27 Sep 2004

"Thank you for calling. Lines are closed. Please call back on Monday 4th October. Alternatively you can leave a message after the tone ..."

21 Sep 2004

“I’m the daddy now!”

“Who sent in the bouncers?” Janice looked furious.

She pointed to two guys in suits. One of them was outspan orange with a shoe-polish black hair scraped back, while the other was bald and wore a black turtle neck with a thick gold neck-chain. They were eying the cubical desks up and down and nodding to each other in encouragement.

Bernard ushered them into his office before looking around guiltily.

Janice had that eye-popping look she gets when she is in fear of being passed over promotion or spends too long sniffing dry-wipe pens. “Who are they? And what are they up to?”

Ian said, “They are Quandix.”

I thought it was some term of abuse he’d picked up from his holiday in Greece and smiled knowingly.

“They are team managers for a couple of new teams that Bernard is ‘insourcing’ for a future campaign.” Ian said, pulling on his ‘Attack of the Clones’ tie.

The two hoods looked through the window of Bernard’s office as Bernard pointed towards us …

The Krays have moved in on my manor!

18 Sep 2004

Antique Romans

Thank you for participating in Call Centre Confidential’s first two modules of my master-class in how to deal with Call Centres.

A regular reader of CCC has complained that there has been too much negativity, too much ‘black hat’ thinking, and I have turned my blog into a den of grieves.

The usual stuff is back next week and it has been quite eventful recently… let me speak to the yet unknowing world... So shall you hear of carnal, bloody and unnatural acts, of accidental judgements, casual slaughters, of deaths put on by cunning and forced cause, and, in the upshot, purposes mistook fall on the inventors’ head: all this I can truly deliver.

All this and toilet gags!

16 Sep 2004

Selling - The Love that dare not speak its name …

Module Two: Part Three in my master-class in how to deal with Call Centres

As I think I’ve said before, common turns of phrase circulate call centres quite quickly. There’s no real training. These phrases are not taught. They come into being through years of evolution in a great chain, preserved for future generations on laminated sheets of paper.

I honestly believe that a phrase like ‘bear with me’ originated in a call centre 10 years ago and it has passed around the country like chlamydia on a Club 18-30 holiday.

Why else would any one else need to say ‘bear with me’? (Unless you were a chubby chaser caught in a cottage in Camden, as in “I’ve got a bear with me officer.”) I hear someone say it a thousand times a day.

Those verbal tics are okay compared the weasal words and double speak invented in Call Centres to cope with things that we don’t like to say. It’s enough to warm the cockles of Peter Mandleson’s heart (we’re back in Camden again) when you consider the spin that Call Centre’s create in order to avoid saying that we sell things.

To help you, here are some favourites:

“We have demonstrations in your area …”

What they really mean “You’re the next in the phone book”

“Some time ago you requested some information …”

What they really mean “You’re the next in the phone book.”

“I’ve been reviewing your account.”

What they really mean “You’re the next in the phone book. Please ‘bear with me’ while I fumble around trying to work out why I’m calling.”

“This is a Courtesy Call”

What they really mean “I’m about to sell you something.”

“I have some information for you”

What they really mean “I’m about to sell you something”

“I’m about to sell you something”

What they really mean “I’m new here and do not know how to lie yet.”

15 Sep 2004

Wrapstar says “NO”

Module 2. Part Two in my masterclass in how to deal with Call Centres

We all yearn for that golden age when you could ask for the time without having to listen to someone flogging you a watch. We all want to turn back the sands of time when we could order a pizza without being offered a slice of bread with garlic on it. We want to buy a holiday without being sold a policy that we’ll probably never be able to claim on any way. And we want to watch Bargain Hunt without the fear of interruption.

I remember when all this was fields etc. etc.

The fact is – we don’t want to be ‘sold to’ and the people selling don’t want to sell to us in the first place. There’s only 2% of the world’s population who are willing to be mithered into buying something they didn’t want, but trouble is; they’re letting the rest of us down, because until the revolution, we will be mithered into submission.

