Cast 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:
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).
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.