30 Nov 2004

A Brief History of Call Centres

Part One: Banishing the Back Office.

A combination of economics and technology has created call centres. The desire to get more for less created the need for companies to centralise; therefore taking their operation out of city centres and into the outskirts, in a bid to transform the country into a car park.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy, using technology as an excuse, that has driven the rise of call centres. It’s a logic that says “We need more call centres because our customers want to contact us by telephone” while customers are saying “I need to contact people by telephone, because I don’t have a choice, they’ve moved everything into a call centre.”

Management have been determined to banish ‘back office’ work. The ‘back office’ conjures images of gnarled old men punching holes in strips of paper while Bob Cratchet chucks another log on the fire. Back offices were filled with people who used to ‘do stuff’ and they have been replaced by computers that ‘don’t do stuff’. It was a necessary to make companies profitable.

A hundred people were once employed, on four pounds an hour, to 'do stuff'. Instead, we have Management consultants who are paid four hundred pounds an hour to work out why nothing gets done.


29 Nov 2004

The Important Room

Mary had booked the Important Room that we are never allowed to go in, for the meeting about stationery. I was ready to be publicly exposed as the main culprit for the rising costs in the office. I rehearsed my leaving speech in preparation: “I may be going – but at least I discovered what gridding tape is – how many people can say that?”

The Important Room has a long, narrow table down the centre; like a decorating-paste table, and a big plant in the corner. Brenda loves the table because you can’t help but sit really, really close and breathe on the person opposite. “What’s this? A ‘stare-out’ competition.” Martin said as he sat down.

I laughed (with nerves), but everyone else was far too serious.

Everyone in the meeting was clutching a cup with a cardboard jacket from the Death Wagon. Every time Brenda crossed her legs, she kicked me hard in the shin.

Mary led the meeting and after an hour, six sheets of flip chart paper, six different coloured markers, some blue tac and ten copies of a 10 page report, we came up with a cost saving strategy:

“We pledge to use less stationery.”

It’s a simple but effective strategy I feel.

25 Nov 2004


I caught my finger in a lever arch file today. It was the shock of being invited to a meeting to discuss ‘stationery consumption’ headed by Mary. It really hurt. Maybe it’s an omen.

I bought a latte from the Death Wagon - two quid! - for a cup of foam that inflated in my stomach. I was farting away all afternoon like a singing ringing tree.

You should hear my ‘Away in A Manager’.

23 Nov 2004

Skinny Latte – to go!

Mary has pointed out that people have been turning in late over the past week. I opened up my in-box to find a stinging memo from Ian complaining about my team’s log on time. Every member of the team has been late every single day for the past three weeks.

Part of the problem has been Mary’s visit and John Three’s scowling, but the real reason is that my watch is on British Summer Time. Call it wishful thinking; call it ‘positive self-talk’; better still, call it laziness - but I haven’t put my watch back in an attempt to avoid winter.

A few pertinent questions here and there and everywhere and … et voila – Bob’s your Auntie’s live-in-lover - my investigations revealed the cause of the tardy behaviour.

It seems that the Death Wagon, parked outside of the Call Centre, is not content with clogging up arteries with fried egg, bacon, steak and mushrooms. It’s gone ‘up market’ and bought a barista. The sound of slamming that accompanies modern coffee making rings through the converted trailer while my team wait for the next fix.

My team are wired on caffine from a gleaming machine… (get Bowie on the line – I have a new lyric.)

22 Nov 2004

Shot in the Dark

John Three’s gripes and groans are still fresh in my mind. Wendy from HR has suggested that I ‘document’ the discussion for future reference.

I’ve considered what he said and can see his point. It’s a pain in the arse working in the Call Centre. I watched a neo-investigative journalist on one of those pre-Eastenders fill-ill documentaries that the BBC is churning out - “Should I be worried about … the bleedin’ obvious?” or something like that. The journo went undercover in a call centre and measured his ‘stress levels’ as he took calls. He was standing in line for a triple by-pass after twenty minutes. He said that it was ‘the fear of the unknown’ and ‘not knowing what query was coming up next’ that sent his heart rate a flutter.

If it’s true that call centres are not for people with a nervous disposition, how come they employ so many people who get stressed at the slightest thing?

Tizzy has the constant jitters and apparently told one of the Quandix temps that working at the Call Centre was like “playing Russian Roulette – you never know if the next call is your last.”

I may suggest a new ad campaign for recruitment: “Call Centre work – at last – a game of Russian Roulette that won’t cure dandruff”

18 Nov 2004

Bull by the Horns

I’ve decided to tackle John Three and his Moomin memoirs in a pre-emptive strike, before Mary hits me with a 40 page report. I decided to take him on and find out, once and for all, what’s bothering him.

