Tuesday 25 May 2004

Brassed Off Britain

I have been watching the latest programme in this series. Tonight dealt with call centres. Poor customer service was a major complaint:
In some cases, call centre operators are judged on the number of calls they take rather than the customer service they give and have a standard script they have to stick to.

When Jackie Barnes bought a bike from bidup TV and it did not arrive, she phoned the call centre, but was passed from one person to another as no-one could help.

Call centre operators often rely on scripted answers, so when Frank O'Hare tried to phone the Working Tax Credit Office with a unique query, they were unable to give him a simple answer to his question.

When I was living in London I decided to switch from satellite to cable television. Sky TV screwed up the cancellation of service and failed to credit me with the appropriate refund. If I recall correctly I was owed about £10. When I was eventually able to get through to the call centre in Dunfermline I was given the usual lame explanations and decided to go for the nuclear option:

"May I speak to a supervisor?"

"I'm sorry sir, there isn't one on duty at the moment."

"Let me put it this way, if you don't put me on to a supervisor I shall go to the police station and get them to issue an international arrest warrant for Rupert Murdoch on a charge of theft."

The line went quiet for about three seconds, and the supervisor came on the phone.

"We're so sorry about this problem sir. I shall credit your card immediately and you can phone VISA in a few minutes to confirm that the refund has gone through. Have a nice day (or whatever)."

No hard feelings Mr Murdoch. A consumer's got to do what a consumer's got to do.

1 comment:

David Farrer said...

Comments made on previous template:

David Farrer (
There's been an endless series of letters in the Scotsman complaining about the Halifax/Bank of Scotland merger. BoS customers are mightily pissed off about a big decline in customer service.

4 June 2004, 17:18:30 GMT+01:00
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Andrew Ian Dodge (
The thing that brasses me off worse is the absolutely abysmal banks in this country. Incompetent thieving bastards is the best expression I can find for them.

4 June 2004, 13:20:06 GMT+01:00
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Verity (
Another problem with call centres - specifically for ISPs - is, not only are they not employees (which, I take Squander Two's point, may not be a bad thing), but as the customer is calling a premium number, they are instructed to keep customers on the line as long as they dare. Thus, they pretend to be looking up your dossier, or they pretend they are waiting for a technical colleague to get off his current call to help you, or that they've buzzed their supervisor who will be over in a minute. 
This may not be so in Britain, but it is definitely the case in France, a country that is a total stranger to the concept of customer service.

30 May 2004, 16:25:41 GMT+01:00
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Squander Two (
One of the big problems call centres face at the moment is that large companies are outsourcing the work but can't bear to give up any degree of control to the companies to whom they are outsourcing. They pick a customer service provider on the grounds that that provider is a world leader at customer service and then, halfway into the contract negotiations, it dawns on them: "Oh my God! Our customers are going to be speaking to staff who aren't actually our employees!" They respond to this apparent loss of control by trying to control every last detail of everything that could possibly happen: they micromanage, primarily by writing scripts.  
I used to work for one of the world's leading customer service providers, and it's exasperating. We would sell the fact that we were really good at training staff for customer service, and then the company who'd hired us would end up exercising such a ridiculous degree of control freakery that our staff's customer service abilities or lack thereof became totally immaterial.  
It's laughable watching a bunch of people have a meeting in which they try to define every type of call that their staff could possibly receive and refuse to consider a category marked "Other". They end up with a list of maybe thirty different scenarios, proudly proclaiming that they cover every possible call, which, as anyone who's worked on the phones can tell you, is bollocks.  
I believe the problem lies in a breakdown of communication between top and middle management. Top brass decide to outsource their customer service to a third party, but middle managers refuse to relinquish control over what used to be their turf; top brass don't see how disastrous this is going to be, so don't force their underlings to relinquish control. And you end up talking to someone who isn't allowed to say anything that isn't on his screen.  
For what it's worth, not all call centres are like that. First Direct are brilliant.

26 May 2004, 00:41:34 GMT+01:00