These Are The Call Centre Secrets You *Really* Need To Know

Memo: if you're rude to us while you're on hold, we can hear you.
alvarez via Getty Images

Many of you will know that feeling of freedom once you’ve left a job you didn’t love and can finally spill the beans without fear of reprisal.

So when Uberfacts recently asked its Twitter followers to dish the dirt on their former workplaces, it’s no surprise that the response was massive.

We learned a lot of secrets: from the fancy bars that serve you cheaper alcohol in expensive bottles to posh hotels that don’t even wash the drinking glasses between guest stays.

But the secret that shocked people most of all was this one:

Yep, you read right, and as someone who used to work for a call centre I can say this one is absolutely true.

The tweet certainly unlocked a lot of curiosity about call centres and what’s going on when you’re being held for minutes or hours on end, as well as what it’s like to be the person on the other end of the phone.

HuffPost spoke to a few former call centre staff to get some truths.

Yes, we can still hear you when you’re on hold

Shomi*, 23 from London, who worked in an international call centre in Paris before becoming a fashion assistant in the French capital, confirms that staff listen to customers when they have been put on hold. “Even though it’s a secret, we don’t use that to our advantage,” she says. “Well, I haven’t anyway.”

However, you’d be wise to watch what you say. “If you spend your hold time insulting the rep, you can be damn sure you’re not getting any favours when they come back on the line,” tweeted another call centre worker on the thread.

No, you’re not always on hold for a reason

Here, I can reveal we used to put callers on hold just to have a gossip (sorry, not sorry!). Dealing with customers hour in and hour out can become so mundane, sometimes you just need a natter with you desk neighbour instead.

Sam*, 26, who now works in administration in Essex, says these chats kept him going. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t put people on hold to talk,” he confesses. “However that’s due to the nature of the job. Essentially, it’s a corporate sweatshop. You normally only get 30 seconds between each call to gather yourself. Anything more than that and you get called up on it.”

There’s rude and then there’s plain racist

Time and again, people reveal their true colours to call centre staff. As Shomi tells HuffPost: “Sometimes I’ve picked up the phone and the caller has said, ‘I don’t want to speak to a Black person, I want to speak to a white person.’”

Unfortunately, this was part of my call centre experience, too. Customers were regularly rude, either directly or when on hold (we understand your frustrations, but it’s not fair to put it on us). But they were also, on many occas, racist.

Similar to Shomi, I had customers who would ask to speak to a ‘British’ person. Asked why, they would often say it made them feel comfortable to speak to someone who sounded like them. Some customers would swear or even threaten us.

Threatening to leave can (sometimes) get you a better deal

Gbemi*, 28 from Scotland, now a retail beauty consultant, says one of the worst-kept secrets at the insurance call centres she’s worked at is that agents can adjust a quoted price based on a formula they’re told to use when a customer threatens to take their business elsewhere.

However, here’s the bit you might not know. The system is set up to sniff out those hacking the system. “Companies keep track of those who abuse freebies,” Gbemi explains, “so if you call, the agent has a warning sign on your account and they’ll simply transfer you instead of offering one.”

Call centres have office dramas (and romance), too

“I heard a team leader was dating two of his team members at the same time and there was a three-way argument on the call floor,” Sam reveals. “I had to put a call on hold just to enjoy the show!”

A colleague told me another crazy story: a customer turned up to the call centre and threatened to fight one of the agents! Luckily they didn’t make it inside. But it just goes to show you how passionate some customers can be.

Customer service reps do work hard for customers

Gbemi says call centre work is every bit as pressured as you might expect from a role that involves being on the phone for so long, either fielding demanding customers or troubleshooting people’s problems.

“One of the [call centres] I worked for basically wanted you hooked to the phone for ridiculous time periods,” she says. “They have a timer that you cannot control to manage work between calls and *every* minute is tracked and performance targets are pedalled very heavily.”

None of this is great for maintaining your mental health, she adds. “Until you’ve worked there you don’t realise how you take small things like just getting up from your desk or speaking to a colleague for granted.”

Finally, if you keep getting transferred, it might be on you

Sam says that if you’re getting bounced around from agent to agent, this is usually on purpose. He’s not wrong – this is something I would do at my call centre when a customer was being rude or just annoying.

So, next the time you’re getting snappy with a customer service agent, remember we can hear you! And we’re just trying to do our best.

Play nice and we’ll play nice, too. Probably. Unless there’s a juicy bit of office gossip doing the rounds. “Sir, I’m just going to need to put you on hold...”

* Surnames have been omitted to offer anonymity.