The Gazette’s Roberto Rocha has an interview with call centre unions (these exist?) as part of his Your Call Is Important To Us series. It’s not really earthshattering what they’re saying (the workers are overworked, underpaid, underappreciated and abused), but it gives us a glimpse into what the real problem is with tech support: compartmentalization.
These big companies like it if every problem you call about can fit into one of their little boxes. Change of address, termination of service, adding or removing features. Each one can have its little three-step guide and a trained monkey to go through it. Training is fast and you can outsource the job to any country with English speakers and a low minimum wage.
A lot of the time it works out. Most calls are about common problems, and it saves everyone time if they’re dealt with quickly and efficiently. Many can even be dealt with using a computer, which saves money for the company and saves headaches for the customer who doesn’t have to spend so much time on hold and can perform the tasks on off-hours.
The problem comes in unusual situations. The company has billed you twice for the same service. You’re getting billed for someone else’s account. You cancelled the service three years ago or were never a customer but now you’re getting threats from someone to pay up. When these things come up, the automated menus are useless, as are the outsourced Indian call centre workers who don’t understand your euphemisms.
In a perfect world, these calls would be “escalated” to a manager or supervisor with more training and more latitude and decision-making power to deal with your problem. But customer service is afraid – deathly afraid – to escalate calls no matter how complicated they may seem. Supervisors are either “on holiday” or otherwise unavailable (usually a lie), and there’s no one you can bring the matter to. You’re screwed. And though the person on the other end has sympathy (assuming they even understand your problem), their job is to make it as hard as possible for you to take your matter up with important people, to keep their bottom line in check.
Unusual situations are annoying pests that these companies want swatted. The system (which includes things like constantly repeating your problem to different agents every time you call) is designed to get you to give up and stop wasting their money.