The Kafkaesque nightmare of call-centres


I had a strange experience last week, one which gave me a different perspective on call-centres – the customers view. Locked out of an online account I was in need of help so I contacted customer services…

I first tried emailing, but this met with a generic copy-and-paste response which didn’t even acknowledge, let alone deal with, my issue and directed me to the part of the website which I’d emailed to say I’d had a problem with. It reminded me of my days dealing with incoming mail in which we’d be told to just use templates in order to get through as much as possible. Didn’t even seem to matter which just as long as you got through your pile it was OK.

Frustrated by this I caved-in, I picked up my phone, and dialled customer services. Generally I don’t like calling call-centres, in fact I’d go as far as to say I hate calling call-centres. Mainly because my experiences of working in one have given me such a low expectations – though I have on occasions been pleasantly surprised – step forward NatWest and Southern Electric, but I knew this wouldn’t be the case the instant the automated voice-menu kicked in…. are you calling  to place an order please say ‘yes’. If you want to make a payment say ‘yes’… 

Once I’d negotiated this labyrinth of self-consciousness another automated voice warned me I’d be in for a long wait as ‘all our operators are currently busy’. Really? On a weekday afternoon? I waited… listened to a sales pitch…and waited… listened to some muzak..and waited..

Had someone answered at that point I’d have been angry, very angry. In fact I’d have been just like one of those people I used to hate….

Me; Hello CG speaking how can I help?

Customer: How many people do you have there? Whatever it is it’s not enough. I’ve been on this phone for 15 minutes and I gave up after 20 minutes yesterday it’s disgraceful.

Me; OK how can I help? [now that you’ve successfully wasted 40 seconds in which I could have been dealing with your issue, and therefore holding up the next person in line]

Funnily I always used to think customers exaggerated here, either for effect, or because when you’re hanging on the telephone there’s a sort of Narnia effect where what feels like three years is actually only three minutes back in the real world. I don’t know how long I was hanging on, maybe 10 minutes, probably only three, but I could take no more and hung-up…

I decided I’d call back late on a Sunday evening. My inside knowledge told me that call-centres are usually open for longer than most people think. The phone was ringing, then answered – I was right  After some fun with the automated system, which wanted my date of birth but kept getting just one digit wrong each time, I got straight through.

I explained my problem; that somehow I’d been locked out of my account and the password reset didn’t appear to be working. I was told that this was because they had a different email address for me, but As I didn’t know what this was apparently I failed a security question. I was then told by the operator that they couldn’t help me as they seemed not to believe I was who I said I was. I asked how I was meant to settle my account if I was locked out. They said they understood, but could do nothing more thankyougoodbye.

Click. Gone.

Suddenly I began to feel like a character in a Franz Kafka story.

Call-centres. Love ’em.

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2 thoughts on “The Kafkaesque nightmare of call-centres

  1. Just stumbled across this! So funny and so true!
    I feel your pain!
    One minor point stuck out though and I couldn’t not comment on it
    You mentioned 2 company’s that seem to give hope
    I work for one of them.
    I just have to say there is no hope!
    It’s horrific. By FARRRRRRR the worst call centre iv worked in. It’s really horrendous.
    It was good to begin with I won’t lie it was half decent. But these last couple of years it’s been a land slide to say the least.
    If your a customer that call and straight out complains at something chances are your going to find the advisor has hung up. If your not eligible for our ‘in your best interests’ sales pitch most advisors will A. Hang up or B. fob you off or C. Tell you that’s everything done for you, and guess what! They did nothing!!
    There are a few of us that will still try and tick all the customers boxes. But that doesn’t help our stats and if our stats are bad then dare we brave the consequences!! Or so it feels.
    There’s still hope for that bank you mentioned, its such a rotten job in the other one though. Along the lines of new age nazis. I’d love to say that’s an exaggeration. If only.

    • Firstly welcome to the blog and thanks for commenting. I’ve just been nodding my head furiously at everything you’ve written – sounds exactly like my old call centre! The thing which always used to get me was how by doing the job properly you’d end up looking bad, particularly from an average call time perspective.

      Management always heaped praise on the people who cut the most corners and asked why we weren’t matching their output. One thing we had to do was to reply to customers letters, whilst also taking calls non-stop. The person who did the most told me their strategy was ‘one for me, three for the bin.’ All management were really worried about was why couldn’t the rest of us do as much as this one person and the one guy who actually dealt with the issues was mocked for it and told off for being too slow.

      All it creates is a culture – not unlike pro cycling a few ears back – where if you’re not cheating you get left behind. Not much in the way of job satisfaction at all.

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