Like nuclear weapons and Kendal mint cake, sales have been invented and can’t be uninvented so we need to learn to live with them. At the risk of sounding like Zammo or, worse still, Nancy Reagan, it’s time to “just say no.”

Call Centre agents are armed to the teeth with ‘objection handling’ techniques that have been finely honed over centuries and are so effective they could turn the undead. Every time someone refuses their advances, they consult a laminated matrix in front of them, and come back with some tried and tested reply: “May I ask why you are not interested in saving money?”

These choice phrases are seldom delivered with any conviction; nevertheless they can befuddle and confuse the unsuspecting punter.

There’s a sure-fire manner of dealing with unwanted telesales calls. It works and comes free with this master-class. Until the next lesson, I want you to practice the following approach in front of a mirror:

1) Listen politely and wait for a pause …
2) Say politely: “Thanks for telling me about that (name). It sounds really good. Goodbye.”
3) Put down the phone.
4) Continue watching Bargain Hunt

The adviser will be so confused (“were they interested or not?”) that they will make sure you are never called again.

13 Sep 2004

For Whom the Whistle Blows

Module Two: Part One in my masterclass in how to deal with Call Centres

Every time you pick up a phone to a Call Centre you become ‘an opportunity’.

Isn’t that a beautiful thing?

By merely talking into a plastic handset you suddenly become fecund with potential.

No – I know it isn’t convincing – but Call Centres all over the world are attempting to convince their staff to treat people in this manner… and failing miserably.

Have some sympathy for people working in Call Centres, most of them would rather stick pins in their feet than sell anything to anyone. Most have applied for this work because they thought it was something to do with ‘customer service’. Somewhere on their role statement, between donating their organs to medical science and an obligation to conduct a tour of duty in Afghanistan, there’s a sentence that briefly mentions that they may need to do some selling.

Either they have been fooled into it, or they have been redeployed from a back office function that disappeared when the operation was centralised years ago and they haven’t had the energy to escape.

There is no escape, because everything from a cashier to a dishwasher is expected to up-sell or tag a sale on to every interaction. You may think that they are raking in commission, but they are more than likely trying to fund a Hasbro Fun Bag habit and there is a promise of a fizzy cola bottle hit if they sell something.

12 Sep 2004

The Hardest Word to Say

Conclusion of Module One of how to deal with Call Centres

Students, in short, when making a complaint to a Call Centre: polite tenacity always wins.

Remember - life's short - take it easy - there's probably a policy of submission at some point and it's better to get there calmly rather than blowing a gasket.

Here is some help decoding some of that Call Centre double speak:

"I can only apologise ..."

What they really mean is : "I'm getting bored of you now and will repeat this over and over and over until you give in."

"You'll need to write in."*

What they really mean is: "I can't be arsed sorting out your problem"

You'll never actually get a response to your letter because the correspondence department will think, 'it's better to deal with these matters on the phone' and they'll probably send you a letter asking you to ring in again.

*This will usually be followed by "If you get a pen I'll give you the address." Because it sounds helpful.

"I'm sorry you feel like ..."

Well done. You have reached a black-belt numpty. This is the art of Call Centre jujitsu. A compliant art, where the operator uses the customer's strength against them - it appears that they are apologising, but in fact they are not admitting to anything, merely acknowledging that you are pissed off.


Remember, these master-classes are not available in the shops, and are exclusive to Call Centre Confidential. Coming Next: Module Two: Sales, selling and saying "sod off".

9 Sep 2004

Numptys of the world Unite!

Part Three in my master class in how to deal with Call Centres

When making a serious complaint you need to keep going … and I mean REALLY serious (how angry can you get over a trouser press – come on – it ain’t that bad) - keep going until you coax a senior manager out of his hermetically sealed office.

It is quite tough and it requires a significant degree of patience and you need to feel that your complaint is significant enough.

To use a rather fishy analogy: Call Centres are like drag nets – if your query is not picked up, then who cares? There’s always another customer waiting. If you behave like a herring, then you’ll be treated like one. On the other hand, if you see your complaint like a majestic whale that is worthy of a massive harpoon, then you’ll need to make sure that someone is worthy of wielding the weapon.

Unfortunately, you’ll need to make do with Captain Birdseye rather than Quint from Jaws.

