27 Feb 2003

Escaping the Muff

How do you become a Call Centre manager? Nobody has ever asked me the question – and I expect nobody will – but if they do I am ready with a response: forget your Business Studies degrees and management courses, all you need is a copy of The Great Escape on VHS (or DVD if you have one) and an inherent laziness.

Nothing prepared me for my career better than school playtime when me and my mates would spend the whole hour conspiring to escape the discipline of the school yard. At school, lunch time had an hierarchy of privileges to which we all needed to conform: lower years in the fenced off yard guarded by dinner ladies, seniors on the field with an en-suite ice cream van, Prefects were allowed to patrol the inner corridors of the school building.

At work there is a similar hierarchy. The drones are clamped to a ‘turret’ or phone via a headset which will only stretch to a 6 foot length before it snaps off your head and goes hurtling in the eye of a colleague (trust me – I’ve tested them to their limits).

The more senior advisors are allowed duties such as filling in the register whuch should be done by the manager, but they can’t be arsed.

There is then the ‘Coaches’ who are responsible for developing the other team members. The Team Manager should do this, but they can’t be arsed.

The paradox of a Call Centre is thus: they need you on the phone – they can’t function unless you’re available to take calls – but the reward structure is based on people being OFF the phone.

If you are a call centre advisor and you want promotion, you need to start devising strategies for getting that warm muff off your ear for some part of the day. How about suggesting a paper clip audit? You’ll need to come off the phones to devise a proforma. Isn’t it time that the housekeeping rules need revising? You have spotted that there is a declining number of recycled bin users and you need time off the phone to create a questionnaire. The list is endless. The more you can come up with the more chance you have of being promoted as a manager.

Stop reading Maslow. Start making a rubber-band ball to bounce a la Steve McQueen.