The irony of the call centre is that you can speak all day, but never have a conversation. The pressure to drive call times down and thus push profits up. For an operator it means like a racing driver it is all about keeping to the racing line, controlling the call with the utmost precision, easing it round the bends whilst avoiding the debris, oil slicks and crashes which can conspire to wreck your call time. Unsurprisingly after a whole day this can leave you feeling as mentally exhausted as if you’d taken part in the Le Mans 24 hour race.
It’s also profoundly alienating for both us and customers. In other jobs I’ve enjoyed the rapport with customers, but this is actively discouraged in the call-centre and was typically the subject of one of those management memos a while back ‘it’s nice to chat to customers’ it read ‘but please refrain.’ A call from a customer is seen not as an opportunity to connect, or engage with them, perhaps even to the long-term advantage of the company, but like anything else in the call-centre it is viewed soley through the prism of cold, hard statistics. A viewpoint which ensures each call becomes a mechanical transaction stripped of any traces of warmth and humanity.
In some ways our clients are to blame by outsourcing their customer service function. Generally the terms of the contracts mean my company receives an amount of money per-call dealt with, so whilst it may not be in our clients interest to offer at best bare-bones customer service in an attempt keep times low, it is definitely in the interests of my firm. To any business people out there who may chance upon this don’t ever outsource your customer service its a real no-brainer.
We have target average call-times for each client we deal with and a chart is published monthly. It is then circulated and stuck on a wall. As I have previously discussed it is the cause of a small flurry of excitement as people seek to compare their performance with that of their colleagues assessing where they are in the pecking-order. When I first started I joined in with this ritual to the point where I would despair when I got a chatty, forgetful or just plain difficult customer and could only watch helplessly as the clock on my phone broke through the ten of fifteen minute mark.
At the beginning of the year I had an epiphany. What if I just refused to play along and stopped looking at the chart? So I did. Almost immediately I felt much happier, much more relaxed and customers started thanking me for my patience. I had liberated myself from the tyranny of the call-time average.
It meant today that I could enjoy an elderly customers ten minute anecdote about how his work for a hydraulic lift company meant he travelled all over Europe and also included being an extra in the James Bond film You only live twice in which he features in the volcano scene. The customer was clearly delighted to have someone listening to their story and for my part I was happy to oblige.