- After several people provided dismal reviews about their
employment at Canadian StarTek call centers I decided to become an employee
- At the time of my employment StarTek was handling calls
from AT&T wireless customers. StarTek makes money based on the spread
between what providing such a service costs AT&T and what StarTek says
they can provide the service for. By any other name StarTek is an out-sourcing
company used by AT&T to thin costs associated with their wireless operation
before Singular eventually bought them out.
- An initial impression of being employed by a corporation
harboring deep concern for its employees was short-lived. It took less
than two months to conclude that StarTek personifies capitalism without
conscience. Despite being staggered by the indignities people were subjected
to in order to collect a paycheck I decided to walk lockstep with the StarTek
training program in an intrepid effort to understand the dysfunction that
contributes to a 137% attrition rate every five months.
- The first week of training consisted of classroom learning
continuously interrupted by impromptu visits and introductions by Human
Resources personnel, Local Resource Procurement staff (LRP), and others
who in relentless Stepford style perpetually pontificated about the opportunities
StarTek held for them if they'd "just hang in there." Incessant
talk of "team" and "the StarTek family" took on an
ominous, cult-like pretense leaving one with the impression something was
wrong. That uneasy suspicion was justified in week two.
- During week one trainees were told by an LRP representative
they would be working for thirty-seven and one half hours each week of
their one-month training period, but they would be paid for forty hours.
That promise held true for less than eight days when it was summarily withdrawn
without satisfactory explanation in the middle of week two. The arbitrary
withdrawal of that promise did not coincide with a StarTek handout: Corporate
Code of Ethics and Business Conduct, effective January 1, 2004, wherein
integrity and accountability are two of seven words used to define StarTek's
corporate values. Evidently, like beauty, StarTek corporate values run
only skin deep.
- As trainees moved closer to their first day of call-taking
on the production floor, they were trained in' at best, obfuscation' at
worst, lying. For instance, should a Customer Care Agent be unable to assist
a client they are instructed to tell the hapless caller: "Our system
is currently updating and it will take a few moments to access your information.
May I put you on hold?" The actual situation is one of poorly trained
Customer Care Agents being unable to address the customer's request. Such
a circumstance requires the agent to place a red cup on their cubical wall
to signal a Red-Hat thereby eliciting instruction for resolving the issue
at hand. During my tenure not only were Red Hats, in very short supply
they were only marginally better trained than the lost and frustrated agents
seeking their help. It was common to count as many as twenty-five cups
signaling help from one of only two Red Hats assigned to our group. Customers
often found themselves on hold for hours rather than risk hanging up to
be once again incarcerated in Muzak jail.
- It is not the employee's fault. Training consists of
little more than a cursory overview of several wildly complex software
programs with several more sub-programs housing hundreds of information
pages and tools to help, define, instruct, and resolve customer issues.
One system, called CCNET, is non-intuitive leaving employees discouraged,
confused, and in may cases, defeated.
- Julie, my training partner, was a cheerful hard-working
woman possessing an eclectic professional background. She lasted two days
on the production floor. Julie, in a courageous effort to serve customers
better did the unthinkable, she asked for more training after realizing
she could not help customers in any way. Further training was refused.
Her supervisor simply told Julie, "You'll catch on." Apparently,
Julie did catch on and headed out the door.
- Agents are instructed to take ownership of their calls
by resolving all customer issues, but then there is compliance - a seemingly
innocuous term used to grade employees as they perform their job. Spend
too much time handling a call and the agent falls out of compliance. Spend
too much time wrapping up a call by documenting call issues in the customer's
account notes, you fall out of compliance. Log onto your system late and
you fall out of compliance. Stay on your system a little long and you fall
out of compliance. Don't take your scheduled break at the prescribed time,
you fall out of compliance. Fail to address or ask if you addressed all
the customers, issues, you fall out of compliance. Fall out of compliance
and you can be warned, written up or terminated. "It's hell and purgatory
rolled into one." Commented an astute LA reporter.
