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Call Centers: A curse in disguise?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

In the 90s they were praised as the new frontier of marketing, the foundation of CRM (Customer Relationship Management), the key for creating loyal customers and as the ultimate customer service solution. I refer of course to the infamous call centers: with very few exceptions confirming the rule, call centers are widely seen as nothing more than customer nuisance, source of resentment and as far as I know one of the main reasons of customer irritation that goes as far as switching brands or service providers. I still have to find someone who talks positively about them; I really can not imagine how it is possible that marketers have not yet understood what kind of damage these centers do to their brands and firm reputation.
Call centers offer two main categories of services: Outbound (bothering people with unsolicited calls at any time of the day, trying to sell from cheap electricity to dubious financial products) and Inbound i.e. under the pretext of “Customer Service” or “Help Line” doing their best to go through scripts that persuade you that the whole problem is inside your head and deny you any access to the firm responsible for the piece of crap you bought and can’t get working. Next to depriving the term Customer Service from any meaning and actually hurting most companies using them by creating a barrier between them and their customer, call centers do not seem to have many positive things worth talking about. Some skeptics will argue that they have helped increasing the welfare in the developing world by creating new employment opportunities in India, Pakistan, China and other low-cost countries. I would say that perusing low-costs is one of the main sources of the problem i.e. the unacceptable low quality of services provided and the actual denial of service since the people sitting at the other side of the world have no real power or authorization to actually solve any problem.
I have many personal experiences of the inability of call centers to help the customers, the nicest one is from last year when I was attempted to make a hotel reservation through the hotel help line since the online booking system was refusing my reservation without any obvious reason and any explanation. A very polite yet stubborn voice with a very nice exotic accent informed that booking through the site was the only way to make my reservation. In my repeated questions why the site booking system was not accepting my reservation the voice kept repeating "I am sorry sir, the only way to make the reservation is through our web site". After repeating this to me 4 to 5 times I hung up and booked in another hotel.

The real long term advantages of call centers on low cost countries is also a point worth some though. In that respect I recomend the film Outsourced The Movie to everyone. In the web site of the movie you can also enjoy a very entertaining spoof about call centers and outsourcing solutions. However it would not surprise me if someone would tell me that this video is not a parody but actual footage. The reality is not much different.
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