Bits and Pieces

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Cell Phone Customer Service - As A Race, We're Pretty Much Screwed

Steven Taylor over at Poliblog has a problem with cellphone provider customer service (hat tip: James Joyner's traffic jam). It's a problem we've all had at one point or another.

I use O2 here in the UK, and on the whole they provide a good service - great coverage and reasonably priced service. The only problem is when I come to pay my bill. A result of my financially-strapped college years, I had my Barclays Visa cashcard replaced by a Visa Electron card that can only be used at ATMs (to prevent me from exceeding my overdraft limit by writing cheques and paying for stuff over the counter). The problem is that a lot of companies won't accept the card, so every month I have to pay my little brother cash so that he can pay the bill on his card. This usually means that I spend at least one week out of the month with no phone service (laziness on my part, and the problem of getting hold of my brother while the customer service lines are open).

Trying desperately to pay my bill on time one month I learned that the O2 customer service line is actually based in the floor above me in my building. And here's the problem: the people on the other end of the phone aren't cellphone experts eager to answer your every question, but rather underpaid salespeople who can't hack it on an outbound cold-calling campaign, relegated to taking payments and occasionally cross-selling bolt-on additions for cellphone customers.

The problem lies with the cellphone providers. They outsource all their customer service work to companies like the one I work for - sometimes as far afield as India. It's much cheaper than doing their own dirty work because my company can put asses in seats quicker than they can. As a result, product knowledge is minimal and the computer systems are simplified to the point at which a monkey could operate them. The operator only has one or two options during a call (i.e. take payment, arrange Direct Debit). They couldn't help you even if they understood your requests, as the systems aren't flexible.

The only solution to this is to make sure that, when you call, you don't have any kind of technical question that would require a functioning mind to answer. After 8 hours on the phones, these guys can barely walk and chew gum at the same time. Go easy on them, though. It ain't their fault. Inbound telephone work is mind numbing to a degree that the average person couldn't grasp. Seriously.

*Update* Speaking of customer service, Kevin Drum explains why I spent the last half hour trying to load up my site without success. Blogspot, if you weren't free I swear I'd shove you in a cloth sack and throw you in a canal.
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