"Your voice is warm, I will drop by the company with my car to meet you." These were the last words Nilly heard before she forcefully hung up the phone. This was a popular scene in the Egyptian movie "678", which discussed verbal harassment aimed at female call center employees.
The scene described a situation that can happen to any woman working in call centers.
This career path has nonetheless soared in popularity recently and has become the best option for unemployed females. According to CAPMAS, the unemployment rate has reached 44.2 percent among 18-29 year-old women.
The Xceed company for call centers, which is the sister company to Egypt Telecommunication, has reported that 90 percent of calls they receive contain "verbally abusive language".
Stories from call center offices
"I remember the first day working as a call center employee for a famous phone carrier, our boss told us frankly, 'We did not do an IQ test or conduct moral checks on you, but if you cannot bear it, go,'” said Salma Emad, 20, a female call center employee.
Working at a call center was uncomfortable for the young commerce student who was receiving verbal harassment on a daily basis, which made her think of leaving the job, but she could not find a suitable and profitable alternative.
"I've heard the most hurtful words you can imagine; the call usually starts with normal inquires by a random customer, but shortly after he starts to flirt. Some customers have asked for my phone number with their friends' laughter in the background,” Emad said.
“The worst thing I’ve ever faced was an open invitation for sex from one of the customers," she sighs.
Additionally, Emad pointed out that she was insulted several times by customers who were criticizing the company’s poor services. Moreover, she complained that some customers would degrade the staff by treating them in a snobby way, as if they were their servants.
Though Aya El-Shami, 26, graduated from the faculty of tourism and hotels, she could not find a good job in her field due to the struggles the tourism industry is currently experiencing. She therefore decided to work in call centers for two years.
"The female call center employees are not only harassed by abusive language, sometimes we can hear inappropriate sounds," El-Shami said. "I remember a customer asked me for my body shape."
El-Shami left the job, but if she does not find a suitable vacancy she will have to return to this career despite all its drawbacks, including the very low salary.
Another call center employee, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that a customer asked her why the porn websites were not loading. As she tried to find out whether the Internet package data had a problem, the customer started to describe inappropriate scenes from one of the movies.
"I could not get any words out of my mouth, I put him on the hold, I ran to my team leader to complain, but her response caught me off guard. She said, ''No problem. Please fix the package data for the customer.'"
"When, I fixed the data package," said the employee, "The customer said the videos were now working properly and then he proceeded to describe the videos."
Echoing this story, Salma Ramdan, 22, said that the first time she was harassed on the phone was when a customer was complaining of bad Internet service. "He asked me to fix the Internet so that he can send a photo to his fiancé. He started to describe the photo which was completely inappropriate. I held my cool and warned him I would end the call. He proceeded, but then my leader give me the permission to end the call."
Ramadan had been working there for only three months, but she left the job because she found it unbearable. "I would never work in this job again. In that short of a period I felt as if I was working in a bedroom," she said.
Never hang up the phone
Speaking with various girls working in the same field, it was concluded that call center employees are not allowed to end the call or to respond impolitely under any circumstances. "It’s the company policy. The customer is always right," El-Shami said.
El-Shami pointed that the companies in Egypt don't guarantee good job conditions and rights for either the call center or the customer service employees. Neither do they let them take any legal procedures against any harassing customer. "In a UK call center, an employee can launch a complaint in court against a customer who harasses them and demand compensation," El-Shami said.
Emad said that it depends on the company itself; the majority of the companies don’t give their call center employees the authority to end the call.
"We should keep our emotions stable until the customer finishes the call. However, there are a few companies that let their employees threaten to end the call and hang up if he proceeds," Emad said.
“I remember a long call which was full of insults and indecent words, but I tried to keep myself quiet until the customer stopped,” said Emad.
Emad believes that after working for a long period in call centers, the situation has changed. As long as the employee is very polite and conservative, none of the harassment matters, especially if the customer does not know the employee personally. "She will adapt," Emad said.
Another girl, 22, who prefered to be anonymous, did not last longer than 30 days at her job. “This issue weighs heavily on female emotions," she said.
“The initial things we learned in the office is the 'customer is always right'. The second thing is, given that the customer cannot see you, you must never respond impolitely to any insults or harassment,” she said.
In the company where she was working, the situation is slightly different. If the customer crosses the line, the employees should say politely and up to three times, “Please sir, you should follow the conversation rules." If he insists on continuing the abuse, the employee should hang up instantly.