The Call Centre Trend
Many organisations are centralising
their service functions into call centres. It cuts
costs, and often brings work to deprived areas.
These call centres could become finely-tuned
organisations with the tools and the staff to deliver service
excellence very efficiently. But they tend not to work that
In this article I'm going to look at what
goes wrong, think about why, and about what we can do to improve
Call Centre Queues
It's quite common to get off on the wrong foot
with a call center during a long wait in a phone queue. Occasional
peaks in demand may cause justified, modest waits, but my experience
suggests that long waits are the norm. Call centre managers are
setting resource levels to keep all agents permanently busy. All
customers must therefore wait for attention.
I know we're British, but I feel we need to get
a better deal from the companies who took our money. We have to
persuade managers to staff these centres well.
For me, the wait is made worse by the automated
hogwash pumped out while I'm waiting. Presumably, they hope it will
offset the negative impact the wait, but it has the opposite effect
on me. When I hear their well-rounded platitudes, I translate them
into fact, where they are far less attractive.
Call Centre Queuing Phrasebook
Here's my phrase-book for hold-queues.
"Due to excessive
We'd like you to think
that your wait is unusual.
And unless you're a regular caller, you may
well be duped.
But really, it's this bad all day, every day.
|"We apologise for this delay..."
We are deliberately causing
We would like you to think we're sorry, but
obviously - we're not, or we'd fix it.
We'll continue to cause similar delays, because
we can do so without harming our business.
"Your call is important
Calls from potential
customers are important to us, but that's not you.
We want their money, but we already have yours.
That's why we staff our sales lines for instant
response, and our service lines for eventual response.
"Your call will
be answered shortly..."
Your call may be answered
Then again, our system may cut you off if
you hang on long enough.
Or you may get so fed up that you hang up.
Either way, we don't care.
You were probably going to complain or make
unreasonable demands, anyway.
Call Centre Staff Problems
Well, let's assume you get through finally. Although there are
wonderful exceptions, I generally find that call centre staff are
a particularly difficult group to deal with. There are some good
- They may be working very hard in noisy surroundings, with few
- They may be poorly paid
- They may be a poor fit for their job with few choices for a
- They will generally be dealing with unhappy customers (they
called customer services after all)
- Many customers will enter the call upset, having just got off
a long hold queue
- They may work with systems which are unreliable or un-supportive
- Some customers are unreasonable, trying unkind tactics to get
the resolution they want
- Staff may be encouraged to meet destructive targets for number
of calls processed
- They may have to support unreasonable company policy or work
within unreasonable limits
- They may be under-trained, and have little management support.
All of these factors make life difficult for service
agents. As customers, we can be courteous and reasonable, and try
to make things go well. But we are the users and co-victims of the
system - not its architects. These are primarily matters for call
We can be legitimately dissatisfied when these
centres perform badly for us. When I end the majority of my customer
service calls I feel like a victim of an organisation whose motives
are self-interest or complacent incompetence, not service excellence
or customer care.
Call Centre Operative Phrase Book
Here's another excerpt from my Call Centre phrase-book:
I'm sure you'll appreciate..."
a law of the universe. I'm telling you how it's going to be
idiot would question our stance on this. You aren't going
to do that, are you?
afraid that's not possible"
that would not suit us
against our policy ..."
decided we don't like to do this
is not available"
not want to deal with you
moment please ...
<very long pause>."
going how it's scripted.
I need to think.
Perhaps he'll go away if I keep him waiting long enough.
Getting the Best from a Call Centre
As soon as the first one comes up, I get a sinking
feeling; I know it's going to be a difficult call. So how can we
get the best chance at a successful call? Any advice for solving
problems through call centre has to be very general. There will
be bizarre, unique cases (we'd love to hear about them!) which I
can't even dream up.
But here my Top Six Suggestions for making things go better.
Before you make your call,
write some notes to refer to during the call:
- What is the problem?
- write down exactly what it is that you want addressing.
Include product numbers, contract numbers, customer numbers,
etc. Use this in the call.