I wish I hadn’t bothered.

“The innovation station hasn’t been up dated for months. There are not enough pens, there’s too many files and flip chart paper, but we can’t write. John’s had to use the same piece of paper for the past 4 years …”

“It’s his choice to use the same piece of paper.” I interjected.

“It’s ridiculous. There’s too much noise in the office and the customers are stupid and don’t know what they’re doing. The toilets are never clean. I’m not enjoying my job and no one seems to care.”

I knotted my eyebrows in concern.

“Trouble is,” he continued, snarling now, “If you say anything you are branded as ‘negative’”

Whatever gave him that impression?

17 Nov 2004

Giving Mary the Finger

Mary has been sat with the team. The last time she was here she said that we were “not specific enough about the degree of imitation-ness of the imitation beech effect cd cases”.

She has been hovering over to the Quandix team too, who have been wooing her with their charm and cheap sweets. The chuckle brothers, Mr Outspan and Johnny Knucklehead, have managed to persuade her of the rationale of having a hygiene bin in the middle of the office.

John Three gave her the curly finger – the international symbol for ‘I have something to tell you’ – and she conspiratorially slid over to his desk. She spent half an hour reading through his book.

We are doomed.

16 Nov 2004

It’s going … It’s going … Done for!

“Will we be observing a two minutes silence for him?” Joan asked with her eyebrows knotted in concern.

Bolton has come to a stand still as it buries its ‘favourite son’ Fred Dibnah. It’s not the first time he’s brought the town to gridlock – his bleedin’ traction engine made sure of that – but this time it is for his funeral procession. Shops have closed. People have lined the streets.

Not a bad showing for someone who knocked down chimneys for a living. He was Britain’s first ever ‘reality tv’ star, a pro-type Jade Goody if you will, and was probably the first and last time you’ll ever see the words ‘celebrity’ and ‘steeplejack’ put together.

At school, I was doing Fred impressions while everyone else was still doing Frank Spenser – I still get requests. Although we never met, I like to think I had an impact on his life as I once bumped into his wife Alison at the library. She was looking puzzled so I helped her to find the ‘feminist sociology’ section. Weeks later she divorced him saying he was an out-moded chauvinist who was living in the past. Who knows, if I’d shown her to the ‘canals and waterways’ section, the course of history may have been changed.

Life goes on. “Get back on the phones Joan.”

She tried the same last week for Arafat.

15 Nov 2004

Baubling On

If you “press 1” for the Christmas catalogue, you are fast-forwarded to one of Martin’s team.

Martin and his ‘Youth Camp’ – sorry – ‘Team’ have put up decorations and flashing fairy lights around a ‘Team Score Board’ to get them in the mood.

HONK! Honk! HONK! Honk! Brenda was sat with Martin as they listened to a call together. Apparently a customer was complaining about a ‘Singing, Ringing Christmas Tree’ that was fluffing its lines and she played it down the phone to the adviser.

All the managers crowded around Martin’s desk to hear the tree sing: “Fart. The feral angels sing …”

You should hear its Frosty the Snowman.

12 Nov 2004

English Language … the ultimate sacrifice

Another day. Another meeting.

Mary has summoned the managers together to deliver a presentation entitled “Mail Order and Distance Marketing Regulatory Requirements: New Initiatives for a New Millennium.”

Who could resist such a catchy title?

I could tell it was an important meeting because Bernard had ordered biscuits. He was snatching at them at intervals.

She took us through a whistle stop tour of a power point presentation and summed it up by saying, ”In short, I am adopting a holistic approach to the business synergies to ensure global, joined-up-thinking across the piece.”

We paused for two minutes silence …

10 Nov 2004

Bin and Gone

Mary has descended. She is doing an audit on the office. There’re new regulations that she wants to impose and no doubt she’ll want to commit further crimes against the English language.

“What on earth is that doing in the middle of an office?” She pointed to a ‘Hygiene Bin for Sanitary Products’ that the Quandix team were selling to pubs and clubs up and down the country.

I explained to Mary, “It helps them focus apparently. We have a gnome as our mascot.”

I held up the gnome with blue-tac where its eyes once where.

She wasn’t looking. She wouldn’t take her eyes off the bin.

Perhaps I should hide the files in it?

9 Nov 2004

Mass Debate

I was in a meeting with Brenda, Martin, Ian and Janice today. Martin was humming “Spring Time for Hitler” as he sipped on a steaming cup of Bovril.

“Yep. Yep. Yep.” Ian was stroking his Yoda (circa Attack of the Clones) tie as he made yet another point of objection.

Janice, her eyes now so big she’s wearing goldfish bowls for contacts, was shifting her support from Ian to Martin.

