Thursday, August 4, 2011

...and the man in the suit has just bought a new car from the profit he's made on your dreams...."

My job normally consists of listening to customers complain about their bills. Whether they’re disputing charges or questioning a recent rate increase, it’s my job to go through the bill with them and help them to understand exactly what they’re paying for. All this information is listed in black and white on their bill (and the important stuff is highlighted in green so it’s next to impossible to miss), which would make you think that my job is pretty pointless, no? Luckily for my bank account, 95% of our customers don’t know how to read.

Now I really don’t mind doing this, because sometimes it can be a bit confusing. I do understand that and I’m more than happy to go over the bills with people who have genuine questions on their bill. The ones that really bother me are the ones that insist on fighting me over everything.

Just to be clear, your cable, internet and telephone service is provided to you by a company. Companies provide a service to you in order to make money. If programming costs go up, unfortunately your bill has to as well. Cable is a luxury, not a necessity, and it is not my fault that your children won’t eat this week because you’re two months past due and refuse to remove the 35 dollars a month you’re paying in premium channels from your account (and yes, I’ve been accused of this in the past).

I understand just as much as anyone how tough times are, especially in the United States (where my customers live), which is why I do everything I can to help them lower their bill. At the end of the day though, you have to help yourself. Telling me you only want to pay $5 for a service that costs $7 isn’t how this game works. We tell you what the services cost, and if you want them badly enough, you pay for them. There is no negotiation. Sometimes you have to go without, no matter how much you want something. This is a mentality that my parents instilled in me from childhood, yet the vast majority of my customers can’t seem to grasp the concept.

This article outlines what Americans waste their money on the most. Americans spend an average of 2% (or $975) of their disposable income on cable TV. This may not sound like a lot, but when you consider that this rate was $459 in 1989, you see that it really is quite a leap. The scary part is that the income category of $5,000-$9,999 was the group that spent the largest portion of their budget on TV. Is it really true? The less money you have, the more you spend on cable? Tell me if I’m not making any sense here, but I really think it should be the other way around. Why spend your hard earned money (that you obviously barely have in the first place) on thousands of TV channels? Do you really need all of them?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Mind your manners

What not to do when calling your billing representatives

After five years at a call centre, I’ve started to notice trends and develop pet peeves. Some of the things my callers do when calling in don’t just drive me crazy, they drive every representative I know crazy as well. I figured I’d go over some simple phone rules and proper etiquette to follow when making that call to your billing or technical support departments. (Or anyone, for that matter, it really will help).

Don’t call us while you’re eating. For a society that claims they hate it when telemarketers call them when they’re eating dinner, it’s astonishing the number of people who call in to us while eating something. Sometimes it’s so bad that I can’t even understand what you’re saying because you’re chomping away on your food. Be polite. It’s not appropriate to talk with your mouth full anyway, why think that just because you don’t know the person on the other end of the phone it’s any more appropriate?

Know your phone number. It’s shocking to me how many people don’t know their home phone number. Really people? It’s the first thing they teach you in kindergarten.

If you’re calling in to make a payment, have your payment information available! I can’t even count the number of times people have specifically called me wanting me to post a payment for them and they need to put me on hold for five minutes while they go find their banking information or credit cards. Have it ready, people!

It’s “zero” not “oh”. This one drives me mad for some reason. When you’re trying to post a payment or pull up an account using an account number and they say “five-oh-oh-two” it drives me batty. I know I’m not alone in this one because I used to have a coworker who would enter the information exactly as it was given to him, putting actual letter “o’s” in the number. It would make his customers really angry when they finally realized what he was doing. One is a number and one is a letter. Again, something taught in kindergarten.

Wait until the call is over before you use the washroom. My calls last an average of 3 minutes. Can you really not wait 5 minutes before going to the bathroom? There is nothing worse than being in the middle of a conversation and all of a sudden you hear a toilet flush. One man even asked if I could wait a minute while he finished what he was doing. Not only does it gross me out, it’s just not polite. (I also make major judgements of you if I don’t hear you washing your hands afterwards). We’re open until 9. Use the bathroom, then give us a call.

Be polite. I completely understand the frustration of each and every one of my customers. I don’t like the fact that you’re having problems on your account, it only makes my job harder. It is common knowledge though that people are more willing to go over and above for you if you treat them like an actual human being. Always remember, this is someone’s job and they’re doing it to put food on their table. We follow policy in order to keep our jobs. We’re really only willing to put our necks on the line for people who take the time to express their frustrations in a mature way. As the age old saying goes “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar”

As with any job, certain frustrations come up and you just have to deal with them. I just wanted to share with you some of the more common ones, and hope that if you find yourself guilty of doing any one of these, you’ll understand a little better what the individual on the other side of the phone is feeling.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

My brother had a hamster....

