA. These Americans think that the CSR/telemarketer they are talking to is an American situated in the USA. It’s important that the CSR or telemarketer speaks with the American “twang”/slang and knows the American culture. This is a “must” for all involved in marketing and sales.

Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) are the frontliners who directly serve customers by responding directly to people who call, or send emails and chat with them on-line. Most of the time, CSRs answer questions and respond to complaints about the products or services their clients are selling or providing. A CSR receives a minimum of 60-70 calls a day, and a maximum of 100-120 calls, usually before and after a US holiday, or on a Friday or a Monday. Most calls are made by dissatisfied or frustrated customers who can use language offensive to the senses.

Outbound agents or telemarketers contact prospective clients and are expected to translate every call into a sale. They are given a daily quota in terms of a minimum number of successful sales per day. A telemarketer is expected to have about 50-60 closed sales a month; this figure is translated into daily and weekly closed sales.

In addition, a CSR or telemarketer must be able to type at least 25 words per minute, and proficient in basic computer programs such as word processing, e-mail, chatting, accessing the internet and the like. The agent must document every call made or received; thus, the requirement of a minimum typing speed.

Your being in good health and being energetic is a “big plus” factor because you will surely be assigned the graveyard shift which is any time from 10pm to 6am. The graveyard shift is the bane of call center agents. It is usually cited as the cause of high turnover among frontliners in the call center industry. This shift takes a toll on the health of a person, particularly so if this person is an elderly like you, robs them of a normal life style and affects their quality of life and family relationships.

The standard recruitment process usually goes like this: (1) An interested applicant sends resume; (2) The applicant waits for a call for the initial interview; (3) If successful in first interview, the applicant waits for a call for a second interview; and (4) if still successful in second interview, the applicant waits for a third interview, and so on.

It is estimated that an advertisement for a CSR/telemarketer position brings in about 1,000 resumes or even more. From this number, it is estimated that about 100 are usually called for the first interview; 10 are called for the second interview; and from this number about four are called for the third interview. From this, only 1-2 make it to the contract signing stage.

The series of interviews enable the applicant to experience what the work is really like. In the first interview, applicants are interviewed in groups. Each one is made to read one page of tongue-twister words and is evaluated on their pronunciation and diction. An IQ test is given and the cut-off is usually an above average rating.

In the second interview, practical exams such as typing proficiency and computer language skills are given. Phone simulation tests an applicant’s ability to memorize and retain information, such as name and personal data, about the customer, and about the product or service they are given to sell to evaluate their potential for selling, e.g., features and benefits of the product and service, and skills in closing a sale.

In the third and succeeding interviews, the successful applicant is evaluated for their ability to learn fast, to think on their feet, to give quick and accurate response to the customer’s need for information or for responding to complaints. All these must be done with patience, courtesy, and, possibly, with humor. An applicant for a telemarketer position may be made to sell a product or service for which no information is given to them at all.

An angry or irate customer frustrated about a product or service, and likely to use insulting and foul language, is a constant challenge to a CSR. How would you, an educator, react to such language? Applicants are evaluated for their emotional maturity, patience, courtesy, customer orientation, and how creative and persistent, yet courteous, they are in handling different kinds and levels of customer dissatisfaction and frustration.

Once hired, the CSR/telemarketer goes through rigorous training usually for 4-5 weeks on how to speak like a native American in terms of diction, pronunciation and accentuation; how to listen attentively; American culture and geography; the product or service; the company selling the product or offering the service; handling different kinds of irate customers with varying levels of agitation. In addition, telemarketers are given training in selling skills: how to do a sales pitch and close a sale within a 3-minute time frame.

Every call the agent makes is recorded and evaluated by a group known as quality assurance who gives feedback to the agent and to the latter’s team leader on the agent’s delivery and clarity of the message sent, and on their effectiveness, i.e., whether the agent’s response has achieved its purpose.

The agent must be adept at multi-tasking i.e., the readiness and ability to do several tasks at the same time such as, speaking, listening, analyzing and typing. Usually, there are at least three computer software programs being simultaneously used by an agent while talking to a customer.

Be prepared for a culture shock!  It’s not enough that handling courteously irate customers is a CSR’s daily fare.  You will also have to contend with fellow CSRs who, in rage over the foul language received from a number of irate customers, will themselves “let off steam” by cursing and using vile language within your hearing.  Also, since there is no dress code, CSRs/telemarketers, especially on graveyard shift can wear “unusual” attire for work:  shorts, slippers, even pajamas, etc.

The following traits are a “must” for CSRs/Telemarketers: high frustration tolerance; being “thick skinned”, i.e., ability not to take “cuss” words personally; ability to keep one’s negative emotions in check; high energy level, mental alertness, high sense of urgency, precision and attention to details, and high achievement drive which refers to one’s desire to see problems as challenges and as an opportunity to know the real needs of the customer, and to keep improving one’s knowledge and skills.

A 5-day work week is observed but days off do not necessarily mean a Saturday and a Sunday. The schedule given to an agent, and which is often non-negotiable, will indicate their days off. Work schedules may include working on holidays such as Christmas, New Year and Holy Week, which are every dear to a Filipino’s heart.

I suggest that you personally bring your resume to the recruitment office of some call centers which advertise vacancies and see the work place for yourself, the work stations, the work attire of the CRSs/telemarketers, and observe their behaviors and hear them talk just to keep themselves awake. Interview a CRS/telemarketer and a Recruitment Manager to get additional information.

God bless you.

 

Josie Santamaria