Bitterwallet's How To... deal with call centre staff

Bitterwallet's How To... deal with call centre staffCast your mind back to last week, and you may recall I implied that call centre workers are 'brain-dead arseholes'. Well, like any good writer, I reserve the right to be a hypocrite, and hereby retract that statement. It was a tremendously sweeping generalisation, although the centre I worked in for many years did have its fair share of characters.

One guy in particular was seemingly more beast than man, with all the social awareness of a drunken gorilla (as opposed to a sober one). If his finger wasn’t up his nose, it was down the back of his trousers and scratching his arse. Another was depressingly close to rock stardom, requesting special leave to support a major British band on their UK tour (including Wembley), living the dream for a few short days only to return to work the following week.

From savage ape to lovable indie kid, my former colleagues all had one thing in common; they’d do their best to help you, if you spoke to them in the right way. To do that that, you need to empathise with them, and to do that, you need to understand how call centre operate.

Before we look at the tips to dealing with call centre staff, let’s set the scene with some inside info:

Quality control

An adviser will have a set number of calls listened to each month, and their quality will contribute towards their bonus. However, only a tiny proportion of calls are ever played back. Let’s say an adviser takes six calls an hour, that’s about 200 per week, or 800 per month. Out of those you’d be lucky if, say, ten were audited; that’s barely 1%. As such, the rep probably won’t give a toss what happens from call to call, so it’s a good idea to get onside with them from the start.

Incidentally, in my old place, only calls that lasted around five to ten minutes were quality checked. So, if you were on a particularly rubbish call, the idea was to wrap up quickly, or drag things out beyond the danger zone. Less than five minutes or greater
than ten, you had carte blanche to screw things up left, right and centre (intentionally or otherwise).

Dropping calls

In my experience, only a small number of calls are genuinely dropped - the company will have invested millions in a system specifically designed to answer them. However, when backed into a corner, some advisers will manually ‘release’ the call. Hanging up was a big no-no where I worked, and a good way to get yourself fired. Unfortunately other places don’t seem quite as strict.


The criteria for bonuses tend to change often. One month the management will be obsessed with average call length, but the next it might be quality or after-call (that’s the time the adviser takes to log notes). Setting realistic targets is a delicate job; if it seems like too much effort, many advisers will write off the bonus and turn rogue for the month. After all, a bonus is just that.


Advisors generally have very little power. They’ll be limited in terms of how much credit they can apply, for example, and will often need a manager to authorise anything of importance. That’s why, if you’re after something juicy, it’s good to go down the cancellation or formal complaint route; no point wasting time speaking to the little people.

Doing a Jimmy riddle

Life in a call centre is beyond soul-destroying. One of the most humiliating aspects is the use of different codes to indicate what you’re doing at any particular time, including taking an unscheduled break to go to the toilet. Yes, at the end of every month your manager reviews your stats, including the amount of time you’ve spent in the water closet.

So with all that in mind, here are some tips to get the most from your dead-eyed headset jockey. Many of you savvy readers may find some of these very obvious; regardless, experience suggests most of you won't follow them and instead think being clever, patronising and aggressive will get you what you want. It really, really won't.

Consider who you’re speaking to

Remember, regardless of why you’re calling, the chances are it’s not the fault of the person you end up chatting to. It’s all too tempting to see the adviser as a representative of the company as a whole, but chances are they’ll hate the corporate machine just as much as you do.

When you get through, the first few words you spout will set the tone for the rest of the call. Hairy beast man and indie rock star alike will wait with baited breath to hear why you’re calling, and they’ll be more than happy to help - assuming you don’t launch in with a verbal punch in the balls.

Ask for a name and team number when you begin the call

There’s an urban legend about a customer who, thoroughly unsatisfied with the level of service he received over the phone, decided to take matters into his own hands. In a move of equal parts genius and insanity, he first sent flowers to the woman he’d been speaking to. Next, he picked up his gun, drove to her work, and patiently waited outside for a woman with flowers to emerge at closing time. The rumour goes that she was shot several times and died a horrible death.