- Employees who made it through their first 90-days with
StarTek were promised a fifty-cent raise - a raise which never materialized
for the group I trained with. One employee wrote: "The newcomers that
joined this prisoner camp a year ago September were told that once they
reached their 3-month probation they'd receive a 50-cent raise with their
performance review. Now, when the time has come, they are being told, No,
not until after a year,. Unfortunately, nowhere in their agreement does
it state this, but I have proof that they did state it because my hire
group and everyone up to this hire, did get a raise. A friend of mine has
had meetings with Laurie Hutchinson' the HR Manager, who frankly said they
are not going to give it to him. They said that there will be an internal
investigation and, no doubt, as with all internal investigations conducted
on my behalf they will sweep it under the carpet. They made a verbal promise
to these people and they are not following through with this. I was hired
then received my 3-month raise of 50-cents, and at a year I received 26-cents
with another performance review - now I am making a whopping 10.76! So,
if they don't get raises, I don't understand why I did and everyone after
me did not." It is appropriate to note that my hire group was made
the very same promise last August but StarTek did not follow through and
went mute on the subject.
- If accountability is the thorn in StarTek's side integrity
is its Achilles heal. In a written evaluation of StarTek's business principals
weighted against current practice a former StarTek management employee
gave them a score of ten out of one-hundred. He wrote"Integrity--
This is where I feel the management team is struggling the most. Decisions
on a site level, get made without, what appears to be, taking constructive
input from the other departments possessing a make-it-happen' attitude.
Preparation for change needs to be a focus. Input from those that are affected
by the change needs to be taken into deeper consideration as opposed to
putting out fires after the fact. False promises get thrown around, the
things will change, cliché has become a standard - some form of
stability should be in place. People are given promotions, based on unknown
criteria, without the benefit of a proper, ethical job bid to determine
if there are other suitable candidates available. Information is distributed
one way, and changed on a whim. Again' structure is needed in order to
achieve goals. Knee-jerk reactions to situations should be minimal, and
stronger preparations for what if, should be taken into consideration."
- Howard, an oriental engineering student who had recently
graduated from Queens University, was unable to immediately find work in
his chosen vocation applied at StarTek to start paying back money borrowed
for his education. As he put it: "I learn. Now I pay back." Howard,
an affable fellow, possessed a charming sense of humor and an enormously
strong work ethic that elevated him to a Red Hat at 3-months tenure. Shortly
after, Howard quit. I met him that day for lunch to ask why he,d quit StarTek.
"They wanted me to lie," he blurted, "to my agents and the
customer. I won't lie. There is not enough money to make me tell lies.
I was not raised that way. They tell me just to do it. I won't. I quit.
They said I could get another promotion. I apply and they do not give me
promotion. Yet I am most qualified. They didn't even look at it. They don't
care about people in that place. No wonder they don't want union in that
place. Union makes them stick to rules."
- The union has made overtures to rank and file StarTek
employees from the periphery of StarTek property after discovering that
conditions outlined in the StarTek employment contract were not binding
on the company and were subject to change from moment to moment. The union
further contends that StarTek's annual review process is less than fair
and just. They discovered that some employees found themselves being discriminated
against by losing points because they had been disabled from working due
to a provable, legitimate illness, which the union believes, may be a violation
of the Ontario Human Rights Code.
- In a January 19, 2005-StarTek memorandum circulated to
clarify StarTek's position regarding the implementation of a union' the
StarTek Management Team stated, "Our strong preference is to remain
union free . . . that it is not necessary, nor do we believe it will ever
be necessary, for you to be represented by a third party."
- The memorandum comes dangerously close to the use of
scare tactics in order to get employees to support StarTek's position.
The memorandum asks: "Did you know that the Canadian National Federation
of Independent Unions, is actually an affiliate of the Laborer's International
Union of North America, based out of Washington' D.C.?" Apparently
the StarTek Management Team has forgotten it's own south-of-the-boarder
affiliation with its parent company. What's good for the goose, evidently,
is not good for the gander.
- The dubious memorandum goes on to state that signing
a union card is "evidence of supporting the union." Such a statement
spawns question: "Evidence? What type of evidence? How does StarTek
intend to use this evidence? In a court of law? To browbeat employees?
To bring action for dismissal?" While StarTek's use of the word evidence
might be considered an unfortunate choice of words, they move on to caution
employees about being "tricked into signing a union card as a means
of obtaining more information." Clearly, such a statement assails
the integrity and motivation of union proponents. My personal experience
with StarTek compels me to urge them not to throw stones while living in
a glass house.