Helping people on the phone, Holly Houghton, 18 August

Holly Houghton

Aug 18 2017


I started work in the Customer Interaction Centre (CIC) as an apprentice in September. The CIC takes calls from the County Council’s customers, who are usually Hampshire residents, but might also be schools, or even staff in some of the Council’s services. We either resolve customers’ queries, or pass them to staff in one of the Council’s services to resolve.

As the CIC is a relatively new system, callers are still getting used to it. I feel that there was extra pressure on our team. We receive angry calls, from customers who are upset that they are speaking to a call centre, when they had hoped to speak directly to the department they had called about.

It is hard for some customers to understand why the Council needs to use a call centre. But in fact, having the call centre means that most enquiries can be resolved much more quickly than before, because the people in the call centre, like me, have been trained to answer all the most common queries.

Anything we cannot answer gets passed straight on to the department that can resolve it. So it is an efficient way of handling thousands of calls. But individual callers may not know this, and some of them do not like speaking to call centres.>

Throughout my training and  in the early days of taking calls on my own, I struggled not to let the calls get to me; however this was hard on multiple occasions. I even considered quitting my job or returning to my previous job.

However as I progressed, I learnt techniques to ensure I didn’t get too upset or frustrated when customers were shouting down the phone, demanding to speak to a department directly.

I ensured I stayed calm throughout the calls and had a neutral tone which usually worked, as the caller would then calm down and almost mirror my tone.

Sometimes I actually let customers rant and rave, as they were not necessarily moaning at me but at their situation. After the customers had a rant they would usually apologise and calm down, we could continue the call.

We received further training on how to handle difficult calls which included:

  • Breathing techniques
  • Taking time away from the phones
  • Standing up (this gives you more control over the call)

I also received training with another team, called Transactional HR and Pay. This role involves helping people on the phone, similar to the CIC, except that the calls come only from County Council staff – you don’t get any calls from outside the Council.  We use different software and have access to much more information about the caller, because they are always someone within our own organisation. We can review the staff member’s record and investigate their enquiry in further depth.

When dealing with Transactional HR and Pay enquiries, you have a more detailed perspective of the caller’s journey, so they have more confidence that they are talking to a person who can really help them.

I now work in -between both teams but mostly in Transactional HR and Pay. I will return to the CIC if there are calls waiting, this is so no customer calls are dropped, or if I need to help train new employees.

I have received some lovely calls when in both these roles. However when I receive calls in my Transactional HR and Pay role, the customers (Council staff) seem more upbeat and happier, as they feel they are talking to the right person and have confidence that I can help them. Although you still do receive some frustrated or angry customers, I feel working in the CIC actually helped me handle these calls when I receive them in this team.

I personally prefer working within Transactional HR and Pay as the work is more varied and I feel like it interests me more with all of the multiple types of enquires you receive.

Overall I am very happy with my decision to stay in my apprenticeship and to stay with Hampshire County Council, as I have learnt so much from working here.

I feel that the apprenticeship experience has let me grow, and has helped me learn a lot about myself and office life that I never knew before. It has also inspired me to continue onto the next level apprenticeship which is more of a managerial apprenticeship, in October 2017 and I can’t wait!