Selling Human Services: Public Sector Rationalisation and the Call Centre Labour Process
Van Den Broek, D
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Establishing call centre operations has become de rigueur for firms wanting to rationalise and specialise customer services. While call centres are diverse in terms of their size and the services they provide, their common logic is standardisation of the customer interface to optimise efficiency and output. This paper differs from most other call centre research, which involve typically private sector and low-skill models, by focussing on the provision of non-sales tasks, namely human services. It looks in particular at the experiences of professionals in a public sector call centre (‘Childline’), who provide services relating to child protection. Despite the strong occupational and professional identity of Childline caseworkers, an ethos of managerialism underscored the de-skilling and intensification of their work, often associated with low-skill call centres. While Childline caseworkers held qualifications quite different from those of workers in routine operations, and were required to use more considered decision-making skills, the nature of call centre labour processes were strikingly similar. The paper questions the viability and efficacy of call centre operations where services cannot easily be reduced to tangible and measurable ‘products’.