Thursday, February 09, 2006

Profiles In Courage

The title of this post may be lost on some folks - it (the title) is meant to get