Thursday, March 27, 2008

How Many Call Centres Does It Take To Answer A Phone?

I call my bike insurance company to cancel the policy. Customer Services put me through to the Cancellation department (apparently cancelling a policy is not deemed a customer service). Fifteen long minutes of bad classical music later and the Customer Services gimp comes back on the line, offering me a callback service.

Distrustful of anyone who purposefully employs too few people to handle cancellations so that people are forced to delay the cancellation I stubbornly stay on the line. Ten minutes later and the same lady is back on. They apparently will call me back and are apologetic about the delay. I remain sceptical...

Next up in British Telecom. After twenty minutes I eventually get through to someone in Delhi. Twenty minutes? I thought outsourcing call centres to India meant that they could afford more labour, not less. You'd think a telephone company, of all people, would have someone free to answer the phone.

The council tax people are swifter - they take me only 4 mins to get through to a human being and then another 6 mins to sort it out.

The Electricity company is all full of weird automated sequences again but is quite painless by comparison and only takes a record 3 minutes! I'm on a roll and decide to take on British Gas immediately to try and capitalise on my current good fortune.

I'm sorry. All our operators are busy at the moment. Your call is important to us....

Aaargh! I'm getting what they call phone rage. There was a whole hour of documentary making dedicated to this new phenomenon recently and I now know how they feel. Being on hold and dealing with automated phone systems is part of modern life but it IS totally rubbish.

Whilst I listen to the British Gas choice of hold music (16 minutes into the call and being transferred to the right department at last) I am reminded of the other day, when I was on my way to catch a train that I was almost definitely going to be too late for. So I called the train timetable number to get the times of the next departure. Their automated system is one of those designed for ultimate public embarrassment where you need to shout words out in answer to their questions. What's really bad about it is that you find yourself unconsciously doing that vocal imitation thing and mimicking the voice and intonation of the automated robot on the other end. Add that to speaking just a bit too loudly and over-articulating and you sound like a robot trying to order a meal on the Costa Del Sol.

This was our so-called conversation...

(Robot Voice)


Lengthy information is read out to be peppered with rather obvious and contrived sounding attempts to 'market' the service to me. Finally we get to the 'When Doo You Want To Tra Vel?' question?


Oh Lordy. Here we go again with all the unnecessarily patronising baby talk. "What Sta Shun Are You Leaving From?

"Lon-don Bridge"

Was that Lun Dun Bridge?


Blah Blah Blah

"Eeasttt Grin-Sted"

Am I A Noy Ing You Yet?


"Five Thur-Tee"

(Normal voice, exasperated)

"Oh, shut up you stupid cow!"

At this point, to my utter surprise, the robot did actually cut short her recorded message repeating the words I'd already heard several times within the context of this so-called conversation and cut straight to the chase. It seems they teach them to recognise phone rage and speed things up accordingly.

Which means machines are really not that far off from taking over the world after all.

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