Tuesday 23 January 2007

A short conversation.

I called Telefocus yesterday and spoke to one of their managers.

"Your company has been phoning us five or six times a day for weeks now, letting the phone ring only three times before hanging up, which means there's no way we can ever get to the phone in time to answer it. You're clearly using an automatic dialler and you've got it set up only to ring three times, which is absurd — even if we want whatever you're selling, we can't even buy it off you, because you don't let us answer; and because we can't answer, you'll never stop calling. These are, quite simply, nuisance calls."

"I must apologise, sir. We're sorry to have caused you any inconvenience. As you say, yes, we are using an automatic dialler, so we do sometimes get this sort of problem, like all call centres —"

"If I can just stop you there. With respect, I used to run a dialler for a call centre, and no, this problem does not affect all call centres; it affects your call centre, because you've set your dialler up wrong. The fact that it's hanging up after three rings is a setting that you have deliberately put into the software."

On the one hand, I love doing that. On the other, I realised later that I'd missed a beautiful opportunity to ask him why the hell I should care about what problems do affect all call centres. I am not on a personal quest to ensure that call centres have no problems. Nuisance calls are nuisance calls, and I see no reason to sympathise with someone who's making them to me just because some other people might also make them.

Anyway, I didn't have to spell it out. Once he knew that I know how diallers work, he knew that I knew why they've set it up to ring for such a short time: to maximise the amount of time their staff spend on sales calls, in order to maximise profit. And what's particularly annoying about that is that it doesn't even work.

It's a terrible narrow-minded tactic, typically enacted by the sort of tunnel-visioned eejits who, unfortunately, for some unfathomable reason, tend to rise to positions of influence in call centres. You know: the sort of person who, if they worked in a traditional office, might try to increase profit by rationing the biros more strictly. They can see small-scale waste, but can't comprehend big pictures. There are plenty of bright, reasonable people doing very well in the call centre industry, but they spend a lot of their time fighting a battle of wills against these beligerent innumerate simpletons. You hear the stories of call centre staff being disciplined for going over their alotted toilet-break time by twenty seconds — that's what happens when the eejits win. And, of course, it doesn't maximise profits at all, because, while it may maximise the amount of time your staff spend working, it also lowers the quality of their work, and, in the big picture, encourages them to leave, forcing the firm to hire more staff and spend a fortune on training them. Unhappy staff are expensive.

Similarly, setting the dialler's ring-time so low that most customers can't answer the phone quickly enough does indeed minimise the amount of time your staff spend twiddling their thumbs, which probably increases the number of sales you get per hour. However, those sales only apply to the customers who answer the phone. What happens to the rest is that you piss them off. Before you've even spoken to them. And this increases the proportion of people who, once you do talk to them, will not be interested in anything you have to say, even if you're giving away free money. This means that your marketing people will have to provide more lists of names of likely prospects, and those lists, being valuable information, are very expensive. Furthermore, you encourage more and more people to get their names put on the national do-not-call list, reducing the absolute number of possible sales, i.e. the size of your potential customer base, and driving the price of information about the remainder even higher.


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