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If you've recently made a collect call, checked your bank account balance over the phone, or left a message for someone in a large company, you may have done so without the assistance of an operator. With automation, computers, and voice synthesizers, you can now place a call directly and get all the information you need yourself, saving phone companies, and other businesses, time and money. The demand for telephone operators has dropped considerably from the days when operators were needed to physically connect and disconnect lines at a switchboard. AT&T has laid off thousands of operators in the last 20 years, but people can still find work with telecommunications companies and in corporations that handle a number of calls.
When a call comes into the phone company, a signal lights up on the switchboard, and the telephone operator makes the connection for it by pressing the proper buttons and dialing the proper numbers. If the person is calling from a pay phone, the operator may consult charts to determine the charges and ask the caller to deposit the correct amount to complete the call. If the customer requests a long-distance connection, the operator calculates and quotes the charges and then makes the connection.
Directory assistance operators, also called information operators, answer customer inquiries for local telephone numbers by using computerized alphabetical and geographical directories. The directory assistance operator types the spelling of the name requested and the possible location on a keyboard, then scans a directory to find the number. If the number can't be found, the operator may suggest alternate spellings of the name and look for those. When the name is located, the operator often doesn't need to read the number to the caller; instead, a computerized recording will provide the answer while the operator takes another call.
Telephone operators wear headsets that contain both an earphone and a microphone, leaving their hands free to operate the computer terminal or switchboard at which they are seated. They are supervised by central-office-operator supervisors.
Other types of switchboard supervisors perform advisory services for clients to show them how to get the most out of their phone systems. Private branch exchange advisers conduct training classes to demonstrate the operation of switchboard and teletype equipment, either at the telephone company's training school or on the customer's premises. They may analyze a company's telephone traffic loads and recommend the type of equipment and services that will best fit the company's needs. Service observers monitor the conversations between telephone operators and customers to observe the operators' behavior, technical skills, and adherence to phone company policies. Both of these types of workers may give advice on how operators can improve their handling of calls and their personal demeanor on the phone.