That story might be a load of old bollocks, but there are a fair share of mental cases who phone call centres. One of my personal favourites was the guy who was convinced he could have shut the company down, and all its employees charged with both theft and fraud, simply because his bill was slightly incorrect. A reasonable fellow, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Because of these types of scenarios, fictitious or otherwise, advisers are understandably reluctant to give out their full names, lest they get shot or sued. I’d ask for their first name only, and possibly a team number. You don’t need to be a dick about it, just ask politely. It’s a good way to start the call; doing so will (hopefully) instill a sense of responsibility in the adviser, since you know exactly who to point the finger at if you’re not entirely happy with the outcome.

Ask for your account to be noted

Unfortunately there’s no way to guarantee a note is left on your account to indicate a discussion or agreement made with the advsier, but a gentle reminder won’t do any harm. And, assuming the adviser isn’t an illiterate baboon, it’ll negate the need for you to reiterate the problem if you
have to get back in touch.

Check forums (but still make the call)

If you’re calling about a technical issue, have a look at your supplier’s forum pages first of all. You might find that other customers have been having the same issue, and you can see what kind of advice they’ve been given. Armed with this information, you can guide the conversation in the right direction. Again, no need to be a dick about it; simply ask, for example, "I hear you’re having network problems. Is this true?" or "I understand you’ve been offering three months free by way of compensation, would I be entitled to this too?" And so on.


Even if you’re an insufferable sack, no company wants to lose your custom. Asking to speak to the cancellations team is a good way to get some attention. Generally they’ll be a separate department, and they’ll have an arsenal of standard ‘save’ deals. Don’t worry if they don’t make an offer immediately; someone will inevitably call you during your notice period and beg you to stay.


