Call Center CSRs Ruin Customer Experience

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Yesterday I wrote about how I closed my Washington Mutual account by mail and the infuriating experience I had with a call center CSR. If you don’t feel like reading the entire saga, here’s the thirty second recap. I wanted to close my WaMu account and was given incorrect information that led to additional headaches and a $4 service fee. I called to try to close the account and discovered I was given incorrect information and charged the fee, so I was struggling with the CSR to get both the fee removed and the account closed. Eventually I learned the correct process and had the fee removed, end of story.

The infuriating part of the entire process was the fact that the first person you talk to isn’t going to help you unless it’s on their script. I understand the need for companies to outsource call centers to areas with a lower cost of living. The bottom line is the bottom line, cutting expenses is has a direct impact on that and outsourcing customer service is something all businesses are looking at. The problem is that you cheapen the user experience in interacting with your company and, if you frustrate them, you could potentially lose a customer because they don’t want to deal with your crap.

Unfortunately, it’s gotten to the point where people have associated accents with outsourcing and outsourcing with garbage customer service. I’ve been primed to believe that if I hear an accent then chances are I’m dealing with an outsourced CSR who is forced to follow a script and probably answers phones for multiple companies. They are effectively living, breathing robots.

Businesses need to think of customer service not as a cost they should be reducing but an opportunity to build a relationship at the first level, not at the escalation level. I was so frustrated at hearing the same canned response from the CSR that by the time I got to the supervisor, who coincidentally had no accent and all the authority (thus reinforcing an entirely unreasonable association), I was already formulating a blog post about how I’m glad WaMu got gobbled up. The supervisor was great though, she immediately removed the charge and told me how to properly get the account closed.

I was leaving and they were making it easy (they could’ve demanded the $4 fee), which made me kind of sad they were being gobbled up… but companies really need to rethink their call center strategy. There’s are quite a few similarities between all the hated banks, hated cable companies, hated internet companies, hated cell phone companies, and other hated companies – infuriating outsourced call centers. (and relentless fees!)

{ 5 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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5 Responses to “Call Center CSRs Ruin Customer Experience”

  1. Neko says:

    I have a feeling that many banks and financial institutions are making it more difficult to withdraw large and close accounts due to the reecnt financial industry’s downturn. Perhaps hassling the customers in this way is a tactic they use to slow down the impact of a ‘bank run.’

    I have a friend with Ameriprise and he wants to cash out his mutual funds and buy stock right now but Ameriprise has frozen all customer assets until further notice. I’m not sure if it is legal or not because he is foregoing any potential profits from the stocks he wants to buy. If I were him I would be extremely upset.

    – Neko

  2. greg says:

    I worked in a call center in ’96 (Dallas, Texas). The metrics for evaluating performance had nothing to do with giving the caller correct information, or solving their issue so call backs were not necessary. We WERE measured on how many times we used the caller’s name (minimum 2), length of time for the call, and hold times.

    So the person that told the caller whatever they needed to hear and hangup was rewarded. The person that stayed on the line for thirty minutes to completely solve the caller’s issue, but did not use their name was written up.

  3. Gates VP says:

    I know a lot of people who work / have worked in call centers and Greg touches on one of the essential points: poor call center metrics.

    Support-oriented call centers are often evaluated on such metrics as call times. So people trying to boost their times would claim “phone connection issues” on complicated calls in an attempt to “cut their losses”. Also the NA call centers would often act as “second-level” support, especially for repeat callers. So caller would contact the normal number two or three times, get hung up on and on the third or fourth call-in would get the NA representative. So the customer would finally get the support they needed, but they would be irate by the time the NA rep actually got the call.

    Outsourced call centers (foreign or domestic) take a “revenue-first” approach as they get paid on a per-call basis. Companies like Convergys make some X dollars per caller handled rather than on some more elaborate metric. Some times they have other metrics, but the counter-intuitive horror stories I’ve heard from several people just belie idiocy.

    It looks like there’s an effort to define better call center performance, I have recently received some call center callbacks where they request feedback on the call. But even then they don’t always ask the right questions.

    Businesses need to think of customer service not as a cost they should be reducing but an opportunity to build a relationship at the first level, not at the escalation level.

    And this definitely echoes a serious business problem. You’re only supposed to outsource “cost centers”. If I run a technology company, I don’t outsource the technology development, b/c that’s a “revenue center”. But if I’m running a tech company and I only need simple accounting done I’ll outsource that to one of the firms.

    Some of the cable companies, cell companies and banks have outsourced their call centers b/c they feel they are “cost centers”. This is why you’re talking to underlings when you call WaMu. What WaMu is failing to recognize is that they are a commodity company interchangeable with one of many other companies. Treating customer service as a “cost center” is foolish, b/c customer service is one of the few relevant things that a bank actually “does” anymore.

    This isn’t universal though. I’m with BoA due to excellent service both from my banker and on the phones. My Canadian accounts are with the Bank of Montreal and I’ve received reasonable service from them as well. But in both cases, it’s definitely been “in-house” (most of the Bank of Montreal reps speak french 🙂

  4. Ron says:

    These days customer service is anything but. I could easy write a hundred thousand words on how all CS departments are a joke, but I’ll try to summarize it with the ultimate idiocy. To try and reach a CSR you will first have to deal with an annoying and impossibly unhelpful phone tree. That will take anywhere from one to five minutes and then you will hold until you eventually reach a CSR who will not be able to provide any viable customer service (unless you hang up first). Okay, that bit has been build into corporate America for a generation. What kills me, and is even more of an insult, is that a day later some idiot who represents the company I was trying to obtain help from will phone me back to ask how pleased I was with their customer service, seemingly just to waste more of my time. Are you kidding me!

  5. I’m not a big fan of WaMu, but unfortunately a business partner of mine thought it would be a good bank to use. I couldn’t really say why I don’t like WaMu except that they didn’t have them Boston when I lived there – so it seems like weird bank.

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