Cell Hell

Surviving a call to a call centre

Written by Leher Kala | Published: January 16, 2012 3:10 am

Last week,I had a fascinating conversation with a call centre executive. Make that four fascinating conversations. For once,I was the one making the call to the Vodafone network to block my sim card after I lost my phone. “Can you verify your details?” asked the executive. Date of birth,tick correct. Billing address,tick correct. “Phone number,” asked the youngster. I gave him my office number. Silence. “Any other number?” he asked. I tried the one at my residence. Silence again. “I’m very sorry ma’am but your details don’t match so we cannot process your request. Please call again,” he told me firmly. It had taken me 15 minutes to get past the answering services and reach a human voice and I wasn’t ready to let him slip away so easily. And I was still recovering from the shock that while eating popcorn and watching Sherlock Holmes in a movie hall,somebody swiped my phone from the space reserved to keep the Coke.

I’ve switched three homes and two jobs since I first got a mobile in 2000,I told him,and I don’t remember what number I registered then. Ask me other questions,I pleaded. Deaf ears again. I tried a couple of half-hearted threats but knew I was beaten. To add insult to injury,he rounded off our singularly unhelpful conversation with: “Thank you for calling Vodafone,we’re happy to help.”

Anyone who’s tried to get anything done by calling a credit card or cellphone call centre knows what a frustrating experience it can be. On their time,they hound you with nonsensical loans and data plans but if you call them,chances are the operators have a high-handed,draconian approach. The executives are not trained to deviate from the script,they respond with the same answers in a flat monotone for every situation. It took me four calls,legal threats,and eventually,subterfuge,to block my sim. The trick to cracking the call centre operator,I figured,is to answer their question,with a question. And be polite. They’re so used to verbal abuse,a kind approach might work. When the executive asked me for the registered number,I asked him if it was seven digits or eight. Foxed,he replied seven. “Does it start with a three?” I knew I was pushing my luck but he responded,“Yes ma’am”. And voila,I guessed my way into blocking my sim.

A friend who works for Google’s online business sales was rueing the facts that internet credit card transactions in India remain dismally low. Sure,our culture doesn’t promote credit and we look at cards as a potential debt trap but users also don’t want the hassle of dealing with such frighteningly poor back-end services. It seems easier to use cash. I do sympathise with call centre workers,most of whom are perennially rotating between the night and evening shifts,and dealing with one irate customer after another. Instead of a 24-hour service,companies should consider a 12-hour call centre only and concentrate on quality,that is spending time and money training the workers properly,into handling any kind of issue. The services will improve only once more and more consumers file complaints on Facebook and Twitter,for the world to see. Social media puts pressure by generating instant attention and faster responses and companies have to worry about their brand and reputation.

There is one company that gets it right — Just Dial,(eight times two) a directory of almost everything in retail in India. They answer on the first ring,address you by your name,give you the number you’re looking for,before plugging their other products and services at you. If you say you’re not interested,they finish quickly and abruptly with a “have a nice day”. A more intelligent approach for sure.

hutkayfilms@gmail.com

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