Call Center Purgatory <$BlogRSDURL$>
Call Center Purgatory
Wednesday, March 16, 2005
  Surveillance Blues

Opening Scene from 1984 the movie (c)

"The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles."
-Karl Marx,The Communist Manifesto
Most of us can agree that communism has not proved itself out as a prosperous way of governing (the jury is still out on Laissez-Faire Capitalism). Marx was wrong about many things, but as a sociologist he still had some very valid points. He is the author of the school of thought called "Social Conflict Theory". It states that society will never be inherently orderly. We will not all take our individual places in society as part of some well-oiled machine because we will always be in conflict. The ruling classes will always struggle to gain control or any kind of advantage over the lower classes, and the lower classes will always try to gain what the upper classes have. I don't think this is the only way to understand society, but it is true in many cases.

Sometimes that control is brutal, like a slave owner's whip, or riot police with ASP batons and machine guns, but most of the time its subtle. In the arena of employees and management, most of the time efforts to control are subtle. We rarely fear physical pain or torture from our bosses. Most of the time the worst that can happen is losing your job.

In all of the different jobs I have worked at during my life, the call center has been the strangest in regards to feeling controlled. I'm actually fortunate in that my call center is more lenient in how they judge my work. Because the nature of our business is more technical, we are allowed more time to handle calls and more freedom.

2 Minutes of Hate meeting from 1984-I feel like this at my call center training meetings...

My center still has all of the standard call center methods of control. Our cubicles are set up in a way that we still have no privacy and you always have that feeling that someone is watching you behind your back. Our phones can be monitored, what sites we visit on the web can be brought up in real time while we are online. Our time leaving the floor is noted, but they are pretty reasonable about it(we can pee whenever we want). The number of transactions we complete are kept track of daily. My least favorite system is called the CRM-Call Routing Monitor.

This little gem is connected to the phone system and keeps track of when we are off and on the phone, how long we take on each call, and when we turn our phones off. Everyone in management has access to this system. There are special terminals on each manager's desk for watching it. Sometimes Larry or the GM will just sit and stare at the screen, so we can see them. Other times we will hear them yell, "You've been on that call a long time!", or "Why aren't you accepting incoming calls?". I expect that from Larry, and most of the time he is not unreasonable. But what's truly scary is when someone else that is not my direct supervisor calls me on the phone and asks why I've been on the phone for so long.

I sometimes think Larry would love to manage his employees like O'Brien does in 1984. You know, cameras everywhere and the threat of torture and becoming an unperson. Sure, it's not friendly, but it sure is efficient. And isn't that what the bottom line is all about in business?

I know that management has to have some sort of method for monitoring what their employees are doing. Business needs to struggle against employees that don't want to work as hard as they should, they can't make money without looking at the performance of the their employees.

What's wrong with depending only on this type of utterly invasive surveillance is that its the low road; its a cop-out. Managing only through surveillance is saying that there is no other answer to the conflict between labor and management besides ruling through fear. Using only this type of control destroys any hope of a healthy relationship between the worker and management. When management spends the time necessary to reward those that are doing good and truly discipline those that aren't, we could see less of a need for this "Us" versus "Them" mentality. This isn't a pipe dream or new-age humanistic bullshit. I've worked at other jobs with surveillance, but I knew where I stood, and I was rewarded or disciplined in substantial ways on a regular basis. Fear and uncertainty through surveillance is the lazy way to manage. It will only result in bitterness and suspicion on both sides.

Thanks for reading,


If they keep track of the number of completed transactions daily, that should be enough to distinguish between employees doing their work and people lazing around. As far as i understand your job, transactions define your productivity. That's just what the corporation is supposed to care about.

I find computer monitoring is a direct assault to privacy, at least in your case. They pay you get transactions, you get them--what you visit on the internet meanwhile is not of their business.

Do you have to walk to another floor to pee?
It's the same way at 'acme'.
Amount of time on each call, amount of time using *callwork* in btwn calls (to keep the next call from coming in so we can finish up a call, not to pick our nose)and how much time away from phone ie. bathroom breaks, nose picking. If I had a nickel for everytime I hear "get back on the phone!". I like to sit on *callwork* and wait for a pvr to meander over to ask "is everything ok?" and I say "Good! I'm glad you're here, actually I DO need your help" and then the spvr wishes they never asked the sarcastic question to begin with.
Yeah. We also have no means of monitoring performance other than vague statistics that can be interpreted in any manner of ways. I don't feel it gives a clear picture of what I do. Oh well.
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Exploring the mind numbing insanity and childish corporate culture of an unknown call center employee.

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