Behind the scenes, the Call Centre will be thrown into a tizz. Panic alarms will be pressed and a huddle of Team Managers will be drawing straws to determine who will tell the Office Manager that they need to speak to a customer.

He will draw a diagram on a sheet of A4 to get a ‘pen portrait’ of the situation and come up with some glib response and send one of the Team Managers on the phone to say, “I’ve just caught him on his way to a meeting, he’s agreed to the following …”

If you are still not satisfied… keep going.

Eventually he’ll speak to you with the telephone technique of Ozzy Osbourne playing Wembly without a microphone, or else will sound like he’s speaking through a heavily togged pillow. Half way through the conversation he will press the wrong button and cut you off.

When/ if he phones back, start asking for HIS manager. In the words of Mr White in Reservoir Dogs, “… after that he’ll tell you if he wears ladies underwear.”

8 Sep 2004

I've Told You Once

Part Two in my master class in how to deal with Call Centres

If you are getting nowhere with the numpty who answered the call, you are probably tempted to ask for “someone in charge”. It’s the same impulse that encourages people to support hanging, there’s a sense of retribution if you are bending the ear of someone who you think matters.

The trouble is, the numpty who answered the call is not trained sufficiently to deal with your query, but they have mastery of deflecting complaints that are about to go higher. Like Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, the killer instinct suddenly kicks in and there is no way that you are going to speak to their boss.

Stick to your guns. When they say, “Well, I am a customer/account manager, I can deal with your query,” don’t give in; they are stretching their job title to its limit.

Keep going. Ask for a manager.

“Well, they are only going to say the same thing, he is in a meeting at the moment, can you call back later.”

Keep going. Ask for a manager.

Tip: Under no circumstances should you say at this point: “Don’t worry duck. I haven’t got any complaint about you, I want to speak to someone in charge to let them know how angry I am.” It’s a sign of weakness. Another numpty will be briefed ready to take your call. “Hello, I am the most senior member of staff available at the moment …”

This almost certainly means, “I am the most senior person available within the nearest 5 foot radius of where I am sitting.”

Keep going …

7 Sep 2004

“Is this the right room for an argument?”

Part One in my master class in how to deal with Call Centres …

“I wish to register a complaint…” thus begins the Dead Parrot Sketch, a cornerstone of British comedy, and the staple part of the repertoire of every pub bore in the country, and not without reason, for the British are notoriously crap at complaining. This is compounded by the fact that customer service workers are crap at dealing with complaining customers.

Cultural commentators tend to put this down to innate British politeness, however they are missing the point: when did complaining and ‘not being polite’ become mutually exclusive? The British are poor at complaining because they feel the need to be nasty and people working in customer service respond in kind.

Politeness disarms even the most ruthless Call Centre worker. It may seem obvious, but I speak to 100’s of people a month who think that being a complete and utter twat is the best means of achieving success in getting a refund on that ‘jumper de-fluffer’ that was bought on impulse.

They’re wrong and I have the scalps to prove it …

6 Sep 2004

I am a mole and I've been in a hole ...

I’ve been getting complaints. I’m sorry that I have been an unreliable blogger over the past few weeks. Zoe makes the point that Call Centres are dull places to work, and she’s right, over the past few weeks I have been too caught up with the day-to-day dullness to notice anything. Perhaps I have said all there is to say.

Besides there’s a whole plethora of blogs based at work out there:

Natural Born Liars at an ad agency, a Morrison’s employee, a teacher, a NHS workerand another set in a Fast Food place.

They all manage to end their posts with a pithy comment.

I must try it some time.

Reading these blogs made me realise that I am a whistle blower. I’m like Russell Crowe in The Insider, but without the unconvincing grey wig, letting the outside world realise what goes on beyond the receiver. I hadn’t realised my special powers and the potential to provide a service for people.

The Call Centre industry has been like The Magic Circle for too long, keeping its secrets from its customers. For the next few days I’m going to be like Ali Bongo after taking a truth drug, although I expect the first thing he would say after taking a truth drug is “My name is not really Mr Bongo.”

- insert your own pithy comment here -