Response Design Corporation:Creating the Uncommon Call Center
Kathryn's Uncommon Call Center Blog
July 17, 2006 12:04 AM
A dark and stormy night

"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents - except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness." Paul Clifford by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, 1830.

The story, Paul Clifford, is widely recognized to contain the worst opening sentence of any novel in the English language. And I have convinced myself that my experience on yet another “dark and stormy night” was the worst new-customer experience in the history of the customer contact industry.

The rain had been falling for days; the Northeast U.S. was flooded. Internet sites were down. Call centers were overrun with needy customers accustomed to self-serving on the now-crippled Web sites. I was one of these customers.

I have to admit, I’m phone adverse. I know it’s ironic that a contact center consultant is phone adverse, but I would rather self-serve on the Internet than call a company. So, when I needed to order a new piece of luggage for an upcoming trip, I went straight to the Internet. But the site I wanted was down, I had to call.

At first, I could hardly hear the agent because the weather was interfering with the line quality. Even when I was able to hear him, I could not understand what he was trying to say. His English was bad.

Fiercely determined to spend my money, I told him I wanted to buy a $400 “wheelie,” and I had a coupon to apply to the purchase. He took my name and item number, then he gave me an order confirmation number. I was a bit startled. He had not asked for payment or shipping information. I asked if he worked for the company, explaining my question by reminding him he hadn’t ask for seemingly required information. He confirmed that he was an employee rather than an outsourcer or temporary worker, but that he worked in El Salvador. “We don’t usually get these calls, but our U.S. call center needs help so they are sending some customers to us,” he said. Truly a dark and stormy night, for him and me. Frustrated with the poor connection, line quality, language, and sales process, I told him I would hang up so I could attempt to reach a U.S.-based call center and agent.

These days, we talk a lot about off-shoring, both outsourced and company owned. We write about the potential pitfalls (e.g., accents) and obvious benefits (e.g., costs). We discuss how to align the offshore strategy in order to benefit the company’s value proposition. My recent experience taught me we still have room to grow. Our customers expect us to perform rain or shine.

Have you off-shored any of your customer contact operation? If so, how do you ensure there are no “dark and stormy” nights in your agents’ or customers’ experience?

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