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Insulting callers make phone operators sick

By | January 25th 2010

By Lucianne Limo

In an article published last week in the Telegraph, a research carried out by India’s booming call centre industry has found the 1.6 million people who work in them, mostly in their 20s, are plagued by ailments arising from the stress of dealing with irate customers.

Many of them suffer from ailments such as heart attacks, ulcers and insomnia.

According to the article, the Indian government is so concerned about the problem that it is preparing to launch a health strategy for the workers.

Staff in call centres dealing with customers especially in Britain says they have been shocked at the ferocity of the verbal attacks they encounter.

"At first, I thought I’d get used to it, but it’s been a year now and it’s not getting easier," says Nidhi Aggarwal.

Cause trauma

"On its own, maybe I could cope with the abuse, but there’s also the stress of finishing calls in one minute and hardly having time for breaks."

Miss Aggarwal, 24, an English graduate, said she planned to quit, tired of wishing customers a good morning only to hear: "Oh, I’m through to India am I? Put me through to someone who can understand English, you f****** cow."

Some companies offer counselling to employees to help them overcome psychological problems.

In Britain there was an incident where a telephone operator suffered acoustic trauma from a subscriber blowing a whistle down a telephone mouthpiece, the sound being transmitted into the ear of the operator. Evidence of hearing loss persisted for several months before complete recovery was achieved.

What have these to do with Kenya you might ask? Kenyan callers are no different from their British counterparts when it comes to phone notoriety.

They not only have peculiar calling habits, but they are out rightly insulting while at it. And on the receiving end of their naughty insults are mobile phone companies’ Customer Care Representatives (CCRs).

Night callers

Crazy Monday talked to various CCRs working for these mobile phone companies and revealed how subscribers take advantage of the free calls to ask lewd, shameful and raise irritating questions not related to the services provided by the phone company.

Most of those interviewed asked for anonymity since they are not authorised to speak to the press. According to them the annoying calls, which are termed as prank calls occur at night.

Most notorious callers are men who though might sound intelligent are shockingly disgusting when they open their mouths.

"I think most of these callers are not well educated judging from the questions they ask? Said *Peter a Customer Care Representative with a mobile phone company.

Lewd comments

Mobile phone companies have free customer care line for its subscribers to access help with the company’s products. However, according to the CCRs, the prank calls have nothing to do with any of the services the company offers.

"Being a CCR is very hard. We have all sorts of non-service related calls (especially at night), which we are expected to answer in the most charming and courteous way possible. The customer is always right," says *Jane. Given the nature of their job, the CCRs are expected to be at their most charming irrespective of the provocation on the other end of the call.

*Jane recalled a conversation she had with a caller at night.

Jane: "Welcome to.... Customer Care. My name is **Jane. How may I assist you?

Subscriber: "Umevaa panty (Are you putting on a panty?"

Jane: "Hii ni huduma ya wateja. Uko na swali kuhusu bidhaa na huduma zetu (This is a customer’s free service. Do you have a question regarding our services?)"

Subscriber: "Mimi nauliza kama umevaa panty (I’m asking whether you are putting on a panty?)"

Jane: "Kama hauna swali kuhusu huduma au bidhaa zetu sitaweza kuendelea na hii simu. Asante sana kwa kupiga simu...uwe na usiku mwema (If you have no questions regarding our services am afraid I will not continue with this conversation. Thank you for calling and have a good night)".

Jane says as much as she sounded professional in the conversation, she would have given anything for an opportunity to tell the caller off. Instead they must remain cool and thank the caller for taking their time to call and then hang up, not bang the phone.


This is the protocol whether the caller has called one a dog or stupid.

Other callers want help to access pornographic sites and don’t hesitate to ask for it. They call it, "Sinema ya watu wakubwa (Adult movies)".

"I’m forced to explain that this is not part of the services offered by the provider. One subscriber got so annoyed and called me a prostitute," recalls *Mary.

Another caller went ahead and told *Mary how sexually excited he was and hence the need to access the pornographic sites.

*Purity recalls humorously when a subscriber insisted that he should be woken at a particular time.

Purity: "Welcome to Customer Care. How may I help you?"

Subscriber: "Naitwa Kulei. (I’m called Kulei)."

Purity: "Ndiyo Kulei nikusaidie vipi (Kulei, how can I help you?)

Purity: "Mnafanya kazi mpaka kesho asubuhi (Are you working overnight)?

Purity: "Ndiyo utaweza kutupata wakati wowote. Ungependa nikusaidie vipi (Yes you can reach us anytime. How can I help you)?"

Kulei: "Kesho niamshe saa kumi na mbili. Chukua namba yangu (Wake me up tomorrow at 6am. You can have my number)."


Purity: "Kwa vile hatuna huduma kama hiyo, nitakueleza jinsi ya kuweka alarm kwenye simu yako. Unatumia simu aina gani (Since we don’t offer such services, I can help set your phone alarm. What make is your phone?)"

Kulei: "Sitaki mambo ya alarm. Hiyo naweka kila siku na hainiamshi. Wewe unipigie simu (I don’t want the alarm, it never wakes me up. You give me a call.)"

Purity: "Samahani Kulei sitaweza kufanya hivyo. Asante kwa kutupigia simu. Uwe na usiku njema (Sorry Kulei, I will not be able to do that. Thank you for calling us and have a good night.)"

Not all calls are humorous though, remarks *Mark. "Some callers are usually so stressed out and in need of a counsellor. Others call while drunk, shedding tears and recounting how their wives have deserted them," he says.

With such calls they just empathise and offer nothing much. Others call to invite them for drinks at the pub.


"A caller once told me that my voice was very sexy and wanted my personal number," recalls *Mwende.

She gently told the man that she was a married woman, which earned her some unprintable insults. "He reminded me that I was just an operator and would amount to nothing more," she added.

Many of them have learnt that self-restraint is the key to keeping their jobs because every call is recorded. The managers randomly listen in on the calls and at the end of the month the Quality Analysts randomly pick five calls out of the over 2,500 to assess their work. Those found to have rudely answered the callers are either sacked or given warning letters. But those who handle subscribers well even under difficult circumstances earn extra marks especially those who offer solutions not related to their services.

Download issues

Other subscribers call to ask if their phone models can access Internet services.

"When told that their models cannot access the Internet they insults us and threaten to migrate to another service provider," says *Muriuki.

Other services offer ring back tunes and this comes with its own headaches. "Some subscribers sing in their vernacular for sometime then say, "Nataka code yah hii wimbo (I want the code to this song)," says *Opiyo.

When told the song is unfamiliar, the caller goes on and sings the rest of the song. "They just cannot understand how one cannot be familiar with the song, yet it is a hit on a particular vernacular FM station," adds Opiyo.

*names have been changed

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