Life Inside in an AOL Call Center

10 years inside a call center pressure cooker, the Sitel Corporation. That’s how much time one reader clocked in as a “golden child” CSR on the road for upper management, until he quit to better his life.

Our tipster was there before they took on AOL as overlord customer and stayed there after, and the change was profound. Reps are paid below fast food workers, he says, and more than 70% of the focus was on call volume and length of call, not customer service (confirming our suspicions all along). His experience sounds hellacious.

He writes, “As Sitel grabbed up the AOL style contracts this changed dramatically from a professional development environment with a business casual feel to a meat grinder that ditched almost all but the most basic cleanliness standards. Now having Sitel on your resume means you have the basic motor and social skills to get a job, nothing more.”

Shed a tear for the lowly CSR at the behest of America Online, after the jump…


Our anonymous tipster writes:

“I used to work for a company that did AOL support (in fact I live with the person who was the ‘lead trainer’ for the AOL contract) and unless the contracee/contractor relationship has changed drastically in favor of the workers (yeah, right) someone working on the AOL contract has far less job security than someone who works directly for AOL.

If AOL doesn’t like a contractor CSR for any reason (tone of voice, sound of voice, call handling skill) they ring up the contracting company and say ‘make that person disappear’. The contracting company will, in order to maintain as good a relationship with the moneybags as possible, get rid of the CSR ASAP.

The most likely reason that these contracted CSRs aren’t very good at their job probably has more to do with the fact that the call center they work for is paying wages that are often lower than fast food. They drag people in with half hearted promises of possible bennies, a clean office environment and something to put on their resume that says something other than Food Service.

Where I live Sitel Corporation (Madison Wi) was once known as a breeding ground for entry level IT tech workers. Once upon a time hiring a Sitel veteran insured you got someone who had been in a pressure cooker environment surrounded by other techie types, absorbing a whole range of IT support related information. As Sitel grabbed up the AOL style contracts this changed dramatically from a professional development environment with a business casual feel to a meat grinder that ditched almost all but the most basic cleanliness standards. Now having Sitel on your resume means you have the basic motor and social skills to get a job, nothing more. Having 3 consecutive years at Sitel either means you are a manager type who can get blood from stones or a total tool who probably isn’t worth the time to interview.

A contracted call center’s whole life revolves around pre-negotiated service level measurements. Ensuring that their company gets paid is the whole world. It’s not about the customers, it’s about getting to the end of the script fast enough— CSRs who fail to take the requisite number of calls are cutting into the company’s profit margin. At least 70% of our focus was on number of calls per hour and average length of calls. Another 20% was related to following ‘the script’ for a call–making the call fit the pre-determined pattern with the right noises made in the right places. Somewhere buried in the remaining 10% was customer satisfaction, in there with the other more typical stuff like being on time, ability to communicate and following instructions.

I’ve been there–I was one of Sitel’s ‘golden children’ being groomed for advancement by my leads and managers. I saw how the numbers changed us. To be fair, I worked there 10 years ago and I didn’t quit because I was disgusted or didn’t like the path so it’s not like I can really be all ‘holier than thou’ about it. (I left out of a desire to change my life significantly after the death of a parent totally unrelated to Sitel or its practices).

Life of a CSR working for a contracted call center is pretty awful work.”

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  1. chipclip says:

    As a telemarketer for a big ten university, I can relate.

  2. When I was a phone jockey, I used to get in trouble because my calls were too short. Even though I helped people with what they wanted, my stats were unsatisfactory.

    I could log over 100 calls in a workday. But they would have liked it if made about 40, and acted all lovey dovey with the customers.

    I preferred to just do what the customer needed.

    I got in trouble also for not speaking like a robot using the ‘script’ they wanted us to use.

    First chance outta there, I was gone!