I've said it before and I'll say it again: The best part about my job is the people I work with. The people you sit beside on a daily basis are the people that know exactly what you're going through at any moment in time, and understand without any explanation whatsoever, why you're banging your headset against the wall. I've given you a rundown of some of my favourite coworkers in the past, but today I'm going to let you get to know another one of my favourites. She's a loyal reader, coming in every day asking "Why haven't you updated your blog yet?" So lady, this one's all about you today.

The Voodoo Priestess

Recently, we had a conversation about religious beliefs, and she had told me that she believed in the Voodoo priestesses. Why? "Because that **** is real, girl". Ms. Voodoo is one of the funniest girls I happen to work with. She is one of my favourite people I like to listen in on when taking a call. There are times when I find her chatting with customers about the most asinine things, only to find out after the fact that yeah, it probably was an appropriate topic of conversation. Some examples of my favourites:
  • A few years back, she had a caller complain that his cable kept cutting out. She thought the wires at the back might have been chewed by mice, or rats. Not wanting to offend the customer by implying he might have vermin in his home, she tells him a story.
    "So my brother had a hamster, and this little bugger liked to chew the cable wires behind the TV. It was awful, and we had to keep getting a new one. I don't know why my brother didn't just put him in one of those little ball things so he could run around. Check your cable cord and see if that happened to you"
    When she was done the call I asked her "Did your brother REALLY have a hamster?", to which she replied matter-of-factly "HELL NAWW"
  • We had decided that we would go on break together. I was done my call and ready to hit the break button, but she was still on a call. Was she discussing the customer's bill? No. Was she explaining how to use the website? Nope, not that either. When she finally got off the call (10 minutes later), I asked her what took her so long. "I told my customer I wanted to buy my nephew rollerblades and she told me to buy him a video about rollerskating instead" long as we're all on topic and all.
The best part about Ms. Voodoo is how she'll tell you like it is. She has an opinion on everything and will tell everyone how she feels. While this trait can be seen as negative in many people, it's not the case for her. Everyone loves her. She definitely makes it easier to come into work every day and do my job. She always jokes with me about how when I finally make it as a big PR person, I'll have to hire her as my assistant. While it is a joke, in all honesty, if it ever came down to it I'd hire her in an instant. A hilarious girl and loyal until the end. She's also giving me ideas for blog posts, so you'll see some of those in the near future!

Sidenote: The article and interview with me in
Information Age magazine is out! Check it out here !!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I'm just a girl....

From the time I was a kid, my parents told me that I could do anything I put my mind to, be anything I wanted to be, and live the life I wanted to live. While that might be a bit extreme, I've never really had the mentality that because I was female I couldn't do things that men could do. Don't get me wrong, I'm not an active feminist, and I don't believe that I'm nearly as strong as most men, but I feel that answering phones is a job in which sex doesn't matter.

Not apparently so, for one of my recent callers, Mr. Johnson*. Upon hearing my voice on the other end of the line, he demanded to speak with a man. I politely told him that I couldn't transfer his call to a man but that I would be more than happy to answer his question. He wanted to know why he wasn't able to watch the Yankees game that afternoon. When I told him that due to MLB regulations, certain games were blacked out for those not in "Yankee territory", he went crazy.

Mr Johnson: Get me a man! You have no idea what you're talking about!
Me: I assure you sir, a male employee would be telling you the exact same thing. I'm not making this up, I'm reading the memo they sent us.

I then read him, verbatim, the memo that had been given to us by the company.

Mr Johnson: You're just a girl, what would you know?
Me: The same thing as a man sir. We all read the same memos here. I'm sorry, but Rhode Island isn't in Yankee territory.
Mr. Johnson: ahhh, get back in the kitchen *click*

I understand that he was older and frustrated that he couldn't watch his game, but the angle he came at me with was unbelievable to me. It didn't upset me and I maintained a professional attitude throughout the call (again, I value that paycheck) but what happened to common courtesy and respect? It's not like he needed me to analyze the game/stats/players, he wanted to know why it wasn't airing for crying out loud.

Either way, there will always be people out there that hold archaic opinions and I've learned that I have to learn to smile and nod and be a polite and friendly person. The way every woman should be.

*names have been changed to protect the ignorant

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

You never really can go back...

