Call Centre Chronicles


Kyle Leitch

Kyle Leitch

Thank You for Calling, How Can I Help You?

Article – Kyle Leitch – Production Manager

My attention is occupied, my brain is engaged, my eyes are devouring.

As I pour over the details of Obama’s latest comments about the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, I simmer with anger, rebuttals, and counter-arguments. I ignore when the next customer might phone and intrude on this important moment of self-education. I ignore when the next customer might disrupt this important moment I so badly want to understand. So-called metrics like Average Order Size, Monthly Sales, Sales Offered, Average Handle Time, and Call Volume are non-entities to me. How dare another pathetic, greedy, shallow, impatient “valued customer” (read: small business owner) inhibit me from deconstructing and understanding the numerous discourses on this controversial carrier of Alberta’s bitumen.

My heart races as the connections emerge. One article finished, now on to the next one.

But, my learning is pierced. Pierced and deflated with the sharp, whining interruption of the next calling valued customer, always signified by that distinctive, sharp beep.

 – BEEP –

Thereafter is the familiar, male whisper, “customer service,” recorded for and played at the beginning of every inbound phone call made to the call centre, part of an office supply company that employs (read: exploits) my services. The whisper functions as a primer; it lets me know how I need to construct the façade of the best experience for customers. Other primers include “order processing,” “inside sales rep,” and “outside sales rep.”

My cubicle, previously an enclosure of solitude and comprehension, becomes a box of confinement; a space where I cater to the greedy, impatient, anxious, and at times schizophrenic needs (read: demands) of seemingly infinite valued customers.

Usually, the masquerade involves various amounts of contrived reassurance, and, if I’m having a bad day, excessive handholding. I often wonder how these valued customers were able to dial the phone in the first place.

Naturally, the phone call ends with a false guarantee that whatever blip has allegedly ruined a customer’s day will not happen again. And of course these valued customers are always told to call again if “there is anything else we can do for [them].”

But, I don’t give a shit if this helpless sap calls again or not. I’m just grateful for the silence I can enjoy again. I can, at last, return to something relevant: my self-education, my own interests. I’m reminded why the Keystone XL issue is an important one. Now I can finish the article and see what else the author has to say.

– BEEP –

Pierced again…


As I survey the rows of cubicles, succeeding at least forty meters ahead of mine, I’m depressed and surprised at the same time. The rows span about twenty meters across, wall-to-wall, dissected down the middle by a wide aisle. The aisle allows me to quickly return to my cubicle (read: box of confinement) on time after my breaks; after all, a low Customer Availability score means my biannual raise will be a few pennies less than the normal, meagre amount. The aisle doubles as a perfect vantage point to survey each row in its entirety; no doubt that as supervisors and managers pass each row, they ensure “reps” (read: people) are all providing the best experience to customers.

When I stand to survey the floor, I’m reminded how apt a phrase “box of confinement” is for each cubicle.

Save for two breaks and a thirty-minute lunch, each rep is plugged into his/her phone via the headset, never leaving his/her cubicle. The headset is never removed; it functions as the constant link to the infinite, continuous stream of valued customers. Should someone chance upon a moment of silence after a phone call, he/she is pierced with that persistent, whining beep, signalling another valued customer.

With the aural confinement comes the ocular confinement: the large, bright computer monitor ensures each rep will never lose focus on what’s happening with each valued customer’s account. The monitor confines me so efficiently. I wonder if discouraging interaction among reps is encouraged among management. Think of Marx’s arguments, but fast forward about two hundred years: the less connected I am with my colleagues, the more focused I am on consoling the customer; the less interactions among employees, the less likely we are to realize our mutual contempt for our shitty wages and exploitation, and the less likely we are to demand change from management, collectively and hence effectively.

Perhaps such confinement is most obvious in the corporeality of the cubicle. My cubicle stands about 1.4 meters in height, consists of three panels (one left, one centre, and one right), and each panel is covered in dense cotton and polyester to mute out the passage of sound. No doubt the cubicle’s panels confine my attention too; in this regard they double as blinders, keeping me focused on the big, bright monitor.

As I survey the floor, I’m depressed to see how robotic, how machine-like everyone is. Plugged in to their cubicles, reps never avert their eyes from their monitors, they never turn their heads to look behind or beside themselves. My depression deepens as I see I’m the only one who stands to take stock of this confinement.

It is a scene of chattering complacency. With each processed electrode in each computer, with each flicker of a pixel on each monitor, a synapse is discarded, no longer needed and no longer useful. No doubt a brain cell or two extra die along the slide into docility.

My depression is matched only by my stupefaction: the floor consists of numerous rows, rows that stretch at least forty meters ahead of mine; the rows span twenty meters across, wall to wall, dissected down the middle by a wide, aisle of surveillance. Each complacent rep is plugged in.

– BEEP –

The machine-like, mindless repetitions continue.

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