Call centres: I was treated like a child in worst days of my life

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The Independent Online

The six months I worked for HSBC at its call centre in Swansea were the most miserable I have ever spent at work.

I was taking a year out from University of Wales, Swansea, and many of the other "customer service representatives" were educated to A-level and above. But we were treated like children and we were simply not trusted.

I must admit that I found the two weeks of training we were given was interesting and sometimes quite good fun. However, I found that as soon as I "went live" I rarely had the time to communicate with any of my colleagues. We were on the phone constantly from 9am to 5pm with one hour for lunch and two 15-minute breaks.

Everything we did was monitored constantly. They even noted how long we spent in the lavatory. Management kept a very close eye on the time we took on each call. There was little opportunity for conversational niceties with customers.

There was no question of us using any initiative. All our responses were minutely scripted and we could be disciplined for deviating from the text.

Sometimes customers would become abusive. One chap wanted me to transfer money instantly and I couldn't do that. He became extremely abusive and I began to laugh. Management clearly did not pick up on that call or I would have been fired.

Every week the "team leader" would talk to us individually, telling us exactly how many calls we had taken and how much time had elapsed during each one. Every call was recorded. Management said it was for our protection, but we knew it was to check up on us.

I once got into trouble for helping an old lady who was clearly hard of hearing. I asked her questions we used to check people's identity and she kept on getting the answers wrong, so I repeated them and you are not supposed to do that. She simply misheard the questions and gave the wrong responses. She was obviously distressed and could not understand why she could not speak to her own bank manager. We were strongly discouraged from referring people to their own branches.

The call centre was on an industrial estate at Llansamlet near Swansea, so there was nothing to do on your breaks.

Management had poor "people skills" and were generally short-tempered and unthinking. We were constantly told about "treats" for team-building purposes, but nothing ever materialised. Turnover at the centre was sky-high.

In stark contrast I now work at a much smaller call centre in Gravesend, Kent, run by Call Performance Ltd, which sells franking machines to small businesses.

We are trusted, allowed to socialise within reason and encouraged to use our initiative. There is a much happier atmosphere, partly because management realises that happy people normally work more effectively.