By David Oliver
I was in Logan International waiting with my parents before boarding the plane. All I could feel was nervousness, fear, and optimism while I waited for an experience like I’d never had before.
I was heading to Manila, Philippines to work at a Ubiquity Global Services Call Center for a month. I was nervous about the experience I was going to have while there, and afraid of not knowing what was going to happen. I like being prepared, but couldn’t prepare myself for this trip because I had never done it before and I had no idea what was to come. But I was optimistic, as well, because I was going to do something new, learn brand new things, be in an unfamiliar place, meet different people, and have new experiences. Most importantly, I was going to learn about a field I never thought was truly important. I soon learned, however, that I couldn’t have been more wrong about.
In the end, I realized that people in the U.S. do not truly appreciate what people in call centers around the world do for them.
A lot of people don’t know what goes on at call centers, because it is such a unique job, but it’s important to know. In a way, it is similar to working at a restaurant; everyone should work at a restaurant at least once because it will open their eyes to how difficult the job can be. Similarly, if people worked at call centers it would open their eyes up to what the employees do.
The Philippines has more call centers than any other country–India being second, and the U.S. third–but the centers are beginning to make their way back to the United States due to rising operating costs overseas. Most people use call centers just to get their questions answered, but what they don’t understand is that the employees are living their life based on the people calling.
I stayed in an area called Bonifacio Global City. This area was surrounded with art, sculptures and paintings on the sides of buildings that were really high up. I walked past a 6-foot tall heart sculpture that had a painting of two female faces side by side with a maroon color along with pink and red. Their faces made a heart shape inside the heart sculpture.
Walking around, people seemed friendly and smiled all the time. It was very different from the U.S., where you can sometimes walk around and think that everyone looks like they hate their lives.
I went to work from 3 a.m. to 12 p.m. for all of July, but the call center was open 24 hours a day. Some employees came in at 7 p.m. and left at 4 a.m., and that blew my mind because most people sleep at night, yet they came in to work. It made sense, though, because The Philippines is 12 hours ahead of the U.S., and people tend to wake up around 7 a.m. in the U.S., so a little bit after that time is when they begin calling the center.
In only my second week at the call center, I learned that every call is important to the employees, because a single bad call can land you in trouble, or even cost you your job. I worked in the HR Department for two weeks, which handles the hiring process for the call centers. I was involved in a couple of interviews, including one for a man named Kevin Lingad who had been fired for receiving a bad score on just one of his calls.
A week later, I witnessed an employee talking to an angry customer on the phone. The customer kept asking to speak to a manager even though the employee told him several times that managers didn’t take customer calls. I was sitting across from the employee, and she remained calm and polite the entire time, even though she was working at 12 a.m. and was being yelled at for something that wasn’t her fault. The employee handled the situation professionally, even though the person on the other end did not.
Patricia Angeles, a member of the HR department, explained to me the hardship the Philippines faces when it comes to getting jobs. Many families are poor; many parents don’t have enough money to send their kids to college and there isn’t much government support to help those families. People have a poor-to-average quality of education, so that students are often unprepared for high-level jobs.
Angeles believes call center agents are being taken for granted.
“I think Americans somehow belittle the work they do, because they don’t know what they had to go through everyday,” she said. “Especially since they don’t know that these agents are from third world countries, that they have to just accept and hear curse words from people they don’t even know.”
What’s ultimately important is to treat everyone with respect – even disembodied voices on the other end of the line.