When looking at the pros and cons of call center jobs, it’s important to note that such jobs vary enormously. Not all call center jobs have the same advantages and the same disadvantages. There can be no simple breakdown of pros and cons that applies to all call center jobs.
So let’s approach the matter instead by looking at some of the ways these jobs can differ, and how that affects their advantages and disadvantages:
1. Will you be making outgoing calls, or receiving calls?
This is a key factor. Almost all call center jobs where you make outgoing calls are unpleasant, stressful jobs. Nearly every call you make will be to someone who absolutely does not want to talk to you.
Outgoing calls are sales calls, solicitations for contributions, bill collecting calls, etc. The kind of calls people detest receiving.
Marginally less bad on average are polling calls. But even here, the majority of “polls” are really thinly disguised marketing calls, and many people have come to resent them as much as any other marketing calls.
So be prepared to be cursed at, hung up on, lied to, lectured on how what you’re doing is against the law (whether it is or not), threatened, and otherwise abused.
On the other hand, if your call center is receiving incoming calls, that’s more of a mixed bag. Some-like certain kinds of complaint lines-may be almost as unpleasant as telemarketing call centers. (“Almost,” because there’s still something extra distasteful about having to initiate an unpleasant call.) You’ll be dealing primarily with people who are unhappy with some situation, and insisting you fix something that often you cannot.
But at least with incoming calls, you know the callers want to talk to you. Furthermore, they may just be grateful they got a human being, given that it’s so common nowadays for companies to automate as many as possible of their calls. (Then again, if in order to get to you at all, they had to endure interminable stalls by the computer trying to force them to use the automated system and hiding the live operators from them, they probably won’t be feeling so “grateful.”) And it’s not always about complaints or anything negative. You might be answering questions, providing directions, taking sales orders, etc. On those calls, it’s more the exception than the rule that people will berate you.
Again, would you rather cold call people and try to snow them into buying Wally’s Widgets, or receive calls from people already wanting to buy Wally’s Widgets and just needing to give you their address and credit card number?
2. Are you working in a call center in your own country, in your own culture, using your first language?
For most call centers, the bulk of the calls you’ll be making or receiving are to or from the United States. But of course not all call centers are in the United States; this is one of the more commonly outsourced jobs to countries with much cheaper labor costs.
There are a lot of important differences in the quality of your job, though, that depend on its location.
One is hours. In the United States you’ll nearly always have very conventional hours, especially for outgoing calls. People are needed on the phones during standard business hours, and when people are awake, not the middle of the night.
But what if you’re in India, or the Philippines? You’ll likely be working when the United States is awake and active, not when your country is. So get ready for the graveyard shift.
Furthermore, obviously communication is key in this line of work, and a native English speaking American has a huge leg up when dealing with Americans on the phone. From understanding slang and colloquialisms, to having a shared body of “common knowledge” one picks up from one’s culture, to being familiar with a wider array of proper names, to understanding accents and having one’s accent understood, it’s just a much tougher job for most non-Americans.
There’s also the hostility factor. As unpleasant as people can be when dealing with someone at a call center, an even higher percentage of them will be unpleasant if they are Americans dealing with a call center outside their country. To some extent just from generic anti-foreigner sentiment, but also because they may resent jobs leaving the country, or they might resent this added level of inconvenience of speaking to someone who is not fluent in English (even if the person is fluent in English, but they’re falsely assuming they aren’t due to the accent).
3. Will you be in a skilled position where you will exercise autonomy and individuality in your calls, or will you be reading from a script?
A fair number of call center jobs are very, very close to automated even though technically they’re human calls. Your job, in effect, is to be a machine, to say the same things in the same ways over and over and over again, because some marketing study has determined that saying these things in these ways “works” best. Often you will literally be reading from a script.
In some ways perhaps that’s less stressful, because you can completely zone out and emotionally detach from what you’re doing. But surely hours of that everyday does not make for a fulfilling job.
There are other call center jobs, though, that require far more skills and knowledge than mimicking a robo caller. Perhaps you are in the tech department of a company, taking calls from the public needing help figuring out what’s gone wrong with their software, or their oven, or their satellite TV. Or perhaps you are working some kind of crisis hotline, suicide prevention line, 911 line, etc. In jobs like that, there may be preliminary stages that are scripted or semi-scripted, but soon you’ll be a human being responding to a human being, not a machine. You likely will have received special training, and will need to call upon important skills to help people.
In all the intangible ways that workers can be disrespected-the way they’re talked down to by supervisors, the way they’re rapidly churned through because it’s understood there is a huge pool of people willing and able to do their job, the way demeaning restrictions are put on them at work, etc.-call center jobs can be among the worst. But the closer you get to the robot end of the scale, the worse these jobs are in this respect. If you have some degree of specialized medical knowledge, and you’re entrusted with taking calls from the public on a poison control line, you’re not going to be treated like an utterly disposable machine reading a script.
4. How ethically dubious will your job be?
Frankly call center jobs can require you to do really distasteful, unethical things. Though again this factor varies enormously from job to job. Treating people disrespectfully may be what you do your entire work day, or it might constitute less or no part of your job.
What unethical things? Well, let’s start with the scripted sales calls telemarketers make. These are designed to be as manipulative as possible, to exploit any available human weakness. They make use of verbal tricks such as only asking questions that cannot be answered in a way that rejects what they’re selling. They withhold any and all relevant information that might make the sale less likely, except what they are absolutely required by law to divulge. This is the lowest form of hustling, the kind of thing that makes used car salesmen seem like genuine human beings.
If you’re working in a foreign call center, you might be expected to lie about something as simple as your name. Tell the caller you’re named “Jenny” so they’ll be more likely to think you’re American, for instance.
Some call center jobs make money based on how long you can keep people on the line. If you’re a sex line operator or a make-believe psychic, you’ll be using every trick you can to stall callers, to keep them hanging on for more and more expensive calls.
So the pros and cons of call center jobs are not uniform. There are a few more general things that can be said, though-things that if they don’t apply to literally every such job, at least apply to nearly all of them. These include:
* It’s sedentary work. That may be an advantage if you have certain disabilities or just prefer to be able to sit all day, but it’ll have all the usual health consequences of this kind of sedentary work.
* It’s usually not very high paying, yet somewhat higher paying than other jobs of roughly the same skill level, perhaps to offset how unpleasant these jobs mostly are.
* The work environment is typically a large number of people crammed fairly close together, each in a little cubicle or work station. So it’ll have that kind of noise and hubbub.
* You’ll be talking to many, many people over the course of the day. Depending on the job, in most cases this’ll be poor quality human interaction, but talking on the phone all day can be good or bad depending on if you’re an extrovert who feeds off even this type of human contact, or an introvert who’d rather be left alone. If you’re a “people person,” you may have a certain amount of leeway to alter the quality of the interaction. If you’re genuinely interested in people, like to ask them questions, like to kid around with them, etc., you may actually find some of your calls quite enjoyable (as will the people on the other end of the line who got you instead of a sourpuss that hates their job).
* You won’t be judged visually. Typically the people you’re interacting with won’t know or care if you’re attractive or unattractive, old or young, fat or thin, in a wheelchair, covered with tattoos, clean shaven, or what have you. Your workplace is unlikely to have any but the most lax rules on how you must dress for work.
Overall, most call center jobs are bad jobs that people only take because they’re desperate and they aren’t able to land anything better. They tend to have high turnover and low job satisfaction.
Certainly these are not absolutes, however. Your experience will vary a great deal depending on the precise call center job, as well as the skills, values, attitudes, and expectations you bring to the job.