Are You Encouraging Torture By Telephone?

BLOG VIEW: I never found much appeal in the basic concepts of masochism, and this may explain my problems in dealing with many telephone customer service representatives. Call me old-fashioned, but I come from the school where someone seeking assistance or information should be treated with respect and courtesy. Too many telephone customer service representatives that I've encountered, however, speak to me as if I am the most annoyingly idiotic person on the planet – which is not the treatment I am expecting from people representing companies where I am engaged in business transactions!

While I've received dubious telephone treatment from representatives of a number of different companies, it always seems that the financial services industry goes out of its way to turn every customer inquiry into the telephone call from hell. In my experience, the telephone receiver has been the gateway to legal threats demanding payments for charges that I've never incurred, blatant lies about paperwork that was supposedly mailed and never arrived, and a catalogue of the most egregious chip-on-the-shoulder attitude displays this side of ‘Jersey Shore.’

Of course, it isn't just me. Everyone has their own horror stories when it comes to being on the receiving end of shoddy telephone customer service representatives. But what happens if those representatives are answering inquiries and complaints regarding your company's products and services? How do you know if your telephone customer service representatives are engaged in telephonic torture with your hapless customers?

Quite simply, how does your company monitor its telephone customer service representatives? Or, is there even any quality control monitoring in place? And if there isn't any monitoring in place, why is that?

In today's rough economy, with too many borrowers struggling to keep ahead of their bills, high-quality assistance is crucial. People are financially and emotionally stressed out and many good people are in danger of losing their homes. The financial services industry, in general, and the mortgage banking industry, in particular, face an unprecedented customer service crisis – and the presence of rude or inept representatives is not the answer to the problem.

Many people forget that the telephone customer service representative serves a double function as a public relations tool for your company. These representatives may not be on your payroll – they could be part of an outsourcing enterprise that runs call centers on the other side of the world. But once they answer the calls on behalf of your company, they become – in the minds of most people calling in – the voice (if not the face) of your operations.

If you are outsourcing your call-center operations, you need to keep track of how the call center is representing your company. An easy way to accomplish this is by simply calling your company's toll-free number and pretending to be a confused customer. In this manner, you can get a basic idea of what your customers are going through, and you can pinpoint areas where improvements might be required.

If your calls are handled in-house, then maybe this is a good time to review the depth and scope of your internal operations. The same testing program could easily work here – pretend to be a customer, or recruit a friend to help you in case your voice or caller identification will tip off the ruse.

Whether the call centers are in-house or outsourced, questions of consistency and customer support need to be addressed. There should also be a mechanism in place where reports of customer dissatisfaction can be reviewed. The worst way any company can learn of an unhappy caller is to see the defection of the business.

In fairness to those folks answering the calls, this is not easy work. Many people either provide the wrong information or they are just trying to pull a scam. Call centers are notorious for high employee turnover rates, due, in large part, to the stressful nature of the calls. Really, no one calls up a customer service line just to say hello and share good news!

Nonetheless, it may not be a bad idea to pick up your telephone and see whether your telephone customer service representatives are doing a good job. This could easily be the most important call that you'll make today!

– Phil Hall, editor, Secondary Marketing Executive

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