Pictured: The vocational equivalent of the shrug emoji
Okay, so there aren’t going to be many people, autistic or otherwise, who really want to work in a call centre. But if you’re new to the workforce, studying, or just not very good at interviews (so, like a lot of autistic people…) then working in a call centre is likely going to be one of the more attainable entry level options, along with things like hospo, retail, and other jobs that tend to share a lot of the same negatives that call centre work has anyway. Yes, the very limitations that make you bad at customer service are the same limitations that are likely to get you stuck doing it. Hooray!
So this post definitely isn’t “why working in a call centre is an amazing thing all autistic people should do” so much as “if you need to pay the bills and you’re not able to land your dream job right now, here are some things to consider when comparing call centre work to the other types of entry-level service jobs you might be eyeing up while crying and regretting your life choices.”
Obviously not all call centre jobs are exactly the same, and neither are all autistic people. I’m aiming to churn out a few more posts on working in a call centre with autism in the next while, because I spend a lot of my week right now working in a call centre and even more of my week being autistic. So without further ado, here are the positives of working in a call centre even if you’re the sort of person who freaks out at the idea of using the phone to order takeaways:
- It’s not face-to-face
Often when I tell someone where I work, they will tell me that they could never possibly work in a call centre, because talking on the phone, like, ew, god no. The funny thing is, some of the people who have said this to me work in face-to-face customer service jobs, like at the supermarket, where you can see the queues piling up and customers can yell at you in person.
Most people aren’t as used to talking on the phone as we are talking to face-to-face, so I can totally get it seeming more daunting than other customer service roles – I was pretty freaked out by the idea before I started (and for like six months after I started, let’s be honest). I didn’t know I had autism until I’d already been doing call centre work for a while, but looking back on it, even though many of my struggles at work have been related to autism symptoms, my job on the phones also allows me to avoid or compensate for a lot of the other social difficulties I have in other situations.
For a start, there is no eye contact, no facial expressions and no body language that you have to figure out or perform. There’s just you, the phone, and a computer full of reference materials that can prompt you if you get stuck. Not only does this avoid the exhaustion of having to constantly worry about the signals your body language is giving off, you can straight up do your job while stimming, pacing, making weird facial expressions, or even giving the fingers to the phone and whoever is on the other side of it. Your voice may be asking what else you can help the person who called right before closing time with today, but your middle fingers are not beholden to this lie.
You also only have to deal with one call at a time – no one can cut queues or interrupt what you’re doing, and you can take a moment to breathe and type your notes after the last customer before moving on to the next. I promise you not everyone that calls is angry (well, maybe they will be if you take calls for the bus service or something) but even when you do get angry callers they aren’t physically in the room with you, and when the call ends, they’re gone and you can bitch about them to your co workers. You can also turn down the volume on loud people, turn it up on quiet people, or put someone on hold if you really need a moment to collect yourself.
So yes – talking on the phone, a lot of people aren’t keen on that. But not having to deal with customers face to face is actually a pretty great bonus, because people
really suck are hard to deal with when you have autism.
- Scripting is kind of expected
This probably does vary a bit depending on your specific job but I’ve worked for a couple of different in- and outbound call centres and they all have basically provided consultants with scripts for different situations or encouraged us to write our own. Sure they want us to sound natural, but mostly they want us to do our job and not fuck it up, so suggested scripting is a big thing. The contrarian ADHD part of my brain finds this a little stifling, but honestly, my autistic side realises the benefits of being in a job where if I have to talk constantly, at least there is a list of the acceptable ways to say hello.
- Call centre work sticks to a schedule
To be fair this one is part positive and part negative. When you work in a call centre you tend to be told when you start and finish, when you get your breaks, when you are on the phones and when you are doing training or meetings or whatever the hell else. Usually your schedule will be available down to the 15 minute increments several weeks in advance.This means you know what’s coming and you can mentally prepare yourself, plus the issue of figuring what you should be doing right at this moment is sorted out for you.
It does also mean you generally can’t be as flexible about breaks as you can with other office jobs, and you have to apply for leave a long while in advance to make sure you can get it. But unlike, say, a lot of hospo jobs, your hours are your hours and you get paid for all of them – the call centre colossus works in your favour because it’s not going to guilt you into staying without overtime or skipping lunch.
- It just pays a lot better than some of the alternatives
This one is pretty simple, although I’m going off New Zealand statistics. Payscale.com lists the median wage for call centre workers as just over $19NZ. For baristas and bartenders it’s a little under $17, for retail $16.74, and for checkout operators $16.50. Note these four are all under the new minimum wage of $17.70, so the exact numbers will change soon, but you can see it’s still the difference between a job that basically skirts minimum wage and one that starts a few dollars over it. Once again it’s less about call centres being amazing and more about them being the least bad option of a bunch of entry level customer service gigs. There are a decent number of call centres that pay more than 20 bucks an hour, and at least unlike minimum wage they’re not implicitly telling you they’d pay you less if it were legally possible to do so. Yay?
- Practicing the things you suck at does eventually make them suck less
No, working in a call centre is not a wonderful uplifting journey of self development and learning funtime. But you do learn. In my experience you learn kicking and screaming while anxious, overwhelmed, and desperately pretending that you actually have real social skills, but you learn. My autistic ass is now a lot better at talking on the phone than many of the generally more socially gifted asses of my friends. On top of that, I’ve gained an inside view of how customer service works and how to efficiently and politely communicate what you need to customer service reps – which is a pretty handy skill to have, and not one that came naturally to me either (I used to pretty much just hide from shop assistants while desperately trying to google the answers they could have given me).
Maybe one day I’ll manage to buff up those interview skills and actually get a job that uses any of my actual skills instead of the things I’m terrible at. But for now, at least if customers yell at me I can pull faces at them from afar.