The tangled web

The relationship between the web and the call-centre is a curious one. You can never fully escape the thought that if in a decade or so we’ll be reminiscing about call centres as if they were coal mines or car factories then it will be the web to blame. Or is the reality less straightforward than that, will the web in fact transform the industry for the better? According to Mark Hillary in the Huffington Post it may well do;

Calls to contact centres are declining and social network interactions are soaring causing an enormous change within the customer service industry. The skills needed to handle customers on Facebook, Twitter, email, instant messaging tools – and the telephone – are far greater than what was traditionally expected of a call centre agent.

So the agents in contact centres are going to be earning more, having a more rewarding experience as they help customers across all kinds of channels and the old days of a script-reading drone will soon be firmly in the past.

In my corner of the call-centre universe it’s fast becoming impossible to escape the impact of the web. Just this week a client has sent out 50 000 emails complete with a web only offer code to direct customers to their website  and recently one of our biggest clients also ran web only discount campaign

For companies the attractions of driving up their web traffic are obvious; The customer does the hard work of inputting their details and clicking through the options so no need to employ the likes of me on near minimum wage. Websites can also deal with far more customers simultaneously so no frustrating waits and no lost revenue from people hanging up.  Customers setting up web accounts also allow companies to track their order history and promote products and offers more effectively and cheaply than expensive scattergun mail-shots

There is a problem though. We just aren’t equipped to deal with it. Let me explain; I have no technical skills to speak of in fact I don’t really do anything. If there is a problem which requires a.) a decision I’m not given authorisation to make, b.) anything which can’t be solved by a click of the mouse, or heaven forbid c.) requires me to leave my seat, then I simply explain how sorry I am for the situation write the details down and pop it in a basket for someone else to deal with, or equally likely for them to put in the bin. Then when the customer calls back angry no one has got back to them I explain how sorry I am before beginning the process over again.

The web customer however,  doesn’t want to play this game. Maybe it’s the immediacy promised by the internet, I don’t know, but I do know they want someone who can rescue their order, or fix their frozen screen with its error message and most importantly can fix it now. The person they really need though is a software technician, not a generic customer service bod like me as the following exchange illustrates;

Customer: Hi, I’m just doing an order on your website and whenever I put in my details It’s telling me that ‘something unexpected has occurred’ and to call this number.

Me; Ok. Would you like me to do the order by phone for you?

Customer: Ummm, not really I’ve just spent 20 minutes on the order. Can’t you just fix it.

Me; I’m afraid not, I’m not able to do anything on the website [which is administered from head office in another time-zone] I can do the order for you now though.

Customer: So you’re telling me you can’t help me then.

Me; I’m sorry….

Customer;  But, it’s just taken me ages to get through to you

It’s very much a case of new technology meets old attitudes in which I play the role of  a WWI cavalry officer slowly sinking into the mud. The conundrum here is that unless I am given the ability and skills to take control and actually do something we have a classic call-centre no, no….. If you ever tell a customer you are unable to help in their minds they automatically replace the word can’t with won’t.

Unfortunately for us this kind of situation is becoming more common as our clients seek to boost their web traffic. Change can’t come soon enough!


One thought on “The tangled web

  1. Being now a “tech support gal”, I’m in-between the role of the customer service agent and the software technician. I don’t have any technical skills (well, I have some but I never did any technical studies for example, I got trained on the job) but I can solve a few minor technical issues. Most of my work is to route the tickets to the actual technicians, depending on what is the issue and if it’s in their scope. So when I cannot solve a problem and I tell the customer that I’m going to create the ticket and send it to someone who can, they sometimes get very angry that I… “won’t” (!) solve it myself! According to them, it’s always “very easy to solve” by the way. 😀
    So easy that they have to call the hotline to get it done, instead of doing it themselves…

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