‘…making me sound like a bad or incompetent person’: Is the call center equivalent to the U.S. DMV?

by Paul Solman | June 4, 2010 8:29 am Hello Fellow Shrieks, A few weeks ago, I delved into the world of call center management. While researching an entry for the PBS NewsHour, I…

'...making me sound like a bad or incompetent person': Is the call center equivalent to the U.S. DMV?

by Paul Solman | June 4, 2010 8:29 am

Hello Fellow Shrieks,

A few weeks ago, I delved into the world of call center management. While researching an entry for the PBS NewsHour, I came across a great Wall Street Journal piece written by Elizabeth Shogren, a woman who’s been in the call center business for years. The non-profit Wackenhut Corp. runs call centers — and provides workers to banks, credit card issuers, and businesses across the country. Wackenhut has one in New York City.

I wrote a brief, amusing story, culminating with a list of how and why to deal with a terrible phone call from a self-important, almost cheerful customer. Then, out of the blue, a friend (an accountant with a mid-level accounting job) called me to complain about a horrible (unsuccessful) phone call he’d received from an ambitious, self-conscious Wackenhut employee.

[Crawfish and Parathas]

“They’re making me sound like a bad or incompetent person,” he said. “When a call center representative is on the phone, there’s a specific pre-arranged ‘customer service procedure’ you must follow. Here’s how it’s done. When a customer reaches out to you, you go on a 30-minute call jogging break. The last thing you do is call them back 20 minutes before they hang up. That’s the best way to get the best people on the line at a crucial moment.”

This exemplifies a larger problem with the financial services sector: an almost invisible bureaucracy, suffused with social hierarchy and with an “us versus them” mentality that treats non-compliance as a crime. A long commute, compounding the tedium, sucks the energy out of the employees and makes them easily dominated by the management philosophy that lumps its employees together into bland and sterile channels of call-center conversation.

I was intrigued enough by this story to write this article today about the pattern of social stratification at N.Y.C.’s call centers. (The more we know, the better.)

Read the full story »

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