By: David Christopher Hizon
Zombies. Gravediggers. Nightwalkers. Avaya slaves. Phone junkies. Call center agents. We know them by a lot of names. We know them by their lifestyle. We even know them by stereotypes. Hip. High-class. Foreign accents. Party people. Social butterflies.
But what is it really to be a call center agent? Why is it such a booming trend?
Business process outsourcing, or BPO, is a fast growing industry in the Philippines. In 2011, the Philippines was the country with the highest number of employees at call centers – with about 400,000 people! Outsourcing – short for outside resourcing – involves the contracting or the use of outside resources and experts to handle specific processes and services within a business organization. It has become a very important tool for reducing costs and improving quality. If an organization does one or all of its work by itself, it may be a lot more taxing to the company’s pockets. Sometimes, it’s a lot cheaper to import resources, materials and goods from other countries than to make them – the same goes with manpower.
So how does it all work? Simple. A foreign company, usually called an account, signs a contract with a vendor, a contact center in the Philippines, to provide a service to either the account or to its customers – be it payroll, accounting, human resources, or the most common, customer service. Based on the contract, the vendor hires and provides the required number of heads needed, and the account provides skilled trainers to train the agents and to train more trainers locally to keep the business growing.
What then is it about this booming industry that everybody’s so attracted to? Literally hundreds and thousands of employees are interviewed everyday by call centers all over the Philippines. What makes this industry so irresistible? Is it something suited for just anybody? What skills do they usually look for? Is this line of business the best for somebody like you?
Let’s a have a quick look as to what this trade is all about – the works, the perks, the irks.
Competitive Salaries and Benefits Most call centers offer very high pay. This is a fact. A newbie in the business, without any work experience at all, may easily get P15,000.00 net on top of benefits and other awesome perks. Most call centers also offer loads of allowances and freebies to entice more applicants to join their company.
Perks: No matter what your previous work experience is, getting hired as a customer service representative usually entails higher-than-normal basic pay, allowances for rice, clothing, transportation or food, and guaranteed benefits such as night-differential and hazard pay for night-shift employees. Companies also usually offer free food and drinks such as free lunches and flowing coffee and drinks all-day everyday. Some accounts even provide free transportation to those nearby. Gift certificates are also a common sight in call center agent pockets as these are usually given out for free by their accounts as perks for doing an awesome job at. And since most accounts follow a foreign calendar, overtime pay is given to employees working on a Philippine holiday – double pay, baby! Hallelujah, Philippine holidays!
· Irks: Since non-working holidays are limited in foreign countries, guaranteed days off due to holidays are very minimal. Some agents may find it hard to go to work during Christmas season especially when they see their friends and family resting at home and enjoying each other’s company as they head off into the night to take more calls. It can be taxing living on a different time zone and an unfamiliar work calendar, but if you’re the type who values commensurate pay equal to the effort exerted, then you won’t have a problem adjusting. Besides, call center employees may still take days off of work outside holidays – as long as they’re filed correctly with their supervisors of course!
Job Requirements “We’re looking for someone to fill in this position; preferably a female, at least 5’3” in height, must be 18 to 25 years, single, a graduate of at least a 2-year course, and has a pleasing personality. Inquire now!” Sound familiar? See, the sadder part of the BPO industry is that it is highly criticized for accepting applicants of all ages regardless of gender, sexual preference, marital status or educational background. Other companies in other industries in the Philippines usually have requirements for age, gender, educational background, and even physical attributes out of the applicant’s control like his or her height.
Perks: Equality is the word of the day. Contact center companies usually don’t care if you’re married with kids or are vertically-challenged. As long as you have the ability to communicate well in the language required and are open to being trained, you’re hired! More opportunities, more people employed, more employees making and spending money,resulting to better economy for the country as a whole. Sure, some contact centers may also require some educational background such as the most common “at least at college level” requirement, but these are very minimal and exist only to make sure that the applicant would at least have some knowledge on financing and other skills that may be deemed necessary for the account – especially accounts that are financial in nature such as insurance, banking, and the like. Besides, you get to be around a very good mix of people from all walks of life. That’s a very nice take-away!
· Irks: You get to meet more people and get to work in an environment with individuals with different backgrounds and experiences. What’s not to like?
Facilities and Equipment Since this industry revolves around long-distance relationships between clients and their consumers, it requires excellent means of communication and above-average technology. Contact centers usually pride themselves on having top-of-the-line computers and equipment for the agents on the floor. Nothing can be ‘too comfortable’. All the amenities are provided to ensure quality service from the employees.
Perks: High-tech computers, headsets, hardware and software, comfortable seating and work stations, reliable electricity and consistent airconditioning, clean and modern lavatories and pantries usually with personal lockers for keeping valuables, working elevators 24/7 practically making stairs useless, brightly-lit floors and rooms, fully-furnished training facilities, working company e-mail, and sometimes even sleeping quarters for those who direly need to fight off the inevitable sandman. What more could you ask for? A complete set for the worthy employee!
· Irks: Unless you’re the kind who’d prefer to stay in dimly-lit quarters with minimal to no airconditioning paired with the extreme Manila heat, then there really isn’t any, is there?
