I chanced upon a place of unexpected enchantment – an international call centre.
The call centre is a small foreign island in a suburb of Cape Town, employing 1,200 people, 75% South African, 25% foreign and deals in 13 different languages.
It is situated in a large luminous room, an emporium of swivel chairs, jived by the jabber of languages — French, Italian, German and Greek — which punch the air. The latticed penumbra in which computer screens gleam give it the look of a nightclub.
There is even a Vida coffee bar with free cappuccino.
The mass of foreigner-speaking employees lend it an international tone; athletic looking Germans, pale haired Swedes, sleek and steamy Italians give it brio.
And like all places dealing with humans, it seethes with stories. There is a sensurround of broken hearts, crashed careers and brave survival among the workers, people who may have been at the sharp end of the vicious nature of fate.
It is a well established international Business Process Outsource Company which services overseas companies with call centres, a growth industry in Cape Town
Head of human resources explains: “With us the product is entertainment (the euphemistic word for gambling) which is sold in different markets. For us a market is a language. A customer is routed to a host according to the language he is speaking.
The advantage of Cape Town is that operational costs are cheaper. “Sometimes, they ask us where we are,” says Stavros a Greek staff member, and when we say Cape Town, they say ‘Ooh lovely, can you see lions?’ Hans a lithe looking German came to Cape Town in 2002 says, “It is a great job if you want to travel. I would earn more money in Europe but I like the lifestyle here.”
It is 3 am in Australia and it looks like the whole country in online gambling. Canada and Australia are treated separately because they are English speakers.
Christo is Afrikaans-speaking and services Australia because of his good, clear English. He has long hair; an earring and his forearms are brilliantly inked. He looks like a stock-car aficionado but his voice is soft and his insight is acute as he skillfully manipulates up to a dozen people at a time, some on the chat line, some on the phone. He attacks the keyboard as if he is playing Rachmaninoff’s piano concerto and likes to slap in an emoji whenever possible.
The chat line lights up: Randy:
I’m just not cracking the nut, I think I will chuck it in. Am I owed any bonus?
Christo rattles up his account, a map of his dealings over the last months. “I have already given him $200 but I’d like to keep him in the game,” he tells me “He’s a VIP and high roller I’m going to offer him another $100 and I’ll check that with his counsellor.”
The hosts are encouraged to relation build to some extent. “If there is volume we just don’t have the time but when a VIP comes on line we try to be extra accommodating,” says Christo.
Christo needs to both to satisfy the customer’s bonus needs and keep the profit of the casino buoyant, “At the end of the day, this is a profit making business,” he tells me more than once.
These international call centre hosts are a long way from average. They are quick, multi lingual and are good at multi tasking. Christo explains: “Internationally people demand a high level of service, good, neutral accented voices and many South Africans can provide that.”
“At the moment I am dealing with 8 people,” says Christo. “They all ask the same thing. They want something for nothing. Someone just wrote ‘where’s my present?’ What they think this is Christmas?”
The chat line lights up. “Ten free? We here all weekend. Your call.”
Lindy comes up on screen. “I am having a shit day, can you offer me a few free spins for the pain?”
Christos is not enthusiastic. “Her deposits are low, can’t help. Sorry.”
The screen lights up: “I am looking for hot games.” Christo obliges, “The thing is to keep them in the frame. He’s probably dead lonely on the outback with a load of sheep. We have this joke god created man and woman and Australians.”
The subtle side of answering endless queries is to slip in a bit of salesmanship.
Drunks? “Yes we do get them. and we get abused, one guy threatened to smash my face in but mostly everyone, even the losers are very polite. Sometimes the woman send a picture but the rule is no personal information given out, only first names used.”
Next to Christo sits Jack. He has red hair and looks like an ex sergeant major in the British army and might have a touch of OCD. He is strict with a politeness that is an art form; or could it be disguised irony?
“Yes sir, exactly, no madam, sir may I suggest you try…”
He explains: “This guy made a deposit, he didn’t opt in to his deal a day where he gets 90 per cent of his deposit back in bonus credits. So I will just fix that.”
“Welcome to online casino support, how can I assist you, sir. I can certainly do that sir. The number is in double 11, am I correct, Sir? Excellent I will ring back.
For security purposes sir, would you provide me with your date of birth as well as email address. Thank you so much sir. How can I assist you today, sir?
He is swift, accommodating, sergeant majory. ‘I do see that your current Friday daily deal offer is a 40 per cent match up to a hundred. Let me review your account. I am going to put you on a brief hold, sir but I will be right back.” He is now a specialist talking to an anxious and neurotic patient.
He snaps through the accounts, red moustache bristling.
“He has already had
2,574 in bonuses so I am afraid no can do,” he tells me.
“Thank you so much for holding, sir. I have thoroughly reviewed your account. At this point I would not be able to provide you with a bonus. I do see we have matched your…” phone is slammed down.
He gives a brief laugh. After all, it’s all in a days work – the questions are always the same and they are always about money.