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Everyone dreads having to make that 800 line call to talk to one of their service providers.  It doesn’t matter whether it is your bank, the phone company,  or the guys who haul off your trash.  We avoid these calls like the plague.  We will let a billing issue go for months at a time hoping they just haven’t posted that payment yet.  We will deal with an irritating technical issue hoping it will just work itself out.  Why would we do such things?  It’s quite simple, really.

Dealing with the problem is less painful than making the call.

Leave alone the fact that a startling percentage of American companies have outsourced all or nearly all of their customer service and technical support functions to India, Indonesia, and other countries.  That is an issue that can be debated until your blue in the face.  I understand the economic reasons for doing it.  But I also have seen the fallout it causes and experienced first hand the incredible drop off in quality that such moves always engender.

And I hate it when they tell me their name is “Chris” or “Bob” when they sound like Apu from “The Simpsons.”  I am not racist.  I don’t care if your Indian if you’re going to help me.  But, your credibility is damaged the second you tell me you’re Jeff when you’re really Rajeev.  Be proud of your name, don’t try to be someone else.

The work you have to do these days to get to a live person is insane.  If I have to press or say 1 for anything again anytime soon, my head will explode.  And menus lead to more menus in a labyrinthine tangle of strangely calm and friendly electronic voices.  I swear sometimes it is easier to navigate through one of these things to a point where it hangs up on you than to get an actual person.

And, of course, when you do get a person get ready for a ride on the train of pointlessness.  It doesn’t matter what you tell them as far as the problem or what you have already done yourself or on past calls.  These agents are set on rails, they live and die by their scripts.  You are riding to every stop on that route whether you wanted to be on the express or the local.

The problem for the agents working those call centers these days is people like myself and many of my friends.  We have all worked the phones.  We have had all the training.  And, in some cases, we know the tech better than they do.  We know the problem before we call in and we tell them what to do to fix it.  But, they have been set on those rails and told to never come off them.

Thus a struggle of wills invariably ensues.

I just want my issues handled.  They have thirty steps they are supposed to take to get there.  Most of these are entirely irrelevant.  As I try to bypass irrelevancy and get to the meat of the problem their world starts to crumble.  They aren’t sure where to go next, they hear the irritation creeping into my voice, and they fall back on their training for handling irate customers.

A quick note to anyone working in a call center.  If you are talking to someone who has made it clear that they either now or in the past have done so as well, do not fall back on this training.  This is a sure way to escalating hostility.  You see, we had that training, too.  We know all the little tricks and phrases you were taught.  Using them against someone who knows what they are designed for makes them backfire.  Now I feel like I am being handled instead of helped.  This does little to ingratiate you to me.

I try not to get angry with the front line agents.  Their job sucks.  I know, I’ve been there.  So, when I start feeling the frustration getting a little too potent I step back, explain to the agent I understand their position and that I don’t want to vent on them, and calmly ask for a supervisor.

I have been an agent.  I have been a supervisor.  I understand that when I ask for the supervisor, they balk at first.  But, I was always told as a supervisor that if they want someone, they get one.  Why?  Because once a customer gets in their head that this is what they want the agent loses all power in their minds.  They can no longer help and anything they try to do will just escalate the situation.  This seems like a fairly basic concept.  So why are call centers these days tying the hands of their agents by having them tell me all of the supervisors are unavailable?

Again, the former call center worker is deadly to them here.  I know you are measured on the length of your calls.  I know that if you hang up on me there is hell to pay.  So, I get your name and some identifying info and tell you I’ll wait.  You now have to choose, do you try to wait me out or do you hang up?  Both are a risk.

Amazing how a supervisor becomes available.

I truly believe that the quality of service we are being dealt by the myriad of companies who take our money is unconscionable.  They took away the dedicated and experienced workers and sent their jobs overseas to save a few bucks.

How much are they saving when an issue that should have been a one call resolution turns into a multiple call nightmare?

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One Comment

  1. I have a similar affliction with dining establishments. I used to think that being a waiter would make me a more patient and understanding customer. Instead to an extent it just makes me more irritated when I know why its taking 30 minutes for my appetizer.


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