Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Call Centre Maze; Explained and The Proper Way.

Calling for customer support should be business only, but it is not. Getting what you want from a call centre is about people and relationships. Understanding some of the basic rules that call centres operate by certainly helps.

So here we have it. You are looking at your cable bill and say, "hmmm do I need to pay for all of these channels and services? I don't think I do. Lets call the cable company and ask them to adjust my package."

Trying to be savvy You write down what you want, you line up your account number, last bill, your phone number (you know they will ask for it so you want it handy), your mothers maiden name, your credit card number, and your father shoe size. You think that's all they will ask for. You then grab a pen and paper to write down all names, and times of people you talk to.

You go and grab a drink of water. You have to speak clearly into the auto attendant robot on the other end of the phone for the first five minute, hence the water, and then start to dial on you speakerphone ready phone.

After punching a total of 109 keys for different prompts, account number, phone numbers, and entering your father shoe size, an agent answers the phone.

"Thank you for calling Joe's Communications, my name is Michelle, may I have your telephone number please?"

If this adds frustration fuel to your fire, you are not alone. You just entered this information. How stupid can they be?

Well there are a number of reasons why they may ask you for your phone number again. Suffice it to say that the core reason is to try to ensure some form of confidentiality and identity proof when calling. But there are two very important issues that are forgotten.

  1. The call is recorded so the voice is on record in the event there is a problem. That includes you speaking your phone number.
  2. These are the first syllables out of your mouth talking to the agent. He/She will sense your tone, demeanor, and your guard all based on how you say your numbers. If you want the agent on your side, coughing up your number needs to be friendly polite, and crisp. You know the expression about first impressions. The way you say your number is part of the first impression. They are trained to judge you based on your response.

If you say your numbers friendly and welcoming of the agents help, their guard starts to go down. They may follow up with the standard security questions. Mothers Maiden name, year your first cat had kittens, or whatever other questions they ask. Remember the agents are still in complete job compliance administrative mode. There is nothing you can do that will alter their approach. Know that, don't fight it, just accept it. Speak friendly, clear and slow.

There is no point telling the agent you have entered this information before etc. They have heard it all before, and clearly there are some strategic reasons why this policy of double asking is in place. Don't fight it. Don't waste your breathe.

Now that the agent has not heard anything speculative out of you, they will ask, "How can I help".

Notice that? They actually want to help. They are not a psychotherapist. They are not a sounding board for the problems you had when American Idol's recording on your DVR stopped for 10 minutes because of a power outage. They are their to help your problem.

Remember your planning at the beginning. You know what your problem is. Unless you know what your problem is and how it can be solved, you will not have a pleasant experience with a call centre. Too may times people call to complain but they don't know what they want. Know what you want, and be reasonable about it prior to calling. That organization will calm you, and will bring more genuineness to your voice, and therefore more respect in your request.

"How are you today?" you ask (being friendly but not over personalizing it. You are not their neighbour, just a customer. Respect the boundary). Listen to the response. If they say "Oh its one of those days" empathise, show you are listening. "Well hopefully this will be quick and simple." Otherwise if they say "I am fine thank you, how can I help", you know they mean business.

"I am sure you can help me today. I have looked at my cable bill and want to change my package options to save money. Can you help me with this?" You state in a slow, polite, and purposeful manner.

Look at what you did there. You showed confidence they could help, you stated the problem, and what you wanted. You then followed with a question confirming this query was in their department.

"Certainly. Let me just bring up your account".

And there you have it. You are not off to the races of changing your cable package to save money.

Prior to getting off the phone, be polite about confirming what happened, what was changed and what the impact is. Always ask if there are any specials or bundles that you might qualify for. Savings come to those who ask.

The introduction and first few words are the most important. Most call centres have a zero escalation policy, which means under 99% of circumstances an agent is not to redirect the call if it is in their department. That means no team leads, no managers, no senior managers, directors, or VP's. Unless you get the co-operative bond from the person you are dealing with, you have no where to go.....

except.... Call Back.

Trying to escalate is very difficult. So before you go through the trouble of escalating, just call back, and try another agent, using the personal control tips outlined above. Take the 10 minutes and try again.

Does this solve a long term problem? No it does not, but you can get what you need at the time. If you do find you need to escalate, then you feel they are not honouring their obligations, ask to be sent to the Customer Retention Department.

This department has significant power. They can work with you, so you need them to love you more then your Grandmother loves you. This is not an exercise of principles, it is about getting what you want. I am not saying this at a philosophical level is right or wrong. Honestly, I don't care. It is how it is, and if I want to correct an issue I am not getting attention for, I will use the system to my advantage rather then fight it.

If you do get yourself on an escalation list, it is very important to check your anger at the door. The new person you talk to deals with escalations and anger. You need to "Use Charm To Disarm".

If you do find that you are getting no where, put your issue in writing, and ask for a written response. Make sure you claim is crisp, clear, point form, and supported by evidence.

Finally you can always file a complaint with the local BBB, FCC, or telecommunication agency in your state/province.

Remember, the staff are doing their job. So know what you want them to do for you. Plan ahead. Show respect for the position, understand the limited rules the operate under, be patient, polite, and calm. Always know what you want, and give the agent a way to give you that.

If you do have a specific legal question about consumer protection and need to speak to a lawyer, click HERE. Lawyers are online, and can answer your question within minutes for as little as $15.

Copyright © 2009 Peter MacSweeney.
All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without the express written consent of the author is forbidden. Contact the author through the comment form for all inquiries, including media.

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