Martin drained his ‘Best Boss in The World’ cup of its beefy liquid and started to get passionate, slamming the table, pointing furiously.

Janice moved to his side nodding, tight-lipped. Brenda interjected, urging compromise, her hands diplomatically trying to draw them together.

The smell of tuna and onion from Brenda mixed with Bovril was making me feel queasy and I was uncomfortable with the tension in the room when attention turned to me. They wanted me to have the casting decision, I said “Look. Does it really matter where we go on our Christmas do?”

8 Nov 2004

Box Room

To be honest, I’ve not really been able to take Brenda seriously since I saw her flossing her fanny with a feather boa on a works night out. She was going to be my coach and give me support, but she’s given up the ghost.

Like all the others, she is aware that the tectonic plates are moving and changes are about to take place and she wants to make sure she is not left behind. She has started to wear glasses and inspect the office every morning ticking a list on her clipboard.

“Why is there a cardboard box under every desk in your area?” She asked while peering above her glasses and breathing tuna and onion directly up my nostril.

I muttered and stumbled as I thought of an excuse. “I’ve recently conducted a work station review and discovered that my team needed foot rests. I thought that I’d save money by improvising.”

“Well done. Good idea. We need to do something. The stationery budget has doubled over the past month. Bernard has called in Mary to investigate.” She said (I think there may have been mayonnaise on her tuna and onion sandwich too.)

100 lever arch files – I must ask Thrush how e-bay works.

4 Nov 2004

Karma Police – arrest this man

John Three, or Moomin Papa, exudes ‘bad vibes’. I don’t know what is wrong with him, but he’s been ‘on one’ for months now. I suppose I could ask him what’s the matter, but he might tell me and if he tells me, I’ll have to do something about it and I can’t be arsed. It’s not a management approach I’d advocate for everyone, but it works for me.

His glumness is spreading to the customers too.

I had to get my headset out of its velvet-lined box to actually speak to customer.

He was a screamer. He was so loud my headset muff rattled. He may have been schooled in my master-class, using a combination of aggression and tenacity, and had managed to see off three different levels of operators, however he had made a fundamental flaw: he’d phoned the wrong number.

He was complaining about the rising price of his electricity bill and try as I might I could not convince him that I couldn’t help him.

“I want compensation!” he screamed in a bizarre west-country accent. I wasn’t sure whether or not it was a wind up and I was being broadcast across Devon by an afternoon show on Cream Tea FM so I was cautious at first explaining that he would have to make a case for compensation. “I’ve been on this call for twenty minutes. My time is money.”

He’d spent twenty minutes asking for compensation so I could hardly compensate him for not getting compensation.

He insisted on speaking to the ‘organ-grinder’ and not the monkey. Bernard (busily grinding organs in his office) agreed to send fifty quid to the guy to avoid messing up his hair with a headset.

John Three seemed to make a careful note of the incident.

3 Nov 2004

Tic Tac Toe

When I returned from holiday, my desk was covered with boxes and boxes of stationery. In my bid to blow the budget I’d got carried away and ordered 10 packs of 10 Lever Arch Files rather than the 10 files I needed. I’ve missed the deadline for making a return so I now have a hundred files and nowhere to put them.

I’m beginning to suspect that my plan to dominate the Call Centre with my innovative use of stationery is beginning to fray at the edges. The white board that was painstakingly gridded with tape to display the team sales is now used for noughts and crosses competition.

“Do you think the republicans will win the election or will Kerry snatch it at the last minute?” John Doe asked as he put an X in the grid.

Barney, the Big Gay Bear, replied “Bush or snatch? Not much of a choice if you ask me.”

2 Nov 2004


Word on the street is that John Three, aka Moomin Papa, has a beef with the Call Centre.

He's been silently fuming for weeks. I knew there was something wrong when he refused the Hear'say album he had won during the SELLATHON. "What use is that to me? I don't even have a gramaphone."

"What's a gramaphone sir?" Simon, the Craig David looky-likey, rescued me from the confrontation. The team went on to brainstorm redundant names for electrical products: Hifi, wireless, radiogram, Sinclair Spectrum etc.

Apparently John Three has saved the incident in a book that he aims to use to bring down the Call Centre. Who would think that Kym Marsh could cause such unrest?

1 Nov 2004

Bouncing Check

Thanks for the comments while I was away; it’s pleasing that you don’t begrudge me a well-earned break.

I went to Prague, a beautiful city that has escaped the grip of an oppressive regime. Interestingly, and ironically, the museum of Communism is located next to a McDonalds, inside a casino. It tells the story of how enemies were vilified by relentless propaganda and of people forced to work in factories while they were under constant surveillance.

I switched on the call monitoring software and thanked goodness that there was no turning back.