Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Is there anything else I can help you with today?

I was once standing in a small, godforsaken hellhole of a town on the phone to the carhire company whose local office had closed early, and where I was supposed to be picking up the hire car, having been dropped off from the weekly bloody stagecoach, and the woman in the call centre in Dallas or somewhere thousands of miles away, having listened to me patiently, argued with me, felt my pain, but yes, was going to leave me stranded without a car, ended the conversation with the words "Is there anything else I can help you with today?"

When my bank callcentre, in India, was explaining to me, at a payphone in the Mojave Desert, that yes, they were having software problems with their pin number technology, but that they were willing to cancel my card there and then so that when I got home three weeks later there would be a nice shiny new card waiting for me, in the meantime I was to use, um, water presumeably, or sand, to survive on I found myself shouting down the phone "Don't you dare cancel my card!" at a level of decibels that could be heard in Mumbai without the use of said payphone.

As Henry Miller once said "Call Centres. Fuck 'em" and I wholeheartedly agree.

"Hello, yes, I've been waiting and paying for this call for fifteen minutes, yes fifteen minutes, yes thankyou for your apology and yes you can help me with the water main repair people you said were coming at 8am to coincide with the gas main people but the reason I'm calling you back yet again, and yes I know you have no record whatsoever of my previous ten calls, is that the gas people have finished over an hour ago and are now, as required in their job description, going to fill in the hole and then probably your people are going to turn up and dig it all up again. Yes thankyou, that's what the other ten people said, but is there no way at all, and I know you think I'm a complete stranger, no way at all of just, you know, speeding this up a little?" And yes I will give you all my details again despite having punched them into the keypad several minutes ago while I was waiting on you to pick up the phone.

"Hello? Yes I just thought I'd let you know that an hour after the gas people left here, having filled in the hole and repaved it perfectly, your people have now turned up and are digging up the self same hole again and apparently I have to call the Gas callcentre to get their people back again pronto in case of emergency. What's that? You want my name and ....."

Have you ever been in a call centre? They're fascinating, if you regard living nightmares of interest. Bleary eyed teams grouped around desks in a grey warehouse with bright names in bright colours to identify where they are on the floorplan, and allow them to find their way back from the toilet in the dark, above them LED displays with the number of calls waiting, their priority, signs like "Terminating Account" which have to be answered pronto, or "Just Wants a Moan" where you hang on forever. The ColdCall Centres are different, and I don't mean the ones in Aberdeen, the ones where they call you to sell you telecoms generally and are usually calling from India, they have a system whereby as soon as an employee puts the phone down (ie his 999th client has just hung up and told him to fuck off) your number rings and when you answer they start talking as if they know you (your name is flashed up on his screen). The super sophisticated call centres are even more different, they're not even call centres, just people in their own homes attached to the telephone on a digital exchange which calls them when you're calling to sort a problem.

Because that's the only reason you call. To sort a problem. Fix something. Not call for a bloody chat, or an argument, but to get something done. And that's where I start to lose it, because the whole point of call centres is to put a barrier between you and the people who are going to solve the problem. That's what call centres are for. They can only ever pass on your request/complaint/rant(unlikely)/constructive comments. They are not there to resolve the issue. Somebody else does that. They just take your call.

When it goes wrong, and you have to call back again, insert your details again, tell the operator those same details again, start all over, with the same story, exactly the same story, but with just a little higher level of frustration in your voice, don't expect anything to happen. Don't bother to say "please note this down for future reference" because they won't.

Now, is there anything else I can do for you today?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Why do people ask "Is there anything else I can help you with today?" when they did not address the FIRST (and only)issue I raised? Doesn't "else" suggest we an additional issue -- i.e., that we had addressed the first issue?