Call center work is tough. But if you’re a complete newbie and a non-native speaker, the toughness takes a whole new level. On top of irate customers, night shifts, and a demanding workload, you also have to deal with a potential language barrier, information overload, and culture shock.

In this article, are my 9 survival tips for call center newbies who are serving foreign customers. These will help you get to terms with the nature of the job and build your character and skills as a professional.

1. Fake it till you make it.

Act like you know what you’re talking about even if half the time, you don’t.

Don’t let your customers know that you’re nervous. The moment they sense your weakness from your quavering voice, they’ll pounce on you like hungry lions on fresh meat.

Instead, take deep breaths, pause if you have to, and try not to stutter. Activate your diaphragm so your voice sounds deeper and clearer. Smile. It adds warmth to your voice, giving it a more confident tone.

2. Perfect grammar is overrated.

Even tenured reps make grammar lapses. That’s just the reality for most non-native speakers. Even native speakers stumble.

My point is, you were hired. That must account for something. Despite the occasional minor errors, you’re probably able to express your thoughts in English.

So if your grammatical errors aren’t too dramatic that they alter the meaning of your statements, don’t sweat it. Improvements are definitely in order but if the reason for your shaking voice and weak delivery is your fear of making grammar lapses, then you have to learn to put things into perspective.

Remember, if you have to choose between perfect grammar and confident delivery, choose confident delivery every time, then improve on grammar later on. That will usually save your hide in most cases and even trick your customers into believing that you always know what you’re talking about.

3. Before you ask, explain; before you take, give.

Every interaction with your customers is a negotiation. When asking for information, provide a reason why: For me to initiate the refund, could you please confirm the last 4 digits of the card used on this order?

When instructing customers to do something for you, explain the benefit: Bear with me Tabitha, we’re almost there! Now could you please check your email for the new password?

By indicating the purpose of your ask, customers won’t hesitate to answer your questions or follow your requests because you’re giving them a purpose. By letting them in on the purpose, you make them a part of the journey, not just someone to do your bidding. That gives them a sense of control.

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You don’t necessarily have to do this with all your questions and requests. If the customer is cooperative and the issue is simple, then simply ask.

This specifically applies to questions in which you need a series of answers (lengthy verification) as well as technical issues where you need them to go through a series of troubleshooting steps. Before every troubleshooting, explain what it’s going to do and its purpose. This way, they’ll have a sense of start and finish instead of a jumble of seemingly endless and aimless steps.

4. Emotion first, resolution second.

Hurrying to the resolution without addressing the customer’s negative emotion first is like rolling a boulder up a hill only for it to roll down every time it neared the top. This is particularly true for irate customers.

So, when you get the urge to get right down to business but your customer is still trembling from anger, do not dare proceed to the resolution without acknowledging that anger first. It’ll backfire on you in its worst form: a tantrum or a DSAT.

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Address the emotion first, then get to the resolution second.

5. The customer is not always right.

Stand your ground when needed. Customer service may be about helping customers, answering their questions, and anticipating their needs; but that doesn’t extend to verbal abuse.

Naturally, you need to acknowledge their feelings when they’re emotional. Naturally, you need to apologize when the company is in the wrong. And 99% of the time, this does the job perfectly well.

There are, however, times when this isn’t so. Some customers, for some reason, are simply unappeasable despite you and you’re company’s best efforts. They’ll hurl insults that are simply below the belt, call you names, and emotionally pierce you in the most malignant way possible.

If this were the case, use the most professional yet most unemotional voice you can muster. Do not return the insult; that would only encourage them. Don’t show emotion either. Issue a warning for the profanities but do not reveal that their words have successfully penetrated your feelings. Never give them satisfaction and encouragement.

When they hear your nonchalant voice yet polite words, they’ll realize that they can’t affect you with emotional manipulation so they’ll back down sooner than if you reveal being offended.

6. Learn about the culture of the people you’re serving.

This doesn’t sound patriotic, but the reality is, this is the nature of your job. You’re talking to people who mostly do not share your citizenship. Consume their media to understand them. This will not only improve your language fluency but will also help you understand their culture, their way of life, and why they expect the things they expect from you as a CSR.

In the Philippines, Filipinos’ standard of customer service isn’t as high as that of other countries. Queues are long, waiting time endless, and services subpar. The funny thing is most Pinoys don’t even realize nor mind this because that’s how it’s always been.

But if you’re serving North American, Australian, and European countries, this might come as a big shock. Their customer service expectation is insanely high. You might think them entitled and rude, but this is just reality. This becomes apparent as soon as you start consuming their media and see how they typically operate socially or professionally among themselves.

7. Read.

It’ll widen your horizon. It’ll help you understand other people’s perspectives. And in so doing, helps you relate to each customer better.

8. Clueless? Google it!

Unless it relates to the product your company is selling, almost everything you could possibly need to know is on the internet.

You want to know how to format a US address or pronounce Arkansas but it wasn’t discussed on training? Google it! You need to give directions to a warehouse you haven’t been to? Google Maps is key. Not sure about the time zone your customer is in but you can’t ask her? Google it!

As a newbie many years ago, I can’t count how many times Google saved my ass for simple yet potentially embarrassing blunders. This is especially important for companies that prohibit their agents from disclosing that they’re located in the Philippines.

9. Create an exit plan.

If you don’t, a moment will come when you’ll wonder how you managed to get stuck in a situation where you have no other option but to grind despite your psychological and physical fatigue.

I don’t need to prove that night shifts aren’t ideal, that talking nonstop for hours is draining, and that multitasking is detrimental to brain health. We all know it.

So here’s my advice especially to newbies: Create an exit plan. Use your call center money to do at least one of the following:

  • Acquire new skills.
  • Build a side income to one day become your full-time income.
  • Strive for a promotion (a position that doesn’t require you to take nonstop calls).
  • Anything that helps you become better whatever your definition of better is.
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When I was a call center agent, my goal was to quit and buy coconut farms to create a semi-passive stream of income. You see, coconuts bear fruits every 3 months without having to put in much work. It didn’t really become a reality.

But that kind of goal setting did lead me to something better. It led me to constantly question myself as to what can be done better, how to improve my prospects, learn new skills, and discover other opportunities. Mind you, they were opportunities I wouldn’t have been able to grab had I not entered this industry.

For most Filipinos, the call center industry is a lifesaver. It puts food on the table, sends siblings to school, and compensates in a way that a minimum wage can’t. It comes with a cost though. This is why defining your goals for the next 5 years and plotting your next steps is crucial. Create an exit plan now and you’ll thank yourself in the future.

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