Monday, May 06, 2013

Thank you for providing the details, Ms. Lakshmi.

The proliferation of telephone answerers – customer service agents, marketing agents, relationship agents, activation agents, and surely many more titles that I am unaware of – has led to everyone’s needing to talk to these faceless, and unfortunately often clueless, individuals every now and then.
These people have been trained in smoothness, never mind how important smoothness is, especially compared to effectiveness, or efficiency. One tenet of politeness in the contemporary world of high traffic of goods and services is the use of the name. “Learn and use the name of the persons you are communicating with to make them feel special/important” seems to be the guiding principle for agents in their telephone conversations with customers. Not a terrible idea in itself, and not bad if used very sparingly, so that, for instance, the customer doesn’t wonder if she/he has been in the middle of the resolution of someone else’s problem for the past 15 minutes. But a terrible idea the way it is used by many these days.

Typical experience:
I (after many minutes of listening to an unnaturally chirpy advertisement listing the various exciting discounts lined up by the company for me, or then to some listless music, after punching numbers in accordance with pre-recorded menus): Hello.

Agent: Thank you for calling [company name]. This is [name blurted out]. May I know your [membership/account/telephone] number?

I: 12345678910

Agent (after a short pause in which the mystery person behind the said number is unveiled): Ms. Lakshmi?

I: Yes.
Agent: May I ask for some details, Ms. Lakshmi?
I: Yes.

Agent: Ms. Lakshmi, can you confirm your address/email/date of birth?
I (wondering why they don’t proceed to ask for time of birth/nakshatram/gotram) recite the answers.
Agent: Thank you for providing the details, Ms. Lakshmi. How can I help you, Ms. Lakshmi?
I: I have @##%^ problem. I called about it before, and was told that… etc.
Agent: Very sorry for the inconvenience, Ms. Lakshmi. May I place you on hold while I look into this, Ms. Lakshmi.
I: Okay.
Back to unnaturally enthusiastic advertisement or listless music, or worse, the call drops!
I (after many minutes of the rigmarole again): Hello.
Agent: Thank you for calling [company name]. This is [name blurted out]. May I know your [membership/account/telephone] number?
I: I just called, and went through this whole process. The call got disconnected, and I had to go through this again. You have my phone number. If the call drops again, can you call me?
Agent: I understand your problem, mam. Very sorry for the inconvenience, mam. But we cannot call, mam.
I: Why not?
Agent: We are not having the authority to call from here, mam. We can only receive calls, mam.
I: Do you have a direct number that I can call if this drops?
Agent: No, mam. You have to come through the customer service number only. May I know your [membership/account/telephone] number?
Back to the grind, then a transfer to some other department, more music or exciting offers, more risk of the call going off.
Later, a text message asking me to evaluate the transaction I just had.
It’s frustrating enough that my problem is confessedly in the hands of someone who doesn’t have much, or any, authority. Do I need to have this so-called politeness stuffed in my ears too?
If there’s any analyst actually going through the conversations that may be “monitored or recorded for quality control”, we may find out that my exasperated guess is correct – that if all the “Ms. Lakshmi”s were added up, the problem that I called about could have presumably been solved before the first call dropped.
Customer service agents, please note: There is (almost) no danger of my forgetting my own name. The danger is that you may forget it, which is not a catastrophe, but if you think it is, do this: As soon as I utter my name or you get it from the electronic record that pops up, keep it visible, on a note or on your screen. If in the conversation that follows, you are unable to find something to fill an empty second at the end of your assurance that my account is shipshape, utter my name. Else, let that empty second be.
Politeness is good. Actually, an absence of rudeness is good enough. The really important need is for the problem to be solved. Icing in the absence of a decent cake is not only no use, but also severely annoying. Once you solve my problem, call me Ms. Lakshmi as many times as your supervisor wants, while I hang up smiling. Till then, place a timer on your table that goes off every 3 minutes, and call me by name only when it goes off. If you’re really good, you won’t have to at all. If the resolution of my problem takes longer, at least you won’t have to say my name more frequently than every 3 minutes.
All this is not even considering that fact that when you attach a “Ms.” to my name, you might avoid leaving the name bald. But that’s another story altogether. For now, just don’t take my name in vain.

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