- What is the history?
- include dates, note of previous contacts, collect receipts/documents
- What are your rights?
- are you protected by a guarantee?
- If you've paid for special support or an extended warrantee,
find it and read it.
- Understand the legal situation.
- What do you want?
- e.g. a refund, £20, a written apology, a replacement,
- What will I accept?
- your bottom line. If you don't get this, you'll escalate
- What's my next step if I don't get it?
- be prepared for what comes next. See below.
- You will find that preparing this list clarifies your thinking,
and calms you down. You can see your case laid out in black
and white in front of you.
||Make sure you allocate enough
time to make the call. Choose a time when the centre is less
likely to be busy. This will minimise your waiting time, and
you're less likely to have a stressed agent to deal with.
|3. Name Calling
||Often a service agents will
start a call with "Carol speaking, how may I help you?"
Write down her name and use it straight away:"Hi Carol,
I wonder if you can help me with this...". If they don't
volunteer their name, ask "who am I speaking to, please"
- then say "OK, thanks, Angela..." and move on.
|4. Be Positive
||Don't conduct the call as though
you're expecting a difficult time. Your mindset should be "These
folks are pleasant and reasonable, and they're trying to do
well in their job, just like I'm trying in mine. We'll have
this sorted out quickly". Hey - it might actually be true!
But even if it isn't - you'll come across as pleasant, and this
will make it more difficult for an agent to treat you unreasonably.
|5. Stay on Track
Keep your prep list in
front of you, and be guided by it.
Ask closed questions to keep things on track: "Are you
saying that my item does NOT have a one year guarantee?"
invites a yes/no response.
If you're not able to work your agenda, tell your agent:
"I'm sorry, but I can't seem to make progress with you"
- then tell them why.
If that doesn't fly, you may want to follow that with "May
I speak with your supervisor, please?".
|6. Avoid Time Wasters
An agent may want to place
you on hold - sometimes repeatedly - to consult with colleagues
or to find information.
Rather than accepting the hold, consider asking the agent
to call you when they are ready.
This may be unthinkable of course, or even "Impossible",
but may be worth a go.
It's worth reminding them that you have their name just before
you ask them to call you back, too: "OK Carol, so I'll
expect your call later this morning".
If you're Not Satisfied ... Give Up
Even using these techniques, I am depressed to admit that generally,
I don't see anything approaching good service.
I routinely see:
- Persistently unreasonable delays in answering my call centre
- Drone-like behaviour in which real human interaction outside
the script is impossible
- Poor telephone skills
- Low genuine courtesy levels ( though scripted lip service is
- Poor knowledge applied to the problem in hand
- Very low reliability on relaying messages, updating incident
logs, meeting commitments and following up
- Indifference or denial in response to expressions of dissatisfaction
- Poor co-operation on escalating complaints
The issues I'm working are usually small, so it's
inappropriate to take legal action. I can take my custom elsewhere,
but they won't notice, and I'll be inconvenienced. And I can complain.
Frankly, none of these appeal to me. They're time
consuming, they'll probably be un-productive, I'll get stressed
and be hated by another human being, and emerge without a satisfactory
resolution. Unless you're a "Shocked and Disappointed of Surbiton"
with no other life to lead, these choices probably don't appeal
to you either. So you eat it, swallow hard, and move on.
And right there lies the problem. My maxim for
middle age is this:
what you're prepared
to Put Up With
- and because we put up with poor service from
call centres, that's what we get.
It would be nice to think that people did things
well because they were inspired by excellence, took a pride in their
work, were enthused by delighting customers, and committing to doing
things "Because they're Right, dammit!" - but there isn't
a whole lot of that in my neck of the woods.
Let's Fix Britain!
Delivery of good service is at the heart of all
commerce, industry and government. In other words, it's at the heart
of our society. That's why it's a core theme for Let's Fix Britain.
To be a part of Fixing Britain, we must work on fixing
service, and call centres are a part of that.
Here are my suggestions for how we the people can
fix broken Call Centres.
