Don’t call them call girls, or call boys!

Published by rudy Date posted on March 19, 2011

I met her while lining up for coffee at the neighborhood Starbucks in Salcedo Village. It was almost 10 in the evening when I took a break from the grim images of a Japanese doomsday being played over and over again on CNN.

She smiled and a smile came back from this grumpy old mug that someone said seems to wear a permanent scowl. We struck up a conversation while waiting for the barista to prepare the brew caffeine junkies lap up while working their laptops in Starbucks wi-fi–equipped outlets.

This is why Starbucks is a multi-million business empire worldwide and still growing. It is the new social place. Aside from being wi-fi connected, every outlet is provided with a magazine and newspaper rack It is also a place for meeting real, live people and no one tells you another customer needs the table after you have consumed your cuppa java.

This sounds like I just discovered Starbucks recently. But I am just amazed at how an almost 24/7 establishment survives and thrives as an alcohol-free watering place.

When she ordered two cups of steaming coffee, it does not take much to see she was with someone else. I told her I wanted to do a piece on call center people who work late nights and the toll this lifestyle takes on their lives. But the companies would not let me observe and talk to their employees while they are at work. But now Madie said yes and invited me to join her at the al fresco section for smokers.

She was with a handsome young man with closely cropped hair.

Madie, that’s her name, is 25 and works at a call center just beside the Starbucks outlet. Her live in-partner, Paolo is 32 and he used to operate his own four call centers with a small crew until bad times shuttered his offices. Ever the entrepreneur, he’s now back doing what he does best, running a small pub in Makati , and disc jockeying at night.

Madie was the next best thing through which I could get a looking glass glimpse of the world of the many men and women in call centers found mostly in Makati’s concrete, steel and glass high rise buildings.

This I learned from her: Aside from Metro Manila, there are call centers in Subic, Baguio, Cebu and Davao. Multinationals prefer Filipinos for their American accent English to their Indian counterparts who do a bad imitation of the British accent.

A few Indian call center operators have in fact relocated here to adapt to market needs of business outsourcing, hiring Filipinos for their more client-friendly English.

Because of the different time zones of clients in Europe, the US and Australia, the working hours at these call centers are round the clock .with a three-shift pool

For those who sign off at 3 a.m. the company usually provides a shuttle bus service.

Thus, another industry emerged in the last so many years to spawn and sustain those 24/7 food outlets and convenience stores like the pioneer 7-11, Mini Stop, really late night to morning eateries and the independently-operated FX shuttle services .

One can easily tell where the call centers are even without the business signage in front of the building. It’s usually where a lot of young people are seated on the steps or just milling around smoking cigarettes and sipping coffee.

The young women have become heavy smokers, to stay awake when they go back to the switchboard after their break or to smoke still to unwind when they finally sign off.

Another tell tale sign it’s a call center office building are the filthy cigarette butts strewn all over the sidewalk even after the workers are gone.

It’s a stress-filled occupation aside from the vampire hours. You can get dark rings around the eyes not to mention all the pent-up emotions you want to vent when you get one of those ornery callers with complaints replete with expletives!

It’s a no- no to blow up and give the caller a douse of his own medicine. There’s a wall sign in every call center office like a tablet with written-in-stone guidelines on handling an abusive caller. When the caller becomes abusive, he is asked if he would like to be handled by another operator. Usually, this works because it gives the caller time to cool off, reflect and perhaps modulate his tone of voice.

Or perhaps, not.

“What? You’re going to pass me off to another f..cking operator! I can’t believe this sh..t… more expletives! And the evening has just begun. It’s going to be a long night.

Is it worth the money?

The entry level for someone with just two years of college starts at P15, 000 a month and the pay scale could be as high as P45,000 if you reach supervisor level after four years like Madie, including 20 percent night differential plus transportation money.

Not bad . All things considered, it’s better than being in Libya or Japan right now. At least Madie’s home with all the support system of family. She also goes to school to study law at Lyceum Makati in the daytime after a few hours of sleep.

What do Madie and Paolo hate most about this job? It’s not the long unholy hours. It’s probably when teasing friends jokingly call them “call girls” or “call boys.” –Alejandro del Rosario, Manila Standard Today

Month – Workers’ month

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