Politics of call centres, part three (really part three this time)

So we’ve looked at how they’re dreadful and why. The stakes are important; a huge chunk of the economy is made up of services, and some of the places where they are located are becoming almost as much one-industry towns as they were before their one industry shut down. What if this sector was as productive and as valued as Rolls-Royce? (Especially as, all things considered, it is quite difficult to use them as a weapon of war, rather as the role of the orchestra in counter-insurgency is limited at best.)

We have the technology. Ticketing systems are as mature as anything gets, and a reader of this blog was moved to say that every software developer has at least once tried to write their own. Web-voice integration is a hugely creative field at the moment. Things like Fonolo and the Networked Helpdesk Protocol (API docs are here) show what can be done.

But the big issue is management, and I think expectations. People expect the experience to be terrible. People expect the job to be status-reducing and generally horrible. People expect that because it’s a cost-centre, there’s no way to improve it other than flogging the slaves harder.


  1. Cian

    Not all call centres are terrible from the consumer’s perspective. Nationwide have a pretty decent one, a few years ago when I called Endsleigh their call centre was excellent and HSBC’s telephone banking is supposed to be decent (never used it). I think the key in all these companies is that they treat their staff well and value them. Obviously they need to significantly improve the technology (CALLback. My god, why?). In contrast E.On are a horrible company, run by horrible people.

    Indian call centres are normally terrible. I’ve taken my business elsewhere on a few occasions as I just couldn’t handle the “can you hand me over to somebody who speaks English” experience again. A few years ago I was going to buy a Dell, but for some reason I had to phone their call centre. In India. Which braniac thought that was a good idea. I wonder how much business they lost to that.

    Somebody really needs to properly analyse the Indian outsourcing fad. I have a suspicion, based upon anecdotal evidence, that it saves no money on average but results in a significantly worse outcome.

  2. ajay

    Q: if you are a society wedded to incarceration as a tool of social policy – primarily in its role as a tool of punishment – what kind of work do you make your convicts do? Demeaning, unpleasant, low-status work, of course, but what exactly?


  3. Metatone

    X-posted from the other blog…

    t’s not just expectations. There’s a general correlation around the world between the awfulness of the help desk and the oligopoly state (or in some places monopoly) state of the business you’re trying to call.

    UK utilities and banks are a classic case. There is price competition at the margins of the business, but they’ve made the aggregate calculation that the vast majority of their customers can be treated like crap and it won’t matter.

    It won’t matter because while you can change to another provider, you’ll be replaced by someone changing from that other provider, because of equally crap treatment.

    Banks found the Pareto reason – 20% of their customers actually bring in most of the money, so the rest can go hang. With the utilities, it’s worse, virtually no residential customer is important enough to warrant better service.

    So – in essence – they are flogging people to drive down costs – they have no intention of improving the service.

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