Thursday, May 13, 2010

Navigating the Call Centre Maze

As a 7-year call centre veteran survivor, I've picked up a few tricks on how to get past the front lines of incompetency designed by the evil penny pinchers who govern the support policies of most large companies.

Trick #1 is persistence.  Trick #2 is a sense of humour.  And Trick #3 is to be polite towards the person you're talking to on the phone, no matter how little he or she has actually helped you.

I put these to use every time I have to talk to a large corporation for support with one of their products.

If you don't know, I work for a moving company and wear a multitude of hats, including the claims resolution beanie.  Today, in seeking a resolution to a claim on a fridge with two scratched doors (it apparently didn't quite fit through the doorway), I got a chance to put these tricks to use again.

In my claims capacity I've had to find replacement fridge doors before, so I more or less know what to expect.  This is a Samsung fridge.  I start at the logical place: Samsung's website.  Like most firms, they have a support link in the upper right corner.  I click it, key in the fridge model number and hit Search.  It asks if I need warranty work or out-of-warranty work; I select out-of-warranty.  It also needs to know where I am, so I enter my Manitoba postal code.  I'm presented with two options for service providers:  The Brick Warehouse, and Direct Energy Marketing Ltd - both in Toronto.  My past service experiences with Direct Energy have left a bad taste in my mouth, so I try the Brick Warehouse first.  But both numbers listed beside it are out of service.

Blech.  Holding my nose, I phone Direct Energy.  A friendly, disembodied recorded voice answers the phone with a 15 second call opening, and then repeats it in French, giving me the option at the end to press 2 for French.  I press nothing and wait.  Now it asks me to enter my ten digit home telephone number.  No way am I doing that.  I wait some more, knowing that most systems will route you to an agent if you don't press anything, just in case you still have one of these and can't press buttons.  Sure enough, the phone starts ringing.  It rings five times, then I get hold music.  Why do they do that?  I mean, really, if you need to put me on hold to transfer me somewhere, can you at least make it seamless?  I shouldn't be hearing a ring unless I'm about to talk to a living breathing person.  After a few seconds of music, it rings again, and "John" answers the phone.  I know John is not his real name; his voice has the distinct sound of an Indian who has undergone accent neutralization.  As part of that process, call centre agents in India are encouraged to pick American-sounding pseudonyms.  At least this guy didn't pick "Peter Parker" like another rep I encountered once.

I explain my problem to John, and he says he can't help me and that I have to talk to Samsung.  "I got your number from their website when I clicked on support," I explain, forgetting that he probably doesn't care.  Sigh.  "Do you have their phone number?" I ask.  I take down the number, and he transfers me.

Samsung wants me to indicate if I'm a personal consumer or a business.  Well, I'm calling under the auspices of a business on behalf of a personal consumer... I guess and choose business.  The first four options in the business menu are for dealer support.  The fifth one is for all other business related inquiries; if I'm in the right place, that's my best shot.  I punch 5 and after explaining my problem to the lady who took the call, she says I needed to choose personal consumer support.  She transfers me.

Alexis picks up the call next.  From her accent, she is a black woman from the southern US.  She starts by asking for my phone number or incident number.  I give her my direct line at work, and when it doesn't pull up an active incident on her system she begins the process of information collection: do I want to provide an email for Samsung offers?  "No."  "What is your full name?"  "James Kautz, spelled K-A-U-T-zee." (I've learned that Americans get confused by the Canadian "zed" so I never use it when speaking to them).  I interrupt her information collection process at this point and explain my issue and that I'm from Canada and that I'm guessing I probably need to speak to somebody who supports Canada, right?  "That's right, sir," she confirms.  "Do you have a direct number for them?"  "Um, I have a transfer number.  Let me see if I have a direct number.  Do you mind holding?"  The rules for call centres, at least for the goods ones, usually include that you need to ask permission to put your caller on hold.  "Go ahead," I reply.  I hear hold music for about a minute, then she comes back on the line.  "Thank you for holding."  That's another rule she has to follow.  "I'm sorry, I don't have a direct number."  The token apology is another rule.  "No problem," I say.  "Go ahead and transfer me." Her training kicks in again and she applies the last of her rules before she transfers me: "Is there anything else I can help you with before I transfer you?"  Ceremonially, I respond, "There is nothing with which you can help me today."  She says goodbye and transfers me.

Rene picks up the call next.  She started with the same opening litany which Alexis used - phone number, do I want to give my email, what's my name (I use "zed" this time), and I finally interrupt her, explain my problem for the third time and ask if I'm in the right place.  "Actually, no," she says.  "You need to speak to one of our part suppliers."  She rattles off three company names & numbers which I note before thanking her and hanging up.

I call the first one: Regional Factory Parts & Service, in the Ottawa area.  I get John.  This guy is really John though.  He has no opening script, no rules on what he has to say to me, and he sounds like he's personally invested in the business (i.e. he seems to care).  I explain the problem and he gives me his email address, asking me to send him the model number and a description of what I need, promising me to have a quote to me by tomorrow morning.

I did it!  I successfully found my way through the first five layers of "not my problem" bureaucracy until I was on the phone with a genuinely helpful person.  That's a good feeling, and it helps me to realize that all that time in the old call centre wasn't wasted.

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