Have you ever spoken over the phone to someone working in a call centre?
If so you may have unwittingly had a natter with a future West End star.
Isle of Dogs-based call centre RSVP employs professionally-trained actors to work on its phones, and is doing rather well from it.
The business was started by Bob Fitzjohn in the late 1980s with just a handfull of staff. The business has now grown to more than 500 employees over three floors in the Northern and Shell Tower in Selsden Way.
Dean Hurst and Hiten Patel have now taken over the running of the business from its owner, and believes clients keep coming back to them for their excellent phone manner.
Hiten said: “I think it’s important for people working here to be able to know that the acting world is still open to them, and we try to be as flexible as we can to let them pursue their acting careers.
“We are under no illusions that they would rather be on the stage than in here so, if someone has to go for an audition, we are able to make provisions for them.”
All of the employees – apart from the IT staff – are either former or current actors who need to make ends meet between auditions and theatrical parts.
Client services director Hiten Patel, 32, is a former television actor, who had parts in EastEnders, Doctors and The Bill. He joined the company in 2004 and quickly learned his business acumen would suit him well in the business.
“I never really made the decision to ‘stop’ acting,” he said. “It is something I would like to go back to when I retire.”
Operations director Dean Hurst had a background in musical theatre appearing in plays such as Joseph and his Technicolour Dreamcoat and the Buddy Holly Story, as well as performing on cruise ships around Asia. But, since joining the company in 1996 he has admitted thast his career in business has now eclipsed his acting ambitions.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he said. “I still get on Karaoke on a friday night I was always a big ballad singer and I still get the urge to sing.”
The call centre works on behalf of major retailers and websites which outsource their call centre operations.
“I think this is a reason why it is good to have actors working here,” added Hiten. “They are used to learning lots of lines, so they are able to retain lots of information about the companies they are working on behalf of.”
It is definitely a different atmostphere from the cliche grey-and-brown call centres from days or yore. Offices are lively, colourful and fun. Sports days, barbecues and paddling pools are not uncommon to reward a good job.
Aspiring actor and RSVP colleague Steven Hardcastle, 24, is set to star in Dick Whittington at the Wilton’s Music Hall, and he believes the best part of the job is the flexibility it offers.
“Last week I received an email from my agent, asking me to do a self-tape for an audition. I was allowed to film it while I was here.
“They also give you time off to do auditions which is really valuable.”
Chris Keenan, 33, is a former food writer, but jumped into acting three years ago after competing on hit cooking show Dinner Date.
He said the varied nature of work, such as modelling, acting and adverts, means theflexible hours is crucial to helping to make money to get by, while still playing an active role in the industry.
Freya Bardell, whose stand-up comedy show What did you Expect is currently touring, said the fact she is able to work from 9am-5pm means it is always easy to fit work around performing evening shows.
Summing up the workplace, Hiten said: “It is a really close-knit team we have here – that is what is really nice about this place.”