November 09, 2005

i felt like poisoning a monk

Cas is currently

You do become something of a connoisseur of hold music, voice-recognition systems, and call centers in general when you move into a new property. Over the last two and a half months, (I am including the house-hunting time as well), I have been put on hold more times, and dealt with more voice recognition systems, than I can shake a moderately sized stick at.

Moose has managed to get out of having to do most of these calls. That's the price you pay for being home during the day and not having a full time job. I'm also willing to get pissy on the phone, and refuse to be fobbed off, which makes me the best person to deal with the sundry calls that need to be dealt with. Gas companies, electricity companies, water companies, letting agencies, television companies, insurance companies... the list seems endless, and with each call my respect for the brain power of the average call-centre worker diminishes. Another few calls like the ones I've had to deal with over the last couple of days and you'll need an electron microscope to see the level of respect I no longer have. I am friends with people who have worked/still work in call centers and they are very nice and intelligent people. I have, once or twice, had the pleasure of dealing with 'a customer service representative' who clearly has more than two brain cells to rub together.

Just, on the whole, I rarely seem to get to speak to these people. I get the people with speech impediments, the people who mumble, the people who talk too fast. I have some minor hearing problems and having to repeatedly ask someone to repeat themselves is just infuriating for the both of us. I get the people who clearly have trouble with the concept "one plus one equals two". I'm not saying I want to speak to someone who is a nuclear physicist in their spare time (they'd make awful call-center people anyway), but it would be nice if the person on the other end of the phone was capable of a basic level of coherent thought.

I have a personal rule to always (at least attempt to) be nice to call center staff. They have the power to make you very happy (or very very unhappy). When TNT managed to loose the laptop I'd ordered from Apple and I was trying to sort it all out, by the time it was over I was on first name terms with the girl from Apple. She was wonderful and helpful and did an amazing job, and I emailed the customer service people to tell them so. Yes, comments shouldn't always be for the bad stuff. Good service deserves recognition too. Just, you so rarely come across good service.

I doubt, as a career, few people go to their guidance councilor and say "I want to work in a call centre". But people do end up doing the job and they should do the best they can at it. Grrr.

(Rant almost over.)

I don't think I am calm enough yet to go into the horrors that is National Grid-Transco's voice-recognition system. Let me just say "ARGGGGGGGGGHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!" and leave it at that.

Please, please, please, if your company has a voice recognition system, or any other form of gate-keeper system, can you give it an escape hatch? The words "or press 3 to speak to a customer service representative" are some of the sweetest ten words in the English language. And if your gate-keeper has more than, say, three levels, please redesign it. Press one for this, then two for this, then one for this, then four for this, then... then it's Ms Hyde the poor call-center innocent has to deal with. Oh, and a voice recognition system should be able to store the information I tell it (address, name, problem etc) so that, when I finally DO get to speak to a human being, they can see what I've already spent ten minutes saying to a machine, and not make me say it all over again.

Humph. There endeth today's rant.

A few companies that stick in my mind:
British Gas' hold music, and gate-keeper system are not too infuriating. So prolonged exposure to the musak made my brain want to bleed out of my ears, but that's standard across the board. The three people I ended up speaking to this week all seemed on the ball and did a pretty good job.

National Grid/Transco, on the other hand, made me burst into tears once I'd finished speaking to them. Ok, they're not totally to blame, but they didn't help. Their voice recognition gate-keeper is one of the worst I have ever had the misfortune to deal with. It didn't understand my accent, and I have a pretty vanilla basic British accent with little regionality to it. It didn't save my responses so I had to repeat EVERYTHING to the human being I finally spoke to. And it had no escape hatch so, when I had to keep calling them back, I had to go through the ENTIRE rigmarole another two times. Not only annoying, but expensive, seeing as how it was my phone bill. The first two people I spoke to weren't too hot, but the third today was ok.

Apple Customer Service. When you finally get through to them your will to live hasn't been too sapped by their hold music (unless you ring over the holidays - there's only so many times you can here 'Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer' before you are ready to commit homicide). The staff know what they're talking about, are helpful, and (most importantly) have individual lines that they are WILLING to give out to people with more indepth problems, so you can be sure you speak to the same person when you ring back. This, trust me, saves a whole lot of hassle.

TNT. I won't go into detail about TNT. Just trust me when I say their customer service is appalling, their staff must be sourced from another planet for all the sense they make, and they have a distressing habit of 'misplacing' expensive items of equipment. The last three things I have had carried by TNT have all gone astray at least twice.

Ok, normal service resumed. Cas has successfully vented her frustration and is, whilst still a bit down, no longer so pissed off she wants to rend fluffy bunnie-wunnies limb from limb.
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