I got a bit of junk mail today - the old fashioned kind that somebody actually paid $0.52 to send - offering me a credit card.
I know a bad idea when I see one, and had no intention of signing up. I also thought it would be nice to get off the mailing list for that company. So I called the toll-free number on the application form.
Bear in mind, I spent 7 years in a call centre, and know a thing or two about the way things work at the other end of a toll-free number. I know that companies legally have to remove you from their mailing lists if you ask them to. Nonetheless, I fully expected to encounter some bumps along the way to getting my request fulfilled and promised myself that I'd try to enjoy it.
Indeed, I enjoyed it so much that I've decided to share it with you.
I was in the process of getting supper ready so I dialed the number using my cordless phone and set it on speakerphone, placing it on the counter so I could keep my hands free.
It rang, there was a brief introduction, and I pressed 1 for English. The disembodied voice said it would transfer me. I waited... silence. The silence lasted for about 60 seconds, and then there was a brief musical interlude. It wasn't hold music; it sounded like company theme music, and only lasted about 3 seconds. Then there was about 60 seconds of silence again, and suddenly it disconnected. The phone shouted "WREH WREH WREH WREH" at me until I hung up.
I smiled, thinking that if I had really wanted to sign up for that credit card that I'd be getting frustrated by now, and dialed again.
This time after I pressed 1 for English and it transferred me, there was legitimate hold music. But what a nasty selection - it sounded like thrash metal, and over speakerphone it sounded even worse than thrash metal. Every now and then a recorded female East Indian voice (she had obviously gone through accent neutralization training) said, "Thank you for your patience. We spend as much time with each customer as possible. Please remain on the line and your call will be answered as soon as possible."
I had to question the wisdom of "spending as much time with each customer as possible" - I think they meant to say "as necessary" but who am I to judge?
This went on - a steady alternation of speakerphone-rattling thrash metal, and barely-accented poor word choice - for about 8 minutes while I chopped salad and popped a lasagne in the oven. Finally my call was routed to a live rep who started to recite his call opening script. I dropped the oven mitts and picked up the cordless, switching it back to regular phone mode. The change in sound must have confused the rep, for he stopped in the middle of his script.
"Hello?" I intoned.
"Hello!" he replied.
"Sorry, I had it on speakerphone and switched it to regular phone when you picked up."
"Oh, OK, no problem. How can I help you?" he asked, in his Indian accent. He, too, had obviously gone through accent neutralization, although the recorded lady's accent was hidden better than his was.
"I got your credit card application in the mail, and I don't want to sign up for it. Could you remove me from your mailing list?"
"OK, do you have a pen and paper available?" he asked.
This caught me off guard; I wasn't sure how writing something down would help me to get less mail. Perhaps it was some sort of magic spell or incantation, or some choice words for the mailman?
I found a pencil, and I had the application right in front of me. "Yes," I answered.
"OK, please write this down..." and he gave me another toll-free number. Was I supposed to shout it at the mailman? He continued, "You'll need to speak to customer service to be removed from the mailing list."
"So you can't do it yourself?"
"No, I work in Registrations."
"All right. Can you transfer me there?"
"Yes, I'll transfer you. I gave you the number in case you get disconnected so you can call them directly."
Smart move. He must have tried calling his own toll-free number at some point and knew that being disconnected was always a risk. But I also detected a hint of the infamous call centre AHT measure - Average Handle Time. The shorter your calls are as an agent, the more calls you can take, and your company becomes more efficient and makes more money. So agents are pressed to do everything they can to reduce the length of their calls. So instead of him explaining that only customer service can do mailing list removals and that I may need to call them directly if I'm disconnected so I should make a note of their number, he has learned just to give people the phone number. This shaves precious seconds off his AHT. But it's a really inhuman way to treat people (that theme being the main reason I got out of the call centre industry).
He transferred me to Customer Service, and happily they had normal hold musak so I put it back on speakerphone. After about 3 minutes, Chelsea picked up the phone. She was not from India, that much was plain; she didn't skip a beat when I thumbed the cordless off speakerphone mode.
"I want to be removed from your mailing list," I explained.
"Sure, I can do that," she replied. "I'll need your name and address." I gave them to her, and asked her where she was based. "Ottawa," she said.
I started my call centre job in Ottawa, so I was curious and asked her, "Do you work at Convergys?"
"It's a call centre."
"Oh. Never heard of it. I work for the bank." She changed the subject. "So it can take up to 90 days to get you off the mailing list entirely." Companies tell you this because they know there's probably another marketing scheme being hatched right then and that your name will already be on the mailing list for that one. Companies also will rarely permanently remove you from their mailing lists, and this one is no exception - she adds, "And your removal will expire after 3 years and 31 days."
"3 years and 31 days?" I repeat.
"That's kind of an odd number, don't you think?"
"Yeah, I guess it is."
We ended the call, and I checked the time on my phone - 14 minutes in total. Not bad.
But I'll have to do it all again sometime after February 8, 2012. Nuts.