Side Note

This software encourages call center workers to do more emotional labor

No one calls a customer service line because they’re happy — but for call center workers, maintaining an upbeat attitude is a crucial part of the job. Whenever I call my bank or health insurance provider with a problem, the person on the other end of the line is invariably pleasant and polite, often apologizing profusely for things that aren’t her fault.

Some call centers are using voice-recognition software to monitors employees’ cheerfulness on the job, according to a new report by *Wired*. One such software, Cogito, has been adopted by healthcare companies like MetLife, Humana, and Zurich. At MetLife’s call center, for example, Cogito’s visual cues guide employees through conversations. When the employee sounds tired, a MetLife employee told the publication, a “cute little coffee cup” appears on screen, serving as a reminder to perk up and sound engaged. When a customer is feeling emotional — meaning they’re either pissed off or pleased by an interaction — the employee sees a heart.

A call center employee

A call center employee

CallMiner, a competing company used by call centers for three Wisconsin-based healthcare companies, shows employees photos of cute animals when the customer on the other line seems satisfied. When the customer is annoyed, Wired found, the employee gets a list of soothing talking points and a reminder to “calm down.”

In 1983, sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild coined the term “emotional labor” to describe how service employees have to manage their own feelings on the job. Call center jobs, which are almost exclusively done by women, are basically 9-to-5 emotional labor shift. Cogito and similar programs claim to make that job easier — through monitoring, surveillance, and passive-aggressive reminders to perk up or calm down.