Multiple Schedules The most common stereotype is that all call center agents are working nights. Before we proceed, allow me to establish that this is not true. It all depends on the account. Most of the time, the agents working for a specific account follow the account’s daily operating hours. Some foreign companies are only open for nine hours a day, some maybe ten or twelve, yet others offer service 24/7. This determines how many available shifts there are for a specific call center account.
An account may be a permanent night-shift account only, it may also be a permanent day-shift account, or a mix of the two! Most of the time, applicants upon hiring are given a choice as to their preferred shift schedules – be it during the day or the night, if applicable.
Perks: The fact that you are given a choice of schedule gives you more freedom to tailor-suit the best job experience for you. You may choose a day-shift account if you prefer to get up during daylight and sleep during the night and have a more normal feel of a job. Nights if you’re a huge night person or just hate to traverse through ridiculously busy Manila streets and avenues or would just like to avoid the infamous Manila heat. Some accounts even offer weekends as permanent rest days – meaning no Saturday work! Whatever is your preference, the BPO industry can definitely provide.
· Irks: Some accounts may require flexibility with agents when it comes to shifting schedules. It may so happen that you will be on a day-shift for the first few weeks, then on night-shift the next. It’s awesome if you find an account which promises non-shifting schedules. If you’re the kind of person who likes change, this may work for you. For the rest, the key is finding the right account for the best fit in schedule. Transportation may also be an issue especially for those who prefer nights as readily available public transportation may be difficult to find. We may be forced to take cabs or walk dangerous streets going to work every day. The key is to find the right location, both for your workplace and your residence.
Corporate Movement Promotions, promotions, promotions. Applicants usually start out as a customer or technical service representative once they get hired. But once they show potential and back it up with amazing stats, anybody can go places. Promotion, training, and upskilling are usually very frequent in call center companies.
Perks: Hardwork usually pays off. Take pride in your work and do what is expected of you and more, and a promotion won’t be too far ahead. Some companies and accounts don’t even look at tenure that much – if you’re good and you’re worth it, you’re given a shot at it.
· Irks: Once you’re promoted in an account, it’s best to show loyalty and stay in that account. Chances are, once you try and venture out to see what’s in store for you at other places, you’ll end up being rank and file again regardless of your previous position. But of course going full circle to this segment’s point, hardwork and dedication will always bring you up pretty fast.
English Only Policy As agents are expected to service foreign clients, they are also expected to speak the language. For enhanced business culture and ambience, some accounts would even expect their agents to be speaking the language on and off the phones. Thus, the English Only Policy was born.
Perks: Accounts would offer English training and upskilling for new-hires and tenured employees to make sure their skills are up to the standard – after all, nothing but practice makes perfect. It also creates a nice professional ambience when everybody speaks the same language inside the workplace.
· Irks: People may be more comfortable speaking in vernacular with their friends and colleagues when they are not taking calls. This creates a certain type of rebellious nature in employees, especially if the English Only Policy is a strictly enforced rule that when someone is caught speaking in vernacular, their incentives get affected. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t mind speaking in English most of the time, then this wouldn’t be much of a problem. If not, then just think of it this way – the more you speak the language regardless if you’re required to or not, the more you get to be comfortable using it, and the better you speak it.
Cultural Environment Working in a call center means that you’ll be servicing foreign clients even though you are physically located in the Philippines. You may see Filipino faces if you look around you, but the voices you will listen to most of the time will be foreign. This may be quite an adjustment to some, sometimes even a shock to the unexperienced, but a lot of good can and will still come out of it.
· Perks: If you’re the type who loves to learn more about other cultures and experience them and the people first hand, and the type who loves going out of their comfort zones, then this is the right job for you. You can learn a lot by being heavily immersed into another culture besides your own. Not only do you learn more about other people and how to properly interact with them, but you also discover a lot of things you’ve never realized before about your own kin.
· Irks: Scarcely any. We love watching foreign movies and learning about other cultures through media, why not add this experience to the list?
Take-Home Work Ah. Take-home work. Does anybody really like to take work home? In other companies and industries, work time and home time may actually overlap. Working as a customer service representative, the work stays at work. Once you log out from your workstation and shut your computer off, that’s it. No more taking calls till the next day. No paperwork to finish. No deadlines to rush for. Easy breezy.
Perks: If you prefer just relaxing at home and not worrying about any work once you leave, then you’re in the right place. Just remember to do your work well when you’re actually at work and everything should be perfect.
· Irks: This is usually most applicable for rank and file employees. Once you progress through the corporate ladder, more responsibilities arise which may also have you bringing work home and spending your weekend hours in preparation for the week ahead. But who’s to say that it’s not worth it? After all, pay will always be commensurate to the effort expected out of you.
Now, these are only a few of many things anybody can say about the call center business and the BPO industry in its essene. It’s up to you, dear reader, to decide if you’re ready to take the next step and see what’s in store for you! Experiences will differ among different accounts and different companies but one thing will remain the same – being a customer service representative is certainly a position overflowing with benefits. So go ahead, test the waters for yourself and experience things you’ve never experienced before, see the things that you can achieve, and the discover potential that you can unleash!