The call centre dials up engagement methods

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The call centre dials up engagement methods

How would you feel if your CEO led you in a rendition of singing ‘The Killers’ Mr Brightside’ in your induction session or organised a speed-dating event for the office?

Tonight (4 June 2013) was the first of a five-part programme, The Call Centre, a new fly-on-the-wall documentary following the ups and downs of a call centre. There are now over a million people working in call centres, with an average age of 26. They are often described as “the factories of our time.”

It featured CEO of Save Britain Money Nev Wilshire and his 700-strong workforce in Swansea, Wales, which is the third largest. They make hundreds of cold calls a day and are under Nev’s unorthodox style of management.

The programme’s description on the BBC Three website states: Nev is a very hands on boss who makes it his business to know the ins and outs of the call centre workers’ professional and private lives. He was born and bred in Swansea, and wouldn’t live anywhere else for all the money in the world.

You can see the trailer for the show here:

A tribunal waiting to happen?

I spent the first ten minutes – and various periods throughout the hour – shaking my head in disbelief, convinced it’s an updated version of The Office or a mockumentary. However, I’m assured it is real and either way, it’s fascinating viewing.

Ricky Gervais tweeted this evening: “Watching The Call Centre, I’m starting to think that David Brent isn’t so cringe worthy after all. I honestly don’t remember writing it, but I must have, surely? I think it’s my best work, but I can hardly watch it… This is a tribunal waiting happen.”

The way The Call Centre operates would undoubtedly lead to a glut of HR violations in most organisations. However, for some reason these rules don’t appear to apply in Nev’s world. There was a glimpse into line managers confronting bullying but many of the comments, particularly from management, had me holding my head in disbelief as I watched. Watching the tweets in real-time revealed I wasn’t alone in my shock.

NevThe average age of employees at its centre is 25 and from looking at the success of the speed-dating event, keen to socialise both in and outside of work with their colleagues. This episode focused on Nev’s quest to find a boyfriend for one of his female employees, admin assistant Kayleigh, and the gift he bought tea lady Hayley (pictured top).

So what works for The Call Centre and what type of employees do they employ? Nev (also pictured) says he “needs stable extroverts and wants staff to be happy enough to stay.” Can’t argue with that. Are the methods working? I’m not sure – this was the first of the series so am curious to see what unfolds in future episodes.

Internal comms with a difference – bad language warning…

As an insight into the uniqueness of the call centre – well I’ve not heard of this before, but am happy to be corrected – the all employee meeting has its own name.

Nothing new there, so what did they use – Town Hall? All Hands? Staff meeting? No… Sh*t sandwich. No you’ve not read that wrong. Apologies for the language!

Nev gathered most of the employees into a stairwell and updated them on what was happening in the company.

As @LouiseBinns noted in a tweet to me: It is a “classic” good news, bad news, good news employee meeting format, though…

True. But I’m not convinced the name will catch on. The mind boggles. What examples have you heard of all employee meetings? Anything as wacky? Do let me know.

What about other comms methods? I spotted a ‘Wall of Fame’ which looked like it had recognition charts and score sheets.

I was tweeted by AB tonight who told me they write an employee magazine for a call centre and offered to share insights with my blog readers. I’ll publish this information from them this week. Do you work in a call centre? What works when it comes to internal communication in your workplace?

I’m not going to detail the whole episode – it is available to watch on iPlayer. However, here were some of the key points:

Nev paraded a potential employee up and down the call centre asking employees ‘can she have a job’ based on her looks (so it seemed) instead of interviewing her.

‘Words of wisdom’ shared in the show:

“Friendly banter can motivate everyone”

“SWSWSWN: Some will, some won’t, so what? Next!”

“I favour those with glide in their stride”

“Smile as you dial”

“Happy people sell..miserable b****rds don’t”

“Surround yourself with great people. The rest is easy”

“There are winners and losers. It’s as simple as that”

The heart of the matter is a matter of the heart”

I tweeted that I was watching and reactions from my network included:

@DawniesKitchen the interview process is a little more unbelievable

@1HowardWalker Anyone who lets a fly on the wall documentary team into their workplace needs their head examining

@futurepilot97 The whole leadership style and concept is a little astoudning!

@how_IC_it I had to turn it off – cringetastic!

@wonky_donky This is basically one MASSIVE HR violation

How do employees react to this style of management?

There wasn’t a sense of whether this style of working is leading to business results, and I’m intrigued to see the rest of the series. However, and I’m fully aware this is a show put on for entertainment, they were beaming, singing and appeared to be having fun at work.

To find out more, follow @CallCentre_SBM. The conversation on social media was extraordinary during the show and according to the BBC there were over 20,000 tweets about the programme in 60 minutes. @CallCentre_SBM tweeted a ‘behind the scenes viewing party’ employees were having while the show was on.

To get an insight into what it was like to work on the show, check out this article from runner Angharad Evans on the BBC Three blog.

She writes: “Without music, the atmosphere on the floor dies and so does the drive to sell. Unfortunately it was the duty of the runners to turn the radios off when there was filming in the vicinity – much to the disgust of some of the team leaders and agents.

It surprised me to find that very few people were unhappy working at the call centre. Managers worked at keeping their workforce motivated by organising social events, charity days and numerous other incentives.

Nev – the CEO of the company – even went as far as to instigate a game of egg roulette and a bean eating competition to determine the winner of a sales battle, which incidentally happens to be one of my filming highlights.

I’ve never been in an environment where the CEO of the company knows most of the staff by name and gets so involved in their working and personal lives to ensure they perform.

His eccentric ways even extended to the production crew, who after months of filming, felt like part of the family.

I, as well as the other runners and even the producers were often subjected to his maverick ways.

…It nurtures and cares for hardworking people who face constant abuse from the public, and it will definitely make me think twice about the person on the other end of the line the next time I get a call.”

Did you watch The Call Centre? What did you think of it? You can see another clip below – Happy People Sell:

Further reading
How can you communicate with employees in a call centre? See my guest article here that looks at how to do exactly that

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Post author: Rachel Miller

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3  responses on The call centre dials up engagement methods

  • Oli

  • 5 June 2013 at 9:22 am

I think the furore over this documentary is interesting, what no one seems to have taken into the account is the culture.
I don’t just mean the culture of being a ‘cold caller’ in a large call centre.
But the culture of Swansea, I’ve worked in a call centre in Swansea for a large multi-national company and without the restraints of a corporate identity and values it would’ve been just like that.
Personnaly it made me miss living and working in Swansea and reminded me of a time when, yes my job wasn’t much cop, but the people were fantastic and mostly happy.

Hi Oli, thank you for commenting and for sharing your perspective on the area and from your experience, Rachel

  • Helen Deverell

  • 6 June 2013 at 3:48 pm

I watched this after reading your blog. I did spend a lot of it in disbelief and made the assumption there can’t possibly be a HR function! However, after a while I found myself thinking that his eccentricity did work (in this environment). He clearly understands the personality of his workforce and he does communicate with them to the point of knowing most of their names. He has obviously recognised that being hung up on x number of times a day can be de-moralising so he counter balances it. I’ll definitely be tuning in next week!

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