Saturday, May 23, 2009

Can I put you on hold thank you

Around 8PM yesterday, I got a call from my mobile company's customer services centre (a call centre in Manila) regarding a new add-on I signed up in my cell phone account. A lady with a friendly voice opened the phone call by asking me to confirm my name, current address, mother's maiden name, secret question 1, secret question 2, previous residential address, blood group...the only personal details remaining was my nakshthram, gothram and undraayer size.

Thanks to her heavy accent and the poor reception of international phone line, we both had to repeat ourselves a few times. For every answer I gave, she'd go "Can I put you on hold thank you". It was really funny the way she said it. It was more of a statement than a question/request. Ofcourse, it didn't matter if I wanted to say yes or no. Ms CustomerFriendly put me on me hold anyway.

Initially I was happy that she was committed to the concept of person verification and customer privacy. 5 minutes into the call and we were still in the identity-check stage - I felt she took the concept a little too seriously. Thinking about it now, I am sure most customers would lose their cool in her sloooow and lengthy identity check.

Having established my bona fides, Ms CustomerFriendly finally came to the purpose of the call. It seems the 'system' had validated the add-on without checking the service charge payment. The service fee was overdue and I had to pay it immediately. I assured her I'll transfer the money ASAP and we ended the call. Half hour later (I made the payment straightaway), when I tried to make a call, I hear an automated message saying that I don't have enough credit. I checked my cell-phone account online, sure enough my credit was gone it displayed nil balance.

Clearly annoyed, I tried to call Ms CustomerFriendly through the customer service hotline.

The great part about customers calling call centres is that if you are a new customer looking to sign up for something, you get straight through. You dial the number, press 1, one ring...tadaaa the operator picks up. It's as if they've been waiting for this particular call all day and the operator has your account information on the screen before you finish saying "2-year contract". No verification is asked(!!). As long you pay the monthly fee, agree to T&C, no one cares whether you live or die.

Try lodging a complaint, however.

"Thank you. Please select from the following 23 options. Press 2 if you are this customer. Press 3 if you are that customer. Press 4 if you are this and that customer. Press 5 if you are totally screwed...".

Out of desperation, you press a wretched number. No matter what number you press, "Thank you. Your call has been placed on queue. We apologise for the long delay, please consider making a hot cuppa coffee, catch a snooze or learn Swahili or bang your head on the wall before you get the hint we just don't want to know!"

I am not trying to be critical on call centres. I have never worked in a call centre and I don't have anything against them. From outside, their job appears to be mundane and most-boring. But they play a key role. They are the front line staff and the link between the public and the company. The outsourcing movement in the last decade has made all major telcos, banks etc to invest in overseas call centres. Rather than improving/maintaining high standards of customer service, companies seem to have cost cutting as their number one priority.

Instead of making underpaid staff work long hours on a regimented customer service protocol in south of Yengiyonesia* or east of Kalavaramistan**, they could invest in quality customer service staff both local and offshore. Perhaps the CEO and other officials, who rake up huge six figure or even seven-figure salaries (plus bonuses) could shed a few thousands from their pay packets for customer service benefit. Hell no. They would rather use it for their next cruise holiday in a tropical island or the impending round of redundancy pay outs.

Another feature in call centre calls nowadays is the voice recognition system. Voice apps works well for me. You say the key words or phrases to the system. It picks it up and provides relevant info or directs the call to the correct operator. Some people, especially old people, have tough time with it. They go on a long narrative about their problem ("Hello. I don't get Internet in my computer. Nothing is working. Bla bla bla...") and end up getting frustrated that the 'machine' doesn't understand them. One elderly person got offended when the Voice app played a message saying that it didn't understand him and asked him to repeat more than a few times. When voice app gave up and transferred him to an operator, he flared up "Why are you people you doing this? Bloody computers in everything. Everywhere. Am I fool to talk to a machine? What telecoms are you running? You idiots are trying to replace everything with technology. Your customer service is pathetic and your system is absolutely useless!". I had a good laugh and I also felt sorry for the operator.

To all of us who have suffered interminably frustrating waits with banks/insurance co/telcos trying to rectify faults, billing mistakes etc don't call the complaints or fault line number. Just call the number or select the option for new accounts and pour your grief to the soul who may be in the other side of the world and/or in the other hemisphere. Do it politely. He/she may have some pity on you and help out. This method worked for me, this time.

I doubt this method will work next time. Ms DontComplaint2Me may pick up and say with a friendly but stern tone "Can I transfer you to Faults thank you".


* yengiyo means somewhere
** kalavaram means a state of agitation, confusion, distress.


  1. Haha, how I hate call-centers!

    The worst is when the internet stops working. You try to call the service provider, and before you can even LISTEN to options 1-32, you have to listen to a message that says "Thanks for calling, If you haven't already done so, go to our website's frequently asked questions for solutions to your website problems".

    I've worked at a call-center before- but a mortgage one. Pretty different, I'm assuming.

  2. LoL.

    This is bound to happen everywhere!
    I happened to dial for call center regarding enquiry for laptop ! It was an STD number and damn they made me wait for 15 minutes and then the person who picked up dint have correct answer!

    So best thingy would be is to deal with emails :)

    Call Centers whether they are in Manila or Chennai, employers should bring in right people! Cheap labor vs Customer Satisfaction! They tend to compromise big time!

  3. So did u get that issue sorted out??

  4. dot, it does!

    foreigndesi, lol. a classic tubelight idea.

  5. Hey, Sriram....I absolutely agree...

    Many a time, these call centre execs leave u completely frustrated!!

    I am clueless how all these insurance, personal loans, home loans, credit card guys find out the number and call and keep pestering!!!!

    But, if i have to call my banker for a simple request like cheque book.......i am always in queue!

  6. nirmal, sometimes emails can be cryptic too. But yea, atleast it doesn’t dig into the wallet.

    abhishek, yea got it sorted. i had to borrow friend's phone. they should have 0800 number man. 3 rips us off big time.

  7. viji,

    hehe. i once cancelled an account and I had the bank's marketing/customer dept fawning over me within few hrs offering to do wateva necessary. repeated calls from them for the next few days anticipating a change of mind. they dont let go off you easily. :)

  8. Funny and all too familiar!

    Also wanted to let you know I'm linking up your lovely post on your patti in my post about my own grandmother. I'm collecting links about our grandmother stories in that post -

  9. Nice to see your blog/post on


  10. i once yelled at a poor guy with a cute brit accent for placing me on hold for too long. :(
    i feel sorry for these ppl sometimes.

  11. sujatha, thank you. ive sent you a mail.

    ganesh, thanks machi! i had sooo many hits to this post lately from DP.

    anjana,:) me too.

  12. You have had a normal response as anything else would have been a miracle.I would love to go to a call center and me a fly on the wall and see if they are really that busy.My record to date has been on hold for one and half hours with telstraclear.I managed to finish cooking,making lunch and even cleaned my dishes.Another great place to call is to your computer software network people as you can almost see the guy answering falling over with sleep and eyes glazed over as he tries to solve your problem and almost calling you names because he thinks you are a country bumpkin while He is the Coolest guy around.In some places customer service is just a name they have heard of .