Leave it until the end of your
Don't be rude, or make a meal of it.
Tell your agent:
"Carol, I am unhappy with X, and I would like your supervisor
to write to me at Y with her response". Be specific about
Don't expect human understanding, sobbing acceptance of wrongs
wronged and promises to do better, but do it anyway.
Maybe you'll get your response. Even if not, she will almost
certainly tell her supervisor. Perhaps you'll get a tick in
some box somewhere.
There are an awful lot of us! If we all spend 60 seconds
each time, we'll make a big splash.
Over time, things will change.
2. Complain in Writing
Boring, boring, boring. But for
now, a written complaint holds far more weight, so if you
have the time, put your complaint in writing, and send it
to the right person by name.
In time, Let's Fix Britain will help you:
- to find who to write to
- to write the letter
- to deliver it
- but for now you're on your own.
Why not share your experiences with us by posting your complaint
in the discussion forum? You'll be helping to motivate and
entertain others, who may then start pushing on this huge
complacent object too. The more the merrier!
3. Move your custom
Stop giving them money!
I know this isn't always easy. I've got only Dixons and Jessops
to buy photographic kit from. I've reason to despise them
both, but I've eaten Humble Pie and bought again from both
for lack of an alternative.
But - if it's practical, try to stop giving them money.
4. Tell the World
Tell your friends & associates
about your bad experience. Get your facts right.
Conventionally, you can use word-of-mouth, but Internet technology
is offering more powerful tools these days:
- Post your complaint at Let's Fix Britain where others
can read what you went through
- Use a reputation manager to score the company. We recommend
DooYoo, where you
can get points (and prizes) for writing opinions.
5. Get Serious
You may want to mobilise a concerted
effort addressing a specific example of poor service.
If you want all of Let's Fix Britain to watch and
contribute, open a discussion thread in the Campaigns forum.
Other can learn about how to fight, and about the organisation
you're fighting. You'll also be adding to the value of the
web site, which may attract more visitors and more new members.
Working on the Inside
You probably work for an organisation that provides
customer service somewhere along the line. Do they always do things
Looking in-house objectively and articulating what
you see isn't always easy, nor safe.
I once sat in a meeting in which a barrister addressed
us all on how to "defend against a legitimate claim".
I asked "Why would we want to defend against a legitimate claim?".
I had to ask it twice before it sunk in: "If the claim is legitimate,
why aren't we doing the right thing and compensating the claimant?".
This is seldom the way to get ahead in industry (though it should
be), so I don't necessarily recommend it!
From the inside, you have powerful opportunities
to see what's happening, and to exert a positive influence. You
should consider any impact on your job or prospects before acting,
but here are my suggestions:
- Put a note in your suggestion box
- Discuss things with your colleagues at lunch
- Raise issues in team meeting
- Evangelise - talk about examples of great service from inside
or outside your organisation
- If there is an ethical statement (for example, a "Mission
Statement") in your organisation, always try to connect what
happens daily to that document. Where there are contradictions,
point them out, and hang on until they're removed.
- Go to your manager and express your concerns, or - more positively
- propose improvements
- Write an anonymous letter to someone you think can make things
- Encourage your organisation to measure customer satisfaction
- If you see metrics being used dishonestly, confront or "seek
- Ask to form a task force to address issues that concern you
- Resign. Make sure everyone knows why.
- If you cannot make a difference from inside, it may be time
to look at exposing your company to external scrutiny - perhaps
law enforcement agencies, standards organisations trade associations
or even the press. This is a legal minefield, so be very sure
of your position before proceeding.
Call Centre Conclusions
Rome wasn't built in a day, but we can change call
centres over time if we continue to apply little-and-often pressures
in the right direction.
While we're slogging away at that, Let's Fix Britain
can help us all to befriend and encourage each other. We can share
strength, enthusiasm, practical advice and useful facts from each
other, and build an organisation which will be a large force for
positive change. Why not come to the discussion area, and tell us
what you're thinking, planning, or doing about call centres?
We'll get there.