Saturday 1 February 2020

The Triumph of the Call Centre

It is my lot to have to deal, because in some ways I live a complex life, with a number of banking institutions on a regular basis. In short, I have four banks. I know, I know, it's just worked out that way and there's nothing to be done about it. Two of them, UK based, are highly competent organisations that do the stuff you need, when you need it.

I was arguing this morning with a certain local bank from the smallest emirate, who had set out to destroy my life and otherwise poke me with sharp sticks until I explode. The manager, to resolve the frustrating situation entirely of their making, called the call centre.

This is the third occasion in recent times that someone from a bank who is facing me across a desk has called the call centre to actually, you know do something. Although this act in itself presages the disintermediation of the carbon-based life form in front of me (quite satisfying really, a little like being able to gesture at them with an imperious wave and have them disappear in a puff of smoke with a sort of poofff sound), it is something of a worry.

Call centres are the modern equivalent of Roman Triremes, enormous ships packed with slaves tethered to oars and made to work by the application of copious lashes and a kettle drum. They are staffed by interns and other marginalised segments of society (out of work actors, former travel agents and record company executives), utterly disempowered and driven only by the need to recite the scripts they have been provided with. 'Is there anything else I can help you with today?' invariably ending the call where they haven't been able to help you.

They are where customers are sent to be ignored and frustrated. They are the dregs, the bowels of the earth. They are the people we shout at when we're angry with a company (usually, but not always, a bank or a telco), who take the abuse so that their management and witless marketing teams can go on behaving as if the company is at least nodding at the idea of behaving decently and with the slightest of intentions towards fulfilling some degree of what is laughingly described by corporates as 'customer service'.

So what if these IVRs, drones, bots and under-rated call handlers become the only interface to the customer? If there's no such thing as an empowered human being you can deal with? And what, then, of the 'promise of AI' in customer service?

What if we have reduced the customer experience so much that it's not really about technology developing and reaching up to equal great customer service, but customer expectations and experience being downgraded to the point where semi-evolved technology is good enough?

What then?

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