  • Darren
    if you are not getting what you want. ALWAYS ask to speak to a manager, That's what I do and usually end up better off afterwards!
  • Owen
    Worked for Virgin Media for 5 years and woul;d agree with everything above and just as a note when the phone goes silent you are not on hold just muted and they can probably hear everthing you say
  • klingelton
    virgin media indian call centres are the worst. one guy hung up on me because i wasn't fast enough unplugging my modem and i asked him to wait while i did it... he hung up. next woman hung up on me because i said the last guy hung up on me (maybe she didn't believe me). and the person after that was most helpful indeed. Seems to be entirely down to whom you reach when you get put through. mostly - if you get through to the english based call centres, they're quite good. (in my experience) the foreign based ones immediately get my back up and the inability to deviate from the script is irritating. On another note - my problem was due to a kink in my cable (gigerty) and not down to local servers/modem problems. So people, i implore you to check your cabling before taking time off work.
  • Graeme
    I get a call from LloydsTSB every day. it's an Indian call centre and I've told them to not call me as I cannot be sure who they really are. Anyone can say they are from a bank, now give me your details etc Spam filter on my Android phone is brilliant as it just drops their call straight away
  • The B.
    I try to avoid call centres if I can but if I do need to use them no matter how raging I am I'll try my hardest not to lose my rag with the phone jockey, even to the extent of stating in advance "I'm sorry if I'm a bit rude during the conversation but I'm REALLY annoyed about this and it's in no way a reflection on you". It's worth adding that I do say thanks if they've been helpful, I can't imagine it's a pleasant job.
  • The B.
    @Graeme, spam filter? Is it an app?
  • ohhai
    Vodafone have been appalling in my recent dealings with them, took 5 one hour phone calls, being shouted at by their managers (demanding to know why I had called and why I hadn't listened, well when someone can give me a sound mathematical reason that 20% is LESS than 10% I will listen, then call them an idiot and ask to speak to their manager) Took 5 calls, numerous emails and letters to even get a response, who then lied. I think communication is important, and for a communications company they fail at this..... hard
  • Louise
    It's generally agreed that (mostly) Indian call centres are dire. Talktalk are particularly poor. I've had absolute nonsense spouted at, I asked if I could get a new N router. Indian person said that they don't DO N routers (except Talktalk clearly advertise them on their website, oops). If they can't answer your question, the standard practice seems to be either, a) Be so arsey that the caller (Me) ends the phone call in a hurry, or b) Hang up on the customer. On the Talktalk Members' Forum you'll see lots of complaints about their woeful "customer service". One guy got told to "Fuck Off". One rare helpful phone call I've had was when I tried to set up my (then) G wireless router. When I go offline/my phone gets cut off they are useless. Strangely I only get the, How Did We Do? survey email ONLY when the customer service person hasn't been rude. Even on the Forum they tell you to post on there if you can and avoid their "Customer Service". Sort it out, Talktalk.
  • blarg
    I work in-store for Currys (no comments please), and the same rules apply there. Countless times we have customers coming in when they have an issue with one of their products, be it a genuine fault, a user error and the customer says 'YOU sold me that faulty...', or something along those lines, even when it was bought from another store and I personally could not have sold the item. Unfortunate as it is, electricals don't always work like they should and a batch of products may contain a faulty or less than adequate item. I will bend over backwards to sort a customer out if they come in and 1) don't blame me, or 2) they're understanding of the situation. When a customer comes in shouting at me though I will more often than not, not go the extra length for them and my patience does wane. I've found whenever I've gone to any store, if I'm polite to the person serving me, they respond 100x better. It's just human nature Now I shall sit back and wait for people to slag off Currys
  • veedubjai
    Worked for an outsource company on behalf of O2UK for over 5 years & believe you me that the riff raff you get from customers from time to time & expect you to bend over backwards & get shafted giving customers whatever they want by been aggressive & rude. Everyone pays for a product/service, so everyone expects to pay & treated equal. Free mobile phone for nothing! Who makes mobile phones for nothing in this world? No such thing as they are all subsidised even PAYG phones too. Your mobile phone contract is a CREDIT agreement! Yes, I get paid less than official O2 staffers per hour & expect to do the same role with less money as O2 employed staff. Why do you think O2UK wants to sign long-term contracts with outsource contact centres in the first place = to save money & give the greedy customers cheap deals for free or nothing. How about making these deals even cheaper by sending all O2UK contact centre roles to India but don't expect good/decent after-care service when you need it or complain. BTW, for one UK based employee can employ three foreigners in the same role. These are real jobs in UK that affect alot of people/industry. The UK mobile phone market is already too saturated with the same UK customers pitching for deals with little margin to reinvest back into the business hence why do you think all mobile phone networks are now diversifying & offering every conceivable communication services like home broadband, mobile broadband, landline services, etc. What next, O2UK offering TV/Movie services? I call these customers tightwads who expects a product/service to be a given right. NO, it's not a given right, it's a priviledge that a service exists in the first place & everyone will have to pay for it. Heard about benefit claimants that have SKY TV subscriptions with multiple mobile phone contracts because they wanted iPhone & smartphone handsets. If you can't afford it then don't buy it. Live on by your means & stop scrounging from taxpayers money. It's no wonder this country is run on cheap credit. Sorry, but have to get this off my chest as had a sh*t day at work at the start of the week. Beyond soul-destroying? 4 more days to weekend. Can't wait to top myself over with alcohol.
  • klingelton
    can anyone explain to me how phones 4 u make money? they give you free phone, free cash to get you signed up which means you pay about a couple of quid a month for a year.. the maths doesn't work sometimes.
  • Andyrew
    @ klingelton. Apparently, Phones4U commission is about £250 per deal on the higher tariffs. I guess the networks pay it because they hope that customers will upgrade in 18 - 24 months time and stay on their network.
  • Sara
    "One guy in particular was seemingly more beast than man, with all the social awareness of a drunken gorilla (as opposed to a sober one). If his finger wasn’t up his nose, it was down the back of his trousers and scratching his arse." This made me laugh so much! Great piece, hope the travels are going well!
  • RM
    Budget car insurance sooth efricen call centre staff are the pits. Despite the fact that my written policy stated clearly what my excess was, they insisted it was wrong and was way more. Cut me off when I was being totally civil. Wouldn't refer me to a manager dspite several requests. Really rude, condescending, unhelpful tone throughout. Another bunch of thieving scum I'll avoid in future.
  • How B.
    [...] The principles aren’t legally binding, but there’s still an obligation to adhere to them. If you do decide to challenge an APR increase, it’s best to phone your credit card provider in the first instance. Cite the Principles Relating to Credit / Store Card Risk-Based Re-Pricing, as agreed and defined by the Government and the UK Cards Association (APACs) in December 2008. Clearly state which principle you believe has been breached, and stay calm; ideally you want the rep to sympathise with you, so shouting, while potentially satisfying, isn’t necessarily the best course of action. For other call centre-related tips, check out Bitterwallet’s How To… deal with call centre staff. [...]

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