Interview with call center agent: Tact on the telephone.

“It’s the little things that make the difference,” says Katja Wolf, call center agent at EOS in Berlin. For 8 years she has been calling up to 70 defaulting payers a day. In this interview she describes her experiences and talks about what’s important in these calls.

  • Call center agents at EOS: routine jobs and oddities on a day-to-day basis.
  • Mostly positive experiences: “Out of 60 or 70 calls you maybe have three that are unpleasant.”
Interview: Call center agent Katja Wolf sitting in an armchair.
Katja, you have been working as a call center agent at EOS in Berlin-Lichtenberg for eight years now. What kind of conversations do you still find difficult?
Phone calls with sensitive people who have perhaps got into their situation through no fault of their own and then react emotionally. Like an elderly lady whose grandson had ordered something in her name. She knew nothing about it and was completely shocked.

What do you do in such a situation?
I console her. Sometimes it’s enough just to say “Sit yourself down and take a deep breath.” In the case of this lady we looked at what her monthly income was and what repayments were possible. In the end she was relieved and said that it wasn’t so bad after all.

Are there a lot of cases like this?
Yes, unfortunately. Children order things in the name of a parent or vice versa. Naturally, these kinds of cases are difficult and the initial reaction is to fob me off. Despite this I sometimes get them to open up and engage and then they admit, after a lot of back and forth, that their spouse may possibly have ordered something in their name.

Every day you make about 70 phone calls to people that haven’t paid their bills. How do you handle the pressure?
I don’t put any pressure on myself. I have been doing this job too long for that. And fortunately, most of the time the experiences are positive. Out of 60 or 70 calls you maybe have three bad ones. We are helping people, that’s what’s nice about our job.
Interview: Call center agent Katja Wolf sitting in an armchair.
I actually had a gentleman on the line once who wanted to pay us in kind.
Katja Wolf, call center agent at EOS in Berlin
Where do you get the motivation to constantly resolve difficult cases yourself instead of simply passing them on to other colleagues?
When you start off in the job you rehearse a lot of different call scenarios. We also have regular communication coaching. But what helps me most is my experience. I know from countless conversations the right way to react. So as an old hand I mentor various younger colleagues as a way of passing on my knowledge.
Interview: Call center agent Katja Wolf sitting in an armchair.

How much time do you have for a difficult conversation?
For a simple conversation I need two and a half minutes. In difficult cases that I consider important I have sometimes been on the phone for 20 minutes. Although we do have our target times I make the decision for myself, and that’s also okay.

What kind of situation requires you to spend so much time on a call?
I once had a sweet little granny on the line who had regularly been paying ten euros over a five-year period. Shortly after Christmas she called us because her grandchildren had given her a gift of 70 euros. She wanted to pay in this money on top of her regular payment. There were still 190 euros outstanding and the terms were that in the event of this kind of one-off payment the rest of the debt would be forgiven. However, she couldn’t be persuaded to do this because she wanted to pay back her debt down to the very last cent. She also wanted to send me some Christmas cookies. At least I was able to talk her out of that. 

Have customers ever tried to tap you for money to be able to settle their debts?
I actually did have a gentleman on the line once who wanted to pay us in kind. He was a hunter and had a guest house on piece of land in the forest. He offered EOS staff the chance to holiday there in order to pay off his instalments. I found that very resourceful. He even explained to me what there would be for breakfast and that we could practice shooting with him. Of course we don’t accept these kinds of offers.

Photo credits: Christian Schmid, Getty Images / E+