We Live Our Lives Stigmatized

The people who know me are aware that I swore to myself that I would never work in a call center. Ironically, this month marks the fifth anniversary of me working in one. I now have a lot of friends in this industry, and I admire them for that—for working graveyard shifts and being patient enough to handle irate people. What saddens me is that we are stigmatized with several things. There have been massive misconceptions about working in a call center, and these misconceptions have become widespread through social media and even through word of mouth. And with this post, I aim to destroy these social stigmata placed upon call centers agents (because why not?).

It is a job for stupid people and rejects.

What most people only know is that call center agents either take or make calls—a thing that anyone can do. What they fail to realize is that these agents take or make calls systematically. We have to communicate effectively—which means asking effective questions, listening actively, empathizing when necessary, and many more things—to get to the root cause of the customer’s concern and, then, present the complete and correct resolution clearly and concisely. Our job is not just to say hello, have a little funny chat, then, say good-bye to our customers.

To quote another writer, Griffin Dangazo, who addressed this issue: “They [the general people] have no idea how emotionally exhausting it is when your caller bombards you with insults and profanity or when you are faced with issues that are ridiculously simple it’s inexplicable why they even bothered to call or an issue that’s so hard that your knowledge base has no idea about it and your floor support instinctively switched to defensive mode giving you BS spiels to tell your caller just to prevent Sup Call. A call might ensue a complicated argument; a pleasant interaction or simply a call for help and help given but on top of these, we also need to ensure that we are meeting our metrics like customer satisfaction, first call resolution, average handling time and many more. Hence, only a person with no brain can call it a no-brainer job.” They go on extensive training from answering and making calls, logging incidents on file, empathizing with the customers, and much more. Anyone stupid cannot handle all these tasks.

Another thing that people point out is the fact that these agents are “rejects” from their “original professions.” They are nursing graduates, education graduates, HRM graduates, etc. These people did not make it to the profession they studied for, so they went on being call center agents. Now, let me ask this question: “Is there a degree specifically designed to teach people to become call center agents?” No, there isn’t.

These people are not rejects; they are more of overruns because of the rapid rate of unemployment in the country. We have more nurses and teachers than what the government and the private sectors could employ. Besides, there are a lot of people working as editors, baristas, ESL teachers, etc., whose degrees are far different from their professions.

Call center agents are promiscuous and unfaithful.

This is, perhaps, the worst stigma. For one thing, (sexual) promiscuity and unfaithfulness are not linked to one’s profession, but to one’s morals. There are unfaithful teachers, restaurant managers, students, construction workers, and the list can go on. And hell, I am a writer, and I can be promiscuous if I want to. Promiscuity and unfaithfulness have become more rampant these days, especially since the Philippine show business has decided to romanticize and sensationalize these matters. Point is, there might be some promiscuous and unfaithful call center agents, but being a call center agent does not automatically make you promiscuous and unfaithful.

Call center agents are rich.

Yes, we get paid quite higher than most jobs, but that does not mean they we rich. There are a lot of people who keep asking us for “free treats” or other financial favors. Look, just because we are paid a bit higher than most people are does not mean they have a lot of money to spare. We also have bills and other necessities and financial responsibilities. Perhaps one of the very reason we entered the industry is we needed this amount of a salary. At the end of the day, no matter how small or big your monthly salary is, it is all up to how you manage your finances.

Call center agents are arrogant douchebags and assholes.

Again, whatever your profession is, you can be an arrogant douchebag and asshole. I have a lot of call center agent friends who are actually great people. Granted, there are some who are arrogant douchebags and assholes, but again, it isn’t automatic that you become one of these people when you work in a call center. You can be an arrogant douchebag and asshole no matter what your profession is.

Call center agents are social climbers.

A social climber is someone who seeks social prominence, for example by obsequious behavior. The term is sometimes used as synonymous with parvenu, and may be used as an insult, suggesting a poor work ethic or disloyalty to roots. Call center agents are often stigmatized as social climbers because: 1.) they have better gadgets than most people, 2.) they tend to speak English most of the time even in “inappropriate” places like public transport, 3.) they “tend” to show off their means and other bragging rights via social media, and the list can go on.

I cannot say much about the other things, but what is wrong with bragging what you have when you actually worked hard for it? Call center agents work their asses out to reach quota and goals to receive incentives and bonuses—hell, they even need to work on holidays like Christmas, Valentines, and even their on birthdays or that of their families’ or even during storms and typhoons—so if they brag about having something new or being someplace else, what of it? They deserve something to reward themselves.

And as for speaking in English: we work in an EOP (English-only policy) environment, thus, we are somehow “conditioned” to do so. For some, it has become a habit while others find it hard to switch from English to their mother tongue in a blink of an eye, especially when they are surrounded with people with whom they converse with in English at work. Yes, perhaps it might look a little arrogant when we speak in English on a public transport, but then again, what of it? Who’s getting hurt when they do other than your fragile ego?

Why the stigma though?

I could list a lot more of stigmata placed upon us, but I think I only need to address those that aren’t true as I have seen first hand from my friends. Come to think of it, a lot of people are not willing to work in call centers because they are afraid that they’ll be stigmatized as these, but what they fail to see is the great employment opportunity for them: leave credits, bonus, high salary, health insurance for themselves and their dependents, and a good career path. There is nothing wrong with being a registered nurse working as a call center agent—or being simply a call center agent itself whatever your educational or former professional background is.

So instead of discriminating the industry and the people working in it, why should we not, instead, be grateful for what it generates: more jobs for Filipinos and the opportunity to support their families? Perhaps, it all boils down the “traditional” thing that we Filipinos have—crab mentality. I think it’s high time we removed that mentality from our lives and move forward.

And for all those call center agents out there, perhaps these stigmata won’t fade really soon and there is nothing we can do to stop other people from spreading these, but there is one thing you all can do—prove them wrong.


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