Call Centres – The good, the bad and the ugly…

The Badger’s thoughts turned to call-centres this week, triggered by a conversation between three pensionable ladies overheard in a local coffee shop. It seemed that one had a good experience with a call centre, one an Ok one, and the third a particularly unhelpful experience leading to a ‘never going to call again’ comment.

The Badger pondered on his own experiences, both as an end customer and from having some relevant experience as a business and IT professional. Call centres of varying types, of course, feature in our daily lives for almost everything. Whilst many interactions with banks, government departments, health services, utilities, insurance companies, retailers and so on, can be done online, there’s always a number to call and a series of buttons to press on your phone if you want to speak to a human being.

So, what emerged from the Badger’s cogitations? Simply that call centres seem to fall into one of three categories – the good, the bad or the downright ugly. The good tend to be very good with well trained, friendly, customer-centric staff supported by well-integrated IT systems that work smoothly to provide the call handler a complete picture of you as a customer. The bad tend to be disjointed and inefficient, with agents that aren’t well trained who just regurgitate their scripts and have poorly integrated IT systems providing a fractured view of their customer. ‘I’m just going to put you on hold while I check on another system’ tends to be a frequent and rather tedious refrain. And then there’s the ugly. These have annoying and unhelpful call agents who sometimes introduce themselves with implausible names, and seem hell bent on upselling other services rather than dealing with what you want done. The Badger doesn’t stay long with organisations whose call centres fall into the ugly category!

The size of an organisation doesn’t seem to be a direct indicator of which category its call centre will be in. Bigger sometimes isn’t the best, often because of the difficulties interfacing with long-standing legacy IT architectures and systems. Smaller organisations who are likely to have more limited legacy IT estate issues often seem to provide the best experience for their customers, which no doubt helps with customer retention and the important dynamics of growth through repeat business and customer recommendations. The Badger also wondered about the much-vaunted impacts of Artificial Intelligence, only to conclude that there’s still lots to do in most organisations just to unlock customer information from IT systems and make it comprehensively available to front-line staff before any AI vision is truly viable. So, let’s hope things improve on the joining up of IT systems front so that more call-centres move into the ‘good’ category before the robots even get close to taking over. There’s something humanly reassuring about the dynamics, antagonisms and nuances of interacting with another human in a good call centre, so long may it continue!


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