Four years ago, when I was a broke graduate, I said yes to a call center job. A headhunter recruited me and briefed me on the basics, but nothing could prepare me for the brutal truths to come. Just weeks in, I was drained, tired, my soul crushed. For classic introverts like me, call centers can be a modern-day hell.
It was a journey of failures and successes, but I’m happy to report that I survived. And I learned that just because introverts hate talking on the phone doesn’t mean we can’t be top agents behind the phone. No joke — here’s how I did it.
Why Would an Introvert Choose to Work in a Call Center?
I’d just graduated from college, I wanted a job quickly, and a call center promised I’d “get hired today, start working tomorrow.” All they required of me was communication skills — previous job experience was not necessary. The compensation and benefits package was twice the minimum wage. At that point in my life, I couldn’t have asked for more!
So, I launched myself out of my comfort zone and got a “real” job.
Expectations vs. Reality
Here’s the fun part to any new job: when you finally realize what you got yourself into.
I thought call center work was just about talking over the phone. As long as I could answer customers’ questions, I should be fine! But boy, was I mistaken.
When I handled a financial account, I didn’t just answer simple queries like, “How much is in my checking account?” or “When is my check deposit going to clear?” It was much more complicated than that. The calls could be draining, take a couple hours, and crush all your hopes for humanity.
I had to deal with emotional, irate customers who were sick and tired of bearing with the business I was representing. I had to empathize, apologize, and grow a thick skin — not an easy feat for a highly sensitive introvert like me who is quite sensitive to other people’s words and anger.
Many times, my chest heaved and my cheeks burned. Everything was too personal for me. I dreaded the small talk from chatty consumers. My cheeks hurt from the fake smiles and laughter (we were trained to smile when answering the phone because it made us sound friendlier).
And if you think the hell ends when you finally log out from your phone, you’re wrong.
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Teamwork in Call Centers
I worked in semi-permanent groups with all sorts of people. I met warm, friendly coworkers and even some quiet ones like myself. But there were also people who were so loud that I never truly felt comfortable around them. Instead, I had to learn how to become comfortable with the awkwardness.
My “secret”? Just nervous laughter and a smile. (Not much of a helpful secret, I know.)
Call center environments embrace extroverted culture. Once, I was called out for eating lunch alone and not chatting much during our downtime (I preferred to read). Another huge thing was “team building.” Imagine having to sleep in a dorm room and share a bed with your coworker on an overnight retreat. I almost always said no to that.
Yes, I was quite the social outcast. My supervisors constantly encouraged me to “connect” with my teammates.
As an introvert, I persisted with my own means of survival. And I proved to them that they could just leave me alone. I aced my surveys, stats, and came to work on time every day.
So how did I do it?
How to Survive (and Succeed) in a Call Center as an Introvert
1. Find the right call center.
Not all call centers are created equal. Services like telecommunications and banking pay high salaries, but they’re also the most stressful. They’re the typical call center jobs that have high burnout and turnover rates. I quit two call center jobs like those before finding the one that worked for me.
Let me be clear: No amount of money is ever worth feeling stressed out all the time.
So, research the company well before you apply. Ask for employee feedback regarding:
- Volume of work
- Customer attitudes
- Culture and environment
2. Plan and request time off.
I always looked forward to taking time off work and being free from the stress of talking to customers. Every month, I’d take a long weekend to gather my senses, go surfing, and just sit quietly by myself at the beach.
Alone time is crucial for us introverts to function at our best. More than that, studies show that taking advantage of your PTO — whether you’re an introvert or extrovert — boosts morale and reduces stress and burnout. When I leave work for days at a time, I get this weird excited feeling to see my work computer again (read: work computer, not necessarily teammates!).
3. It’s okay to go solo.
Lunch time was reserved for alone time. Throughout college and into my call center career, I almost always ate peacefully alone. My favorite spot in the pantry was the side facing the wall (who else can relate?).
My short, fifteen-minute breaks were also spent in silence. While some people checked their social media notifications, I brewed tea and stared into nothingness.
If you’re lucky enough to work in a call center with sleeping quarters, you may take a nap during lunch time. You probably need to catch up on sleep anyway.
4. Fake it till you make it (yes, really).
Although I cringed when I was trained to do so, smiling while talking on the phone really did make a big difference in my demeanor. Practicing an upbeat, high-pitched tone also helped positively influence a customer’s mood.
As strange as it sounds, it’s a lot like acting. Your workstation is your stage, and you just have to perform.
You don’t have to love your customers and befriend all of your teammates. You just have to deliver and act according to what you’re being paid for — solving customer’s problems. For example, if they’re angry, give assurance that everything will be alright, even when you’re not sure yet what to do!
Once you learn to “own” your call and take responsibility for your customer, 80% of the hard work is covered. Each call will be a breeze, even those where you have to say, “I can’t do that for you.”
5. At the end of the day, disconnect.
Yes, you will be labeled “that guy who never stays for happy hour,” but that’s fine. Over time, people will show respect and leave you alone. When you earn recognition as “most efficient” or a “customer satisfaction champ,” people will finally see the power in your quiet.
Fellow introverts will look up to you as an example; you have braved the unthinkable and “made it” after months of faking it. Most importantly, you’ll have your finances set! Who knows, you could use this money to start a new career you really care about like working as an artist or in a small fishing community — an introvert’s dream, right? Keeping your larger, more meaningful goal in mind can help you survive your darkest days in the call center.
And, oh, it’s okay to leave your Facebook group chat on “mute.” It doesn’t really matter.
Don’t be so hard on yourself. Remember, just stepping out of our comfort zones is a huge thing for us introverts. Don’t be afraid of the exhaustion and frustration. Yes, they will inevitably come your way, but the hard days will pass, and soon you’ll find yourself in peace quiet.