So last night I made the mistake of ringing a call centre.
I think I did it to prove to myself that they really are the most irritating invention ever. Maybe I did it on the offchance that I would be pleasantly surprised by an efficient and competent response. I wasn’t.
It’s a UK bank call centre. This said bank has a call centre in Ireland during normal banking hours, and for the rest of its supposed 24 hour service it is farmed out to somewhere on the other side of the world.
We used to have a savings account with them which we have recently closed. We could actually close that one over the ‘phone. I say actually, it took three separate ‘phone calls before it was logged and registered by them as closed, and it took at least three weeks, probably nearer to four before the notification arrived. The out-of-hours staff were terrible, and even the daytime staff were of dubious quality until we finally hit lucky and got one that knew what she was doing.
We now want to close the current account. Pretty simple eh? So I rang to ask the helpful call centre staff what I had to do to close it.
“Just go into your local branch,” he said.
“Can’t do that,” I pointed out. “I don’t live there.”
“Just go into your local branch,” he repeated, obviously thinking I had not heard him the first time.
“I live in a different country,” I helpfully added, thinking this might be a key bit of information that would make him realise I couldn’t just nip down the street and call into my local High Street branch.
“Just go into your local branch,” he said yet again, perhaps thinking that if he repeated it enough times I might finally understand.
At this point I was starting to lose what small amount of patience I still possessed. It wasn’t a lot anyway because as soon as I pick up the ‘phone and know I am going to be dealing with Call Centre Syndrome, it starts ebbing away from me in bucketloads.
I explained that I thought it was a bit inconvenient to have to get on an aeroplane to visit another country just to close an account.
“I can just write a letter can’t I?” I said giving him A Very Big Clue.
This was not easy. Long pause. He obviously searched up and down his crib sheet, or up and down his computer crib screen, but there was clearly no mention of Writing A Letter.
“I don’t know,” he admitted.
Then a bright idea came to him.
“I’ll go and ask my supervisor.”
“Oh no you won’t. I’ve just explained I’m ringing from another country and the ‘phone call is expensive so I’m not hanging on any longer while you disappear off to chat with your supervisor. I’ll just write the letter.”
So I put the ‘phone down and then sat there uttering every obscenity I could think of about whoever first came up with the concept of call centres.
To be fair, my gripe is not with the poor staff who get paid peanuts for dealing with cantankerous customers like me.
But I am annoyed, that in the search for cost-cutting and boosting profits for shareholders, resaonable customer service has disappeared into the ether. And even worse that it is portrayed as being an advantage and a benefit for us customers.
Ringing somewhere miles away where finding the answer to even a simple question takes on the complexity of completing a doctoral thesis in nuclear physics is not what I want.
It is also beyond me why someone can’t put together a decent Q & A brief for the poor creatures on the end of the telephone. It seems they can manage to check balances and answer basic questions about an account, but over and above that they are stumped.
I shouldn’t be surprised though. Some years ago I was in charge of complaints. Complaints came into my office, my admin staff wrote an acknowledgement letter, and then asked an appropriate professional within the organisation to look into it and draft a response. Then we also tried to see if there was anything we could do to improve the procedures so that it wouldn’t happen again. If we made changes as a result of the complaint we told the person who had complained so at least they didn’t feel they had wasted their time.
My administrator was efficient. She was so efficient that she basically liked to get things off her desk. Or to get people off the ‘phone and then she could get back on with her typing and chatting to the other secretary.
So on a few occasions I would hear her speaking to people who had rung up to ask how to complain. Very nicely she would tell them how to go about it. If they weren’t happy, she would repeat it. If they asked if there was any other option she would say no and repeat the whole palaver again. This was not strictly true, as although there was the basic complaint route taken by most people, there were alternatives. But this made life complicated, and Efficient Admin would have had to think and work out which was appropriate. It was not on her neat sheet of “What Happens Next.” She didn’t want to get it wrong and she wasn’t confident enought to treat each call individually, so she stuck to her crib sheet.
So ironically, I can understand why call centres are so utterly useless. Staff answering the ‘phone are not paid to think. They are paid to give out easy answers according to their script.
If the caller deviates from the script, they can’t respond. Or only with the one answer that they know.
In my new world order of things, I would make call centres illegal.