I was at a conference recently and was having a conversation with an elderly businessman when he asked me how old I was. I said 33. His response was:
“Buti ikaw naisipan mo mag negosyo. Yung iba sa edad mo, nagko-call center na lang…”
(It’s good that you decided to venture into business, unlike those your age, they go to call centers!)
I immediately replied:
“Sir, I started my career as a call center agent. It was where I actually learned everything I know to this day!”
He was dumbfounded. Speechless. All I could do was smile.
I joined the call center industry back in 2004 while in college as an alternative career path when the options for undergrads were limited to sales clerks, service crew, and agents. After realizing that I really did not have the skills to be either of the first two, I opted for the latter. And thus, my professional career kicked off from there.
Trust me, being a call center agent is not a walk in the park. I used to think that as long as you have a good command of the English language, you’d be ok. Back in ’04, I was nowhere close to being good in English, sure I can understand, but I had what was typically categorized as the “p & f” and “b & v” syndromes. The toughest for me were the changing schedules. One time you’d be working regular office hours then the next thing you know, you’re in graveyard. But with all of these, I took the challenge to become better everyday. And most importantly, brought home lessons along the way that proved valuable to me in the future. Here are 3 things I learned from my experiences in the call center industry.
To Be Astounding, Be Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable
In any job, there would be certain levels of uncomfortability you get to face. It may be a co-worker, a boss, or even the actual work you do. In the case of call center agents, these are working late nights , going to office in the wee hours of the morning, the MRT, high call volumes, bad mouthed callers, and so the list goes on. I have to admit, these bothered me. And I was pretty sure most of my colleagues faced the same. But looking back, I realized how these became my training ground. In business, these challenges are somewhat the same in nature but may differ in magnitude. There would still be late night work. There would still be calls in the wee hours of the morning (we cater services to international clients) and a pain in the a** client. The way we were trained in the call centers to be nice to bad callers and emphatize, to hold your pee during high volume calls, man, these teach you to be comfortable in being uncomfortable. As I got used to these uncomfortable instances, I discovered my hidden ability to perform under pressure and thus, I became better.
Being Underestimated is a Competitive Advantage, Embrace It.
It’s funny how up to this day, even though the BPO industry in the country have been around for more than a decade, there are still some who look lowly at people working in call centers. I’m going to say this again with emphasis, we are better than what you think we are. Yes, some of us may be stereotyped as the happy go lucky cono pips hanging around expensive coffee shops, drinking beer in the morning after shifts, wearing fancy J’s and have the latest gadgets, implementing the “English ONLY Policy” inside a jeepney but there’s more to those that people don’t realize. There’s this yuppie who unfortunately cannot get an above minimum salary elsewhere and so here he is fulfilling his dreams to be great. There’s this single mom not minding the risks of night travel off to work so she can provide for her kid/kids. There’s this 50 year old dad who cannot find a job elsewhere at his age and so this was a better alternative to provide for his family. You meet these people in call centers. Underneath what you see, there’s a driven and motivated Joe working in the industry for a purpose. That’s reality. So never underestimate call center people. Never.
True Leaders Don’t Create Followers, They Create More Leaders
The statement above is my personal testimony. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again… I have been blessed to be surrounded by great leaders during my call center career. And I still remember the best ones I had:
- Rona Bertoldo
- Jeffrey Johnson
- Tina Gacad
- Ciara Austria
- Eddie Ramer
- Carl “Happy” Lopez
- Craig Richardson
- Shiju Varghese
I learned a lot from each of them. Different styles and different personalities… but if there’s one thing in common, I gave them all a hard time but they helped me develop my leadership qualities too. And for that, I am truly grateful.
The way I saw it, call centers forge the leader-follower relationship. There’d be a sense of accountability towards each other and trust is built over time. By then, you get a clear sense of direction where you want to be or what you want to be. In my case, because there was overflowing gratitude to these men and women, I saw that becoming a leader myself would be my way of paying it forward. I am a by product of TRUE LEADERS.
I spent close to 8 years in the call center or BPO industry. Started on the phones as a sales and customer service agent and I sucked big time at first. But with help from peers, I became better over time. From agent, to supervisor, to manager, to avp, to director, my career blossomed not just by myself but also because of people I was privileged & honored to have worked with.
I am more than 3 years removed from the industry but much of the things I do now you can still trace back to my call center roots. It’s part of my core and it will be for a very long time. Which is why every time I see or meet a call center agent, I have high respect for them.
If ever you come across with one, give a smile.
Believe me, they’ll appreciate one.
Are you in the call center or BPO industry?
How’s it going for you? Do you have your own experiences and maybe lessons to share?
Also, If you there’s anything I can help, let me know. I’d be honored to.