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Call Centre Phonies

Call Centre Phonies
by Roderick Chambers

Ever been on the receiving end of a call centre Droid? Someone who instead of answering your query, badgers you with question after question? You bet. It’s part of daily life and we are told that this benefits us by improving call centre efficiency.

But does it?

The recent inquest into the death of David Iredale, the 17 year old boy who made call after call on his mobile phone to the 000 emergency service whilst slowly dying of dehydration and exposure in the Blue Mountains bush, shows how badly the call centre paradigm can fail.

All the operators that David spoke with demanded street information to assess his location before they moved onto the more critical details of his condition. Or even his name. They have all been roundly castigated by the media and public for their lack of compassion and simple common sense.

Published transcripts of their conversations show an apparent callous disregard for his plight, in favour of a mindless fixation on obtaining a non-existent street address.

Logically, a location is needed before sending out costly emergency services. Suggestions that a GPS style electronic location system could be used is a furphy – it is simply not possible on the existing triple 0 set up.

However, the existing system was devised without thought to situations where insistent hierarchical questioning is inappropriate or even downright deadly. Open ended answers (if not questions) need to be catered for to allow for non-standard situations.

Laura Meade 26, one of the operators contacted by David Iredale stated in her testimony “I was only trying to elicit an address because the computer system is so rigid I believe I needed it before asking for other information.”

Inbound call centres typically have performance criteria around the number of calls handled, the amount of waiting time callers must endure, or other quantitative forms of service levels.

John Lueneberger, who manages an in-bound call centre said “there is a strict script that must be adhered to so that service levels can be maintained.”

He can see anyone who is underperforming: “You can tell everything that is going on from your management screens. I can see where problems are occurring; if we are getting swamped; if a particular agent is having problems; the stats are there on the screen.”

Bettina Girdler, 30, who has worked in a call centre, said there was “constant pressure to perform”. She said she had a colleague Greg, who had worked in the 000 emergency centre and who knew one of the women giving evidence at the inquest. He said that it was “impossible to get further information into the computer system without a street address” and this was probably why all the operators were insistent on this.

The drone mentality demanded by a dichotomous system appears to be on the ascendant, but are we relying on the programmers and system designers to predict omnisciently every situation? Can this production line “efficiency” replace experienced and qualified workers? Clearly quality in service levels needs to be valued on a par with the quantitative parameters to avoid appalling outcomes.

It is interesting to note that – belatedly – in the last week the NSW Ambulance Service announced it will no longer require a street address location for those lost in the bush.

One would hope that their computer system has been updated.


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This insane tendency

Well, what the F-ck is this  insane tendency for organisations  to outsource their communications (obligations?) to bloody call centres any way?

Every where this pernicious neolib downsizing theology!

Hard yards

Thanks, Roderick! This is a fine parable of modern bureaucracy gone haywire, not to mention the lack of lateral thinking and empathy of a few folks in the wrong jobs.

Malcolm B Lazarus, that sounds like a particulary kinky wedding...

Wandering lonely as a clod

Ever been in the bush, kiddies? Nasty. Lots of bush. Few phone boxes. Take your mobile phone? Why? You are going into an hostile environment. If you do not take sufficient care to ensure your survival (I managed to last through a wedding last night largely on foot and in the hostile environs of Harbord) you die.

We need to take a bit of responsibility here for ourselves. Go out: take the risk.

Evolution rules.

Getting through

I would have thought that not having/knowing a street name is not unusual - not only in the wilderness, but children/even adults calling from other people's houses, panic causing memory blocks ... I wonder how the protocols/software got through the acceptance testing phase. Or am I applying hindsight?

The “constant pressure to perform” mentality is also worrying. We know how to engender good performance in people without applying thumbscrews. These are some of the drawbacks of an economic model aimed at squeezing every last cent out of a job. We live in an affluent society and can afford a 

David R: I'm guessing you intended that sentence to have an object, Jay, and possibly pressed the send too soon ... If you send in the conclusion I'll add it onto this .... 

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