From the small talk to internalizing customers’ angry words, I quickly realized working at a call center was not well-suited for an introvert.
I used to think that my passion for interacting with people made me an extrovert… but working at a call center made me realize how introverted I really was.
At the call center, this was my script:
“Thank you for choosing ______. My name is Vanit. How may I help you?”
These words became a ritual for me, words I uttered more than 700 times during the summer of 2020. Glued to my headset for nine hours a day, I was working as a customer service representative for one of the largest mobile providers in America. I still recall signing my job contract with a flourish, full of optimism at the prospect of being able to help dozens of struggling customers. All my life I had loved working with people, and as a self-proclaimed extrovert, I figured that I would excel at the job.
One week later, and I had started to wake up everyday with an inexplicable sense of dread. At first, I chalked it down to nervousness at being new on the gig, but the anxiety started to worsen with time. I eventually had to quit for my mental health, and looking back at the experience, I can now see it was a clear wake-up call to my introversion.
4 Ways Working at a Call Center Made Me Realize I’m an Introvert
1. Being constantly judged by metrics was crippling for me.
Having to comply with a dozen performance indicators was the most stressful part of my job. How long was I spending on each call? What percentage of my customers called back because I didn’t adequately meet their needs? What customer satisfaction scores was I receiving? These were just some of the questions I had to deal with every day.
A call center is a fast-paced environment, and introverts thrive when they have time and space to make their decisions. Knowing that each call was being recorded — and that my performance was being measured in real-time — gave me tunnel vision, and I began feeling overwhelmed whenever an upset customer called in with multiple complaints. There were instances when a supervisor would pull me from my work and grill me about a mistake I had made on a previous call. The micro-managerial scrutiny made me even more sensitive to critique, and my classic introverted tendency to be self-reflective caused me to replay every mistake in my head, slowly chipping away at my self-confidence. The weight of these expectations was suffocating, and I constantly felt like there was a huge spotlight trained on me, just waiting for me to fail again.
It didn’t help that my many upset customers would be angrily cursing out the company on the other end, making it even tougher for me to concentrate. We introverts have a tendency to internalize problems, and I found it difficult not to treat anger directed at the corporation as anger personally directed at me. Like most introverts, it made me realize why I tended to work best alone or within an intimate team, whereas rapid problem-solving with upset strangers isn’t exactly our cup of tea.
2. I only found joy in meaningful conversations with customers, not endless small talk.
Perhaps the biggest misconception about introverts is they hate talking to people. My call center experience passionately changed that opinion for me.
We hate small talk with people, but we excel at meaningful conversations.
There were definitely flashes of joy I experienced in a few customer interactions that made me tear up, and those are the best memories I have of my job.
After I had resolved a network issue for an elderly woman living in Tennessee, she proceeded to tell me about her upcoming chemotherapy treatment the following morning, and how nervous she was. I know several people who have successfully battled cancer, and I commended her on the bravery it takes to begin treatment, assuring her that it was the gateway to a healthier, happier life. It was one of the few times that summer I had felt so good about myself, and the pride of being able to provide her even the slightest bit of comfort made me understand why introverts crave meaningful connections and a close group of friends who “get” us. While we may appear quiet on the outside, we can speak with warmth and conviction when the topic concerns something that is familiar and important to us.
Out of 700 calls, I had maybe 15 experiences like this. The remainder were quick, impersonal conversations that involved an impatient client, me scrambling to solve their problems, and them hanging up before I could say “enjoy the rest of your day.” It didn’t matter whether I had provided them with 5-star service or transferred them to another department, but those calls always left me feeling dejected. Unfortunately, these types of interactions are the bread-and-butter of corporate call centers, and it didn’t take long for me to realize that I wasn’t compatible with the environment.
3. The most anxiety I felt was in-between calls.
Whatever stress I felt when dealing with a difficult customer, it was nothing compared to my mindset in-between calls. The period between when a current customer would hang up to when the next customer’s information would populate on my screen was agonizing, and I literally remember my legs trembling while waiting for the next call. Typically, this time is supposed to serve as a breather for employees, to stretch and have a drink of water. For me, the moments were filled with anticipatory anxiety.
Most introverts despise unpredictable, spontaneous situations where we are not in control. Compared to many extroverts, we aren’t as comfortable in settings where we feel vulnerable in some way.
By default, I spent the time between each call with my mind wandering uncontrollably. Where will this next person call from? What issue are they going to have? How angry are they going to be? What if it’s that same billing issue as the last guy? I was creating problems in my mind that didn’t exist, and trying to think (and overthink) my way out of uncertainty. Every introvert will tell you that they’ve done this before, by retreating into their minds when faced with a challenge. Working in a call center, I was stuck in a self-fulfilling prophecy. There was absolutely no way to have any semblance of predictability for the type of calls I would get, but my need to feel balanced and in control led to my mind spiralling dangerously.
Most of the time, those feelings would be averted as soon as I answered the next call. I would typically know exactly how to help the customer. Ironic as it may have seemed to an outgoing, confident customer service representative, I had to deal with this catastrophizing tendency every single time. Unfortunately, that continuous fear of the unknown persisted, and gradually contributed to me feeling burned out.
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4. I had trouble being around other people after my shifts.
Unlike some of my colleagues who had to work until midnight, I was fortunate to be scheduled from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. This ideally left me with enough time in the day to join my friends at the basketball net down the street, dribbling away the day’s stress.
Unfortunately, I was far from being proactive in maintaining my social life. I just couldn’t relax when I was in the company of other people, and the incessant conversation would overload my brain even more. After several days of splitting migraines, I realized I had to change my definition of “downtime.”
I started spending the remainder of those summer evenings camped out on my living room couch, listening to podcasts and music while eating dinner. Sure enough, the quiet, solitary nights — in my very own “introvert zen zone” — helped put my mind at ease better than any amount of social interaction would have. Like most introverts, fun parties were the last thing I would have wanted after a grueling day at work, and the time alone helped me reset to some degree.
I was extremely fortunate to have friends who were understanding, and didn’t take offense to me refusing a night out. Yet I say this with a warning: Although we may have the best of intentions, introverts need to be careful about not drawing social boundaries so thick that we distance ourselves from the people we love. In hindsight, having the support of my friends would have done me a world of good, and I regret isolating myself as much as I did.
How Working at the Call Center Made Me Reevaluate My Career Goals
Although it may seem like it, I don’t regret working in that call center one bit. Yes, it was tough, and I definitely would never do it again. However, I learned so much about myself that would otherwise have been bottled up underneath the surface, only to have those feelings potentially re-emerge later in life when the stakes were higher. Those summer months led to me reevaluating a major life decision, and I have a much healthier mindset about my career goals and personality. And if it hadn’t been for the call center, I wouldn’t have made the switch from majoring in business to psychology. A career in counseling seems infinitely more appealing than a corporate environment, now that I know the prospect of helping people in more intimate settings is what energizes me. As a direct result of the switch, I have also become more comfortable in accepting my introversion as a defining part of me — especially because I no longer feel the pressure to furiously attend networking events, Zoom socials, and put on a “game face” for the world.
I am proud to be an introvert, but I must encourage you not to use that as a label to avoid challenging social situations. It’s OK to put yourself out there sometimes and take risks with reasonable stakes, no matter how temporary. Sure, you might hate it, but looking back, you might be surprised at how much you learned along the way.