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Work organization, control and the experience of work in call centres

Taylor, P. and Mulvey, G. and Hyman, J.D. and Bain, P.M. (2002) Work organization, control and the experience of work in call centres. Work, Employment and Society, 16 (1). pp. 133-150. ISSN 0959-0170

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Despite the integration of telephone and VDU technologies, call centres are not uniform in terms of work organization. It is suggested that diversity can best be understood by reference to a range of quantitative and qualitative characteristics. Consequently, perspectives that treat all call centres as if they were the same hybrids of customization and routinization are rejected, along with over-optimistic interpretations of labour control over work organization. Empirical evidence from nine 'workflows' in two call centres - an established financial sector organization and a rapidly growing outsourced operation - provide excellent grounds for an examination of similarity and difference. A picture emerges of workflows which are volume-driven and routinized, involving low levels of employee discretion, and, by contrast, those less dominated by quantitative criteria offering higher levels of operator discretion and an emphasis on the quality of customer service. Despite these distinctions, larger numbers of operators report an experience of work which is driven by quantitative imperatives, most manifest in the pervasive implementation of targets. Targets are also used increasingly to assess and mould the quality of the call centre operator's interaction with the customer. Overall, the evidence casts doubt on the optimistic perspective that call centre work, in time, will come to resemble 'knowledge work'.