How to run a customer call centre
These gems are based on a lifetime’s experience of call centres. In recent experience, Waitrose, Sainsbury’s, Vodafone, Carphone Warehouse, Samsung and the RAC have all inspired me to put fingers to keyboard.
1 Always remember that the purpose of your call centre is to keep riffraff like me—customers and members of the public—off the backs of your managers who have better things to do than engage with customers. (RAC was brilliant at this.)
2 Call it a ‘help desk’, ‘customer care line’ or something else which implies the customer is going to be helped by the call centre although, in reality, any help received by punters is an entirely incidental outcome of the operation of the centre.
3 Locate it in a area of high unemployment so you can attract staff with low aspirations who will accept a pittance for the privilege of working for you (and whose local authority may well bribe you to locate your call centre in their territory).
One good tactic is to outsource the entire call entre operation, thereby ensuring that noone in it has the slightest interest or stake in the service offered to callers other than the irrelevant metrics which might be gathered and on which their “performance” is measured for billing purposes.
Of course, offshoring the enterprise is the best way of doing this. For some reason, people in Mumbai do not have a burning passion about broadband connections in Sevenoaks and no amount of puppy-like eagerness will disguise their indifference. This guarantees a ready supply of people who really cannot understand the situation the caller is in and therefore really cannot understand what the problem is, and who cannot articulate themselves in English to the high standard of your UK staff.
4 Find people to answer the phones who don’t really care what you, their employer, does; don’t really understand what your business does; don’t really care about the problems your products and services cause your customers; and don’t care whether they do a good job beyond keeping on the right side of their immediate line management.
5 Recruit insufficient staff to handle average volumes of calls then, when callers have to wait, play them incessant recorded messages assuring them that their call is valuable to you, but you have so many other valuable calls waiting to be answered that they are on indefinite hold. In fact, the situation is that you can’t be bothered to employ enough staff to ensure the phone is answered promptly.
6 Forbid the staff to escalate a customer’s call within the call centre’s management. If necessary, permit the call handler to say, in response to a request to talk to a manager, “there are no managers in the building today” (Vodafone). If the caller pushes his luck and suggests this means the person they are talking to must be the most senior person in the building, the call handler may be allowed to bluff it out.
7 Provide the call handling staff with inadequate training so that, to give two examples, they don’t know where on their employer’s website the policy statement about the data protection act is to be found and cannot find anyone in the organisation who can tell them (Sainsbury’s); don’t know who the company’s chief executive is (Vodafone).
More to the point, the failure adequately to train call handling staff in anything other than replying “I can’t do that” to the request to put the caller in contact with a manager, results in not only (a) the customer receiving no material help; but also (b) the customer getting thoroughly hacked off that a reasonable request for help—needed because of the failure of your product or service—is being frustrated.
Indeed, it could be argued that, at point 1, the purpose of a call centre is to antagonise as much as possible as many people as possible without providing a shred of help to any of them.
8 Provide the call handling staff with inadequate resources, so that they certainly can’t refer a problem outside their organisation (endemic in companies such Vodafone, Carphone Warehouse and Samsung which engage in permanent buckpassing as a principal technique of antagonising customers).
9 Ensure call centre staff certainly can’t issue apologies on behalf of their employer; can’t issue standard letters about a complaint to a complainant; can’t admit liability, however limited, on behalf of their employer. And certainly can’t make ex gratia payments in respect of the hassle your products and services have caused callers.
Where necessary, permit call handlers to cite the data protection act as the reason for their obstructionism; the more irrelevant the act is to the discussion in hand, the better. (Of course, don’t train the call handling staff in the requirements and limitations of the act as it affects your business.)
10 Provide the call handlers with illiterate scripts which require them to use circumlocutions they would never use in daily life—such as repeatedly referring to the caller as “yourself” rather than “you”—thus underlining the artificiality of the transaction (Sainsburys).
11 Encourage the more adventurous call handlers to take a righteous tone with the caller, implying that the caller is wrong to be making the assertions that he or she is; talking over them and generally ignoring what the caller is saying. Some call handlers can even deploy their training on the Basic Sarcasm course further to antagonise the caller (Waitrose).
12 If possible, require the call handler to repeatedly get the caller’s name wrong (even though it is displayed on a screen fifteen inches from the handler’s face) and/or require them to use an inappropriate degree of familiarity by addressing the caller by their first name without seeking permission first.
13 Make the caller go through a complex set of voice menu options, none of which meets the caller’s specific need, and ensure at no point is an option given to talk to a real person about the caller’s issue.
14 Warn callers that the conversation they are going to have with your staff will be recorded for “training and education purposes” and then do absolutely nothing to learn from the calls.
15 Ensure that, if a call handler offers to transfer a caller to the “marketing department” in “Bracknell”, the caller is in fact returned to the start of the complicated voice menu system and has to start all over again with another call handler (Waitrose).
16 Ensure that, if a call handler offers to transfer a caller to the “marketing department” in “Bracknell”, the caller is in fact left hanging like a patsy for half an hour listening to some banal music and repeated recorded measures assuring the caller that their call is important to you (Waitrose).
A simpler alternative is, of course, to just have the line go dead after the caller has waited ten minutes (Carphone Warehouse and many others).
17 At the end of a discussion between a complainant and a call handler, require the call handler to ask, “Is there any other way I can help you today?”, when, in fact, the call handler has provided sod all help up to that point and has no intention of starting now.
18 At the very end of the complainant’s call, when they have given in, just want the frustration and annoyance to stop and so answer “no” to the above question, require the call handler to reply, “Not a problem”, thereby revealing that, in reality, the caller’s problems have been, all along, not a problem to the call handler (who couldn’t give a damn about them) or to you, their employer (ditto).
19 Affect a grandiose incomprehension and utter disbelief that a caller, having had an hour’s useless frustration with your call centre (or, in some cases, several weeks, or even months, of time wasting), might want to raise a further complaint about the way their original complaint was handled.
If you do provide a service for callers to complain about the way their call has been handled, make sure that no one ever gets back to the complainant about the progress of their new complaint, nothing is learnt from the complaint and nothing is done in the organisation to take any notice of the complaint.
> Purpose and outcomes
> The “psychopathic corporation”
© 2016 Jeremy Marchant . image: Free images