November 10, 2013

Call Centres, the New Factories Making Annoyed People

Will Davies has written a thought-provoking piece on his blog about the charade of the call centre interaction. It gets to the heart of the way that call centres are engineered interactions where companies suddenly pretend to become concerned and interested in you, when in fact they're just suddenly becoming concerned about losing a source of profit.

It reminded me of an anecdote I was told a few months back, about young unemployed people in north Liverpool. There'd been some survey to try to work out why they didn't want the jobs on offer in call centres, and the young people didn't regard those as "proper jobs". When asked what "proper jobs" would be, they spoke about wanting to work on the docks or in factories like their parents, or their grandparents, had.

Now in the short-term, I can agree that taking jobs that are available (although I'm not convinced there are enough of those going around at the moment) is better than no job, but I don't think that prevents us from working out better directions in which to take society to try to improve matters in the medium-term.

With globalisation pushing more of the manufacturing abroad, call centres do seem to becoming one of the remaining mass employers of the working class.

The problem is that working in a call centre doesn't produce anything. Other than customers at varying levels of annoyed at having to fight their way to a conclusion. Whilst I suspect that sitting on a production line all day wasn't the height of fun work, at least there was the feeling that you were producing something of use, of value.

Over my career I've worked on projects that have come to naught, and others which have resulted in my code playing a part in millions of mobile phones. The work itself was pretty similar in both cases, but there's a noticeable additional reward of little blips of pride whenever you encounter the results of your labour outside the workplace - spotting somebody using a phone you helped create.

There was some discussion about mass-manufacturing and factory work during Laptops and Looms, with a charge being laid that those of us lamenting the loss of manufacturing in the UK were romanticising the past, and that factory work was hard, unrewarding and dangerous. That may well be true, but moving it further away from where we encounter it isn't going to do anything to change that.

Maybe that is part of the problem we have when engaging with call centres. Maybe work as the foot-soldiers of corporations was always dehumanising, but in the past that was mostly hidden away whereas now we come into contact with it directly?

Whatever the reason, it would be nice if we could come up with a better solution for both "consumers" and the people currently working in the call centres.

Posted by Adrian at November 10, 2013 09:50 AM | TrackBack

This blog post is on the personal blog of Adrian McEwen. If you want to explore the site a bit further, it might be worth having a look at the most recent entries or look through the archives or categories over on the left.

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