Call Centres - Any solutions?

  davidg_richmond 19:32 19 May 2003

Something for people to think about - we seem to get the impression that call centres are the main problem when it comes to low satisfaction with companies, just ahead of dodgy repairs and absent delivery guys.

There is no accountability for the customer as the assistant you called before you will never speak to again, supervisors are never available until they have something THEY need to ask them, things said to one assistant are not recorded and call backs are not logged as they should or not carried out as they should.

To add to that, there is high staff turnover, low wages, no motivation and few incentives. Training appears to be rationed and politeness often shunned.

Is there an answer to the Call Centre Conundrum? How can they be improved? Is it about bringing in the right computer system, the right staff, or offering the right incentives? Or should they be scrapped altogether?

  Forum Editor 20:29 19 May 2003

That will never happen.

Many companies have realised that call centres are the only answer to the problems generated by mass marketing - and the consequential rise in sales. Large manufacturers and service providers simply have to operate call centres in order to deal with the volume of enquiries/complaints/orders that flood in.

The operating problems you've mentioned are of course the price we all pay for wanting cheap goods and services - something has to give, and all too often it's the quality of pre or post sales service.

In fact I believe that things are improving. Anyone who has been involved with computing for a few years will remember the early days of Microsoft call-centre queuing when it was quite normal to be held online for an hour and a half, or even longer - only to be cut off at the critical moment. Nowadays you are more likely to get through fairly rapidly, and to receive a friendly reception when you do.

If we as consumers continue to insist that we get everything at rock bottom prices we'll have to live with the call centre. Call centre technology is now very advanced, and I don't think that's the problem. We know what the problem is - it's the human element - and perhaps if all of us were to spend a couple of days experiencing the great British public at the other end of the phone line we might see the people who sit in the call centres in a slightly different light. When my daughter first graduated from university she worked in a BT call centre to supplement her income while she was job-hunting,and she said it was a revelation. She learned at first hand just how appalling some people can be over the phone, and just how difficult it is to maintain a calm, efficient persona when faced with a torrent of abuse because someone has had their phone cut off for non-payment of their bill.

  davidg_richmond 22:39 19 May 2003

I had thought of commenting on customer's attitude and manner but I was not aware of it being a widespread problem.

I have worked on telephone support before, with a small company (three people including the MD!) dealing with private investors, they were all very courteous but of course they are not the 'general public'.

I now work for one of the major high-street electrical retailers and have taken my fair share of calls from aggitated customers, but as this is not my primary role it does not affect my attitude with the other callers. However, as the branch line takes about a minute until somebody picks it up, I also do not bear the brunt of customers' tested patience that call centre staff will have to take.

I do experience a sudden and uncontrollable shift in personality when somebody phones up screaming about a problem and naturally feel less inclined to bend over backwards to help. Those who calmly and patiently describe their problem and are prepared to discuss solutions tend to receive the best help. I do not feel at all hesitant in making a promised call back to a friendly customer, whereas before phoning back a 'screamer' feels like putting your head in a noose. I could see why some 'forget' to call back in these circumstances.

I agree the situation is improving, but it appears that improvement is still needed with communication, training and on keeping promises such as calling back.

On a final note, it would be interesting if those companies who use e-mail as a support communication method could use a forum, perhaps one secure so that only customers can access it. This would have the effect of ensuring that problems are dealt with quickly, as opposed to an e-mail sitting unanswered in somebody's inbox. Progress of issues can be monitored easier by supervisors this way.

  spuds 23:52 19 May 2003

A subject that as been aired on many occassions, via this forum. I tend to find that their are two types of call centres. One that is usually very prompt, efficient and cheap for the consumer.The second can be "please hold, our agent will be with you shortly", ten/fifteen minutes later you are still waiting for that agent, in which time your patience is becoming a little thin.When you finally get to speak to someone, it can be a person speaking parrot fashion from a monitor screen, who is actually telling you something, irelevant to the question that you asked.Taking note in both cases that it is you, the consumer, who are paying for this service,either by purchasing a product, or usually at an higher phone billing rate.

Today I had to contact a couple of companies who have call centre facilities.One was Viking Direct.Call was free, the operator knew what I was talking about, and a sales transaction was finalised with the minimal fuss.Delivery of my goods,where on my doorstep three hours later.The second call was to a computer company.I was kept on hold, and when I finally spoke to someone about a promised delivery that did not arrive, I was assured that heaven and earth would be moved, to find out what the delay problem was.I was guaranteed that I would have an answer within the hour.That call was at 10am this morning, and I am still waiting for a response.So I suppose it will be more time lost tomorrow, speaking to another agent, about the same problem.I would estimate that contacting this second company, from the original sales enquiry to chasing up as actually put another £3.00/£4.00 on my telephone bill.

The second paragraph of the FE's thread, regarding cheap goods and services, doesn't wash with me. We pay the going rate for the goods and services on offer. No business is going to give their products or services for free.Good business management and accounting takes all costings into account.Perhaps that is why this country is becoming known with the unsavoury title, as the Rip Off Capital.Rant over.

  davidg_richmond 00:42 20 May 2003

Spuds, computer companies do seem to be the bad apple of shops and services. Likewise, I was calling up today, for electricity payment and credit card enquiries. Both had answered quickly and both were very personable and helpful, and didn't charge premium rate, but national rate. Many companys have sales lines that tend to be free, whereas after-sales are paid for by the customer which is fair as they need to do all they can to get the custom initially.

I think the FE was implying that as computing consumers we tend to pay the price for the equipment and the sales operation, and after-sales comes at additional cost (whether in money or sacrificed service levels). I personally do not think that this is evidence of a 'rip off Britain' but evidence of an industry that has not yet woken up to the modern market. For decades manufacturers have built machines then offered support packages for corporate customers at a price, and this has unfortunately been transferred to the consumer side of the operation. There is a vastly different philosophy held this industry to that of the mainstream consumer services. But then the product offered is vastly different to most others.

The difference between credit card, office wares and electricity companies and computing companies is that the former do not have such a stranglehold on profit margins. The computing industry has been hit very hard in the last couple of years, contributing to falling profits and unit prices dropping year on year forcing an increase in unit sales just to make the same money as the previous year. In such situations investment in an area that does not bring immediate profit is forgotten. However, as the market needs to capture repeat buyers now, it is the area that needs most attention if retailers are to survive and grow.

  bfoc 08:00 20 May 2003

Can be useful.

As a customer with a query, having one point of contact is fine, IF:

1. You can get through.
2. They have all the information to hand.
3. They accurately record information given.
4. They faithfully keep their undertakings to 'chase up' matters and/or phone back.

It is an absolute nightmare if, as often seems to happen, the staff are 'forced' to work to a set script and have no record of any previous contacts.

The feeling of being in some never ending loop, with each call repeating the last, but with some new information added (like an expanding version of The Twelve Days of Christmas)is what really makes the heart sink.

I have worked, not in a call centre, but in a telephone support role and do know that some customers can be rude, dishonest and unreasonable, but they are a small minority.

Once again, like any customer support issue it comes down to strategic decisions. Are staff going to be given the training and support they need?

Yes, as the FE points out, it does have cost implications... but so does messing around your customers!

  -pops- 08:17 20 May 2003

Better a call centre than no means of contact at all except an email system (under whatever euphemism) which is completely ignored.


  Andsome 08:27 20 May 2003

One thing about call centres which annoys me more than anything else, is the inane drivel which we are forced to listen to whilst we wait. NTL play the same fourty or fifty seconds of rubbishy music over and over again. Many other call centres force us to listen to distorted female vocalists or throbbing incessant rubish. For pity's sake, we are telephoning because we have a problem, we don't need to be made more irritable before we even get the chance to speak to someone. Has no one in charge of some of these call centres yet realised that perhaps many customers are rude and irritable, because of the noise that they have been sunjected to for minutes on end? I appreciate the fact that musical tastes vary greatly, but why not play something very quiet and soothing, and avoid causing more irritation to build up before we even get to speak to someone?

  Goldcroft 09:17 20 May 2003

Are we stuck, as the Forum Editor says, with call centres?

Now that many are being transfered to places like India to take advantage of cheap labour their efficiency will diminish further. (Read the story of Dell's call centre in a recent thread.) There was an hilarious piece on Radio 5 in which the reporter "innocently" started chatting with the Indian call centre lady about his trip into work around the M25 and his football team, with her desperately trying to stay with her script.

Well put bfoc. Am I correct in thinking that these call centres are independent businesses, hired in by businesses to handle their calls? Perhaps our gripe is really with badly set up call centres, with ill trained, cheap staff who understandably have no vested interest in another company's reputation.

I just won't permit myself to share the FE's pessimism. The worm will eventually turn. Isn't it the HBOS bank which has been majoring in its TV ads on their human contact policy?

  davidg_richmond 11:05 20 May 2003

The Natwest is advertising that you get through to the branch and not to 'Vivaldi'! I use Natwest, rarely having to call them but they do offer a good telephone service.

I always wondered abou the music - instead of Panpipe dreams how about putting on some comedy? One of those audio recordings you can get of live performances. It will keep the customer amused a lot better. Of course you would have to pick a comedian that isn't racist, sexist or any other 'ist' to avoid problems, but I would rather hear this. Perhaps some call centres could trial this and see how it works.

  tenaka 11:31 20 May 2003

and the going rate is going down.

Who pays for the loss of profit, the company owners may lose a little but usually it's the people that everyone seems to moan about that loses out. So now they have to face problems from both their customers and their managers.

Who wants to be a call centre operator?

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