Who are we? This is a bit of a deep and complex philosophical question, but one which has recently come up in the call centre.
This is all because a memo has been circulated instructing us to stop referring to the companies we outsource as ‘they’. We have, we have been told, now got to make sure that we refer to them as ‘we’ whenever we speak to customers; we have been reminded that we are they.
There is some logic here. For the customers calling they believe they are speaking to (or screaming at) a representative of company X. The fact they are speaking to an employee of company Y who is contracted on behalf of company X is a deception which they must not become party to.
However, as an employee of company Y this deception is often rather problematic for the following reasons:
We have no real connection to the company X’s we work for. We have never stepped foot in, or even seen a picture of their offices. Most of us have also never met or even spoken to any of their in-house staff. The one communicative conduit is through our management, but they never really speak to us either. We are given very little product knowledge, so often customers think that we are just stupid as they wonder why when they’ve called a firm the person they are speaking to doesn’t know the spec of the products. In fact I’m taking calls for two companies at the moment which I have been told nothing about I’m simply just left to bluff my way through the calls.
As there is no communication we feel that consequently we have no real influence over the actions of the company X’s. So when customers are consistently unhappy with an aspect of the companies products or services, our job is to fire-fight each complaint on an individual basis. This is wearying as we deal with the same issue again, and again, and again, knowing full well that we have zero ability to influence the companies to actually improve their systems and stop the problems occurring. The companies for their part have a disincentive to act as we provide a convenient buffer for customers anger. In this situation adopting the ‘they’ defence distancing ourselves from the company, gives us a little breathing space and helps us with our frustration that we are powerless to improve things for their customers.
I won’t say too much here but, lets just say that the companies we work for have a range of corporate cultures and operate with very different sets of ethics. After working on some of their behalfs I’ll find it very difficult to trust the claims made by companies in the future.
So there you have it, the contradictions of being a customer service mercenary. If I was running a company I don’t think I’d ever outsource my customer service. Customers want, or should I say deserve, staff who are knowledgable and even passionate about the products, and for companies it’s like putting on a pair of giant foam hands (the kind you used to see on Gladiators – the ones with the big pointy finger) as it gets in the way of you feeling your customers; how they are, what they want and what their problems are.
As I said to someone today though “If companies actually cared about customer service they wouldn’t outsource”