How to use a call centre in three easy steps

A slight deviation from my normal content. Be advised this is going to be a thinly-disguised bitch on the topic of call centres, but not the usual kind, i.e. a blogwhine/standup routine/sitcom dialogue regarding often subcontinentally located call centres with incompetent, apathetic or incoherent staff who have no idea what to do if a caller gets them off-script. No, this is a whine about people who call call centres and have no goddam idea what they’re doing and some suggestions about how to make everybody’s lives easier. Because it’s the interblarg and people have either very short attention spans or very short windows of opportunity to read time-wasting shit like this before they have to frantically start bosspamming again, I shall make a list in no particular order.

1. Be realistic.

The person who answers your call is most likely not intimate with every aspect of the company they work for!

There’s a reason there are so many people working in so many call centres: usually, such jobs are entry level, relatively easy and often require no prior experience. Because of that, they’re great for a first-time worker, someone returning to work after a long absence, part-time/casual workers or someone whose real job is playing keyboards and they’re just waiting for the right person to hear their demo. Expecting the first person you talk to to be able to give you deep insight into the company’s every operation or address your every query in detail is somewhat unrealistic. Of course, you have every right to expect the operator to be helpful! Just don’t expect that the first person you speak to can answer your every question. Don’t start with a huge spiel/complaint/query/suggestion and then get huffy when they’re flustered and have no idea how to respond to you and want to refer your call on. A good first step to avoid this kind of frustration is to ask if the operator if they’re the right person to ask about your specific issue – you don’t go to the doctor’s office and ask their receptionist about your itchy genitals, do you? You do? Well, perhaps you should be on some kind of government watch-list … ok, moving on!

2. Don’t hold the operator personally for the company’s mistake (perceived or otherwise).

So, the bank/phone company/charity/whatever has screwed up in a massive way. You’ve been overcharged/double-charged/charged for the wrong thing/charged for something you didn’t get and you’re shat. You want blood. Fair enough! Noone likes being shafted so you have every right to be on a Spartan-style warpath. But give the operator a break: it’s very unlikely that they’re personally responsible for whatever mistake has given you the royal shits. Also, you’re more than likely not the only customer who’s experienced a mistake at the hands of the company. Abusing the operator isn’t going to earn you any respect and won’t inspire them to help you. The worse you treat them, the more likely they’re just going to fob you off, handball the call to someone else who won’t give a shit, or kick your call upstairs to a manager who they know is on holidays so you get their voicemail. On the other hand, if you’re at least calm about it (noone said you had to be all peaches n’ cream), they’ll sympathise with you (and possibly empathise – we all have to deal with large companies who inevitably screw shit up) and will be more than happy to assist you or at least steer you in the direction of someone they know will help.

3. Get organised!

You might not be pressed for time, but you can almost guarantee your operator is – and so are the other callers waiting to speak to them.

So, you’re calling to have a query answered or a complaint addressed, just looking for some vague, general information. Is it too much to ask that you have a pen handy? Or your last correspondence from the company so the operator can find your record quickly? Your operator might not be timed like some outbound callers are but they’ll still have things to do, even if it’s just answering other calls. Not to mention the fact that the other callers sitting in the queue listening to shitty hold music have better things to do than sit in phone queues listening to shitty hold music while operators wait for yet other callers to get organised. Sure, it might only take thirty seconds to grab a pen or your last statement/letter … so why not sort that out before you even dial? If not for the hapless operator, do it for all the other people like you who want answers.

Sure, you might have had some bad experiences with call centre operators. They might have been apathetic, unhelpful or even downright rude in some cases. If that’s the case then sure, maybe they should be working elsewhere. But it’s pure common sense to realise that that’s no reason to hold the next operator or the entire company responsible.

And maybe, just maybe, you just caught the nicest person in the world on the worst day of their life. This person might have just got off the phone from talking to the rudest, most offensive person they’d ever spoken to in their whole lives and not had any time to process their annoyance and take a break before talking to you. Hell, if nothing else, treat that person on the other end of the line with decency and respect because they’re another human being! If you’re so glad to be released from the queue or to have navigated through the menu maze and finally talk to a human, act like it and treat them as such.

So, in closing: you’ve got a question? Great! I want to answer it but if I can’t, please understand when I try to find someone who can – and please make sure you have something to record the answer ahead of time. If not for me, for the others waiting in the damn phone queue and being told that their call is important by a recorded message every two minutes. You’ve got a legitimate whinge and you want the company to pay up? Fine – just make sure you’re whinging to the right person. But hey, don’t hold me responsible – if I was in any position of responsibility do you really think I’d be front-line in a bloody call centre and not upstairs somewhere, sitting on my nice chair and thanking Dionysius that I don’t work front-line in a bloody call centre?

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