As my loyal and frequent readers (and I love you both), may know, I have been on a leave of absence from the call centre I work at. For 6 weeks I was doing an internship at a local not-for-profit organization. The time I spent away from the call centre put a lot into perspective for me. It was nice to see what it was like working in a normal office environment, and not have to be micro-managed so much.

My internship has come to an end, however, and now I must temporarily return to the world of cable, internet and telephone bills. My first shift back went differently than I anticipated. Although I had been dreading it, I was excited to see my coworkers. As you know, they're my favourite part of the job. To my dismay, I'd found that a number of them had quit, (The Scapegoat and The Hustler, to name a few), and one had been "promoted" and was sitting in another area of the call centre. Some of their shifts had changed, and there were new faces everywhere. The first thing you learn about call centres is that change is constant, but I wasn't expecting to see so much change. I've left for extended periods of time before (I'm from Ireland, and tend to go back and visit during the summer) but never have I returned to such a bitter environment. The first thing I was greeted with was the fact that the phone systems had changed and I had to learn the new system. Everyone else received formal training, I got a 5 minute "this is what's up". Granted, the manager that helped me was extremely helpful and tried to explain everything clearly for me, but I couldn't help but feel like it was a sink or swim mentality. Of course I just ran with it, and haven't had any problems so far.

On a much more positive note, I was recently interviewed for an article in Information Age magazine about call centres. Be on the lookout for that!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down....

One of the hardest parts about my job is giving customers bad news. When a request for a credit comes back denied or a channel disappears, you have to remember to remain tactful when dealing with these people. I have come to find that it’s not what you say that’s the problem; it’s how you say it. When I first started working at the call centre I was a complete pushover and would apply credits or give in to anyone who raised their voice to me. Sometimes you have to say no though, and there really isn’t anything else you can do. Over the years I’ve gotten a lot better at breaking news gently to people, but what’s going through my head and coming out of my mouth are two completely different things.

For example,

“You need to learn how to pay your bill on time” will translate to “We have an automatic withdrawal program that will automatically take out your payment on the due date, that way you know your payment has been made”

“You wouldn’t have had 6 months of overcharges on your bill if you’d bothered to look at it once in a while” translates into “I’m sorry that you were overcharged, that’s why we print itemized statements for you and give you 30 days to dispute them, in order to ensure you’re never billed for services you don’t have”

And my personal favourite

“Go ahead and switch to our competitor, they’re going to shut you off when you don’t pay them as well” translates into “I apologize for the inconvenience, however, it is common practice among all utilities to interrupt service for nonpayment”

People don’t like to hear bad news, but when said in a way that shows you really do care about their situation, it makes it easier to get the bad news across. This article outlines the key factors to keep in mind when delivering bad news to people.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

I can't live without my TV!

Dealing with a major American cable company, we get many many customers calling in who are days away from having their cable disconnected because they can’t pay their bills. The fact of the matter is, they can’t afford to pay the bill and really shouldn’t have the service to begin with. The following scenario isn’t just one customer I’ve had to deal with, it’s an example of an issue I deal with multiple times a day.

Me: Again, Mrs. White, the last time you called us we told you that you needed to make a minimum payment of $xxx.xx in order to avoid service interruption. You didn’t do that.

Mrs. White: but I need to make the payment arrangement. I don’t want you to turn off my service, I need it.

Me: I’m really sorry, but you haven’t made any of the previous payment arrangements. We can’t give you another one. It also shows that the representative advised you to remove some services so your monthly rate isn’t so high. I notice that you didn’t do that. You’re paying for Showtime and HBO, which is costing you an extra $23 a month. Would you like to remove them?

Mrs. White: No, I need those channels. I can’t get rid of those.

Me: Sorry Mrs. White, your services will go off tomorrow and I can’t apply an extension.

Mrs. White: *begins to cry*WHAT AM I GOING TO DO WITHOUT MY CABLE? (This is where I SHOULD have suggested she pick up a book, but again, I value my paycheck) I’m switching to(competitor)

Me: With all due respect Mrs. White, (competitor) will interrupt your service if you don’t pay your bills with them either.

In my 5 years at this call centre, I have learned one key thing. You can do absolutely anything to an American- steal from him, lie to him, even push his grandmother down the stairs- but do not shut off their cable. They cannot live without it. I found a really interesting article here about how cable should be one of the first things to go during a recession, but Americans as a whole just aren’t able to make the cut.

This video also goes into detail on how addicted to cable Americans seem to be. It’s quite sad, really.

If you read a lot of books, you're considered well-read, but if you watch a lot of TV, you're not considered well viewed.

Lily Tomlin