While I was a student, I worked at an inbound call centre during my university holidays. I spent 12 hours a day taking orders for mops, blenders, and ironing board covers, arranging temporary car insurance, and being mistaken for a recorded voice when acting as a message taking service on an out of hours number. Some days I loved it, other days I couldn’t wait to get out of the office and leave the headset behind.

There’s more to call centres than just having a great telephone voice though. Here’s how to do a good job, have fun, and gain transferable skills from your call centre job.

HOW TO DO A BLOODY GOOD JOB

1. Learn your phonetic alphabet

I know I’m risking sounding like your line manager right now but your life will be so much easier if you can roll off “Is that F for foxtrot or S for sierra?” rather than trying to second guess what your caller is saying, or throwing in any random word, “Is that S for socks or F for fox?”. Do you know how similar those two sound when on the phone? Don’t do it. Learn your phonetic alphabet and you’ll feel a little bit like a spy as you take down customer details. “So that’s Smith – Sierra Mike India Tango Hotel?”

2. Know your scripts

There’s nothing worse than calling a company and being greeted with someone who is clearly reading off a screen. Know how to answer your calls. If you can, make those big long chunks of terms and conditions you have to say on every call sound like they’re not being read out too – your caller is MUCH more likely to listen to them and remember them if you do. Oh, and make sure you know whether it’s morning or afternoon – there’s nothing worse than a customer pointing out to you at 3pm that it’s definitely no longer morning.

3. Be polite and helpful – even when customers are rude to you

Being polite is an absolute must for anyone working in any form of customer service. But it’s especially important if you’re working in a call centre. For some reason, customers often have an instinctive dislike and distrust of call centre workers so you have to work extra hard to get them on side – especially if they’re grumpy and a bit rude to you. But resist the urge to snap at them. It will only get you in trouble with your line manager when they go in to listen to your calls. And you never know, if you’re polite and go out of your way to help a grumpy customer, you might just cheer them up a bit.

4. Don’t put your call on mute to finish your conversation with your colleagues

In case you weren’t aware, when your call is on mute (or even on hold), the call is still being recorded. Your manager will still hear you chatting about what you got up to this weekend while you’re supposed to be dealing with a customer. And they won’t be happy. You’d be surprised by the number of people I know who got caught doing this. Pause your conversation while you have a customer on the phone and then restart it again once you’ve finished your call. Funnily enough you’re not being paid to chat to your friends.

HOW TO HAVE FUN – REALLY

Ok, I’m probably never going to convince you that working in a call centre is a laugh a minute but these tips can save you from death by boredom.

1. Make a note of your favourite call every day

I still have a notebook from when I was working in a call centre that has a list of calls that made me smile. My absolute favourite is the woman who had a slightly different take on the phonetic alphabet and was adamant that her name started with “F for mother”. It took a good five minutes to sort out that mess but it made my day. Customers can be amusing sometimes so make a note of those calls that helped you through the day and when you’re having a really rubbish shift you can look back at your list and realise that working in a call centre isn’t always that bad.

2. Have a hang up race with your co-workers

I’m definitely not encouraging you to try and get customers to hang up on you. But you can keep a tally to track how many customers hang up on you in comparison to how many hang up on your colleagues. It’s a great way to make you feel a lot better about angry and rude customers.

3. Focus on your incentives

Incentives are obviously there to make you work harder. But they’re rewards for doing your job. What’s going to make your job more fun than the possibility of winning vouchers, or cash, or even just a bottle of wine at the end of the week? Do your job really well, win the prize and have loads more fun.

TRANSFERABLE SKILLS

Believe it or not, working in a call centre can teach you so much more than the phonetic alphabet and how to deal with the world’s slowest computer system without letting on to the customer that it’s completely crashed and you have to start again for the third time.

1. Working well under pressure

If you’ve ever had to jump on the phones to do a spot of queue busting you’ll know exactly what I mean by this. You have 30 customers who have been waiting to speak to someone for at least three minutes; your company has a target of answering all calls within four minutes. The only person who can solve this problem is you (and the rest of your team). Managers will be breathing down your neck, pointing furiously at the call waiting numbers and times. You’ll be trying to deal with every customer quickly but politely. If that doesn’t count for being able to work under pressure we’re not sure what does.

2. Patience

You know those calls where the customer is taking FOREVER to find their debit card and read out the number to you? That’s exactly what we’re talking about when we say you learn to be patient in a call centre. If you can manage one of these calls with a few deep breaths and without screaming down the phone “JUST HURRY UP FFS” then you definitely have the patience of a saint and you can probably deal with any situation ever.

3. Communication

Sounds obvious, I know, but funnily enough communication is a skill that you’ll definitely have mastered after a few months in a call centre. You’ll be able to deal with angry people, rude people, people who want to get off the phone as quickly as possible. But you’ll also be able to write notes on accounts in a way that other people can understand them and pass on messages to other departments. Communication is really important in a lot of work places and a great way to show you have brilliant communications skills is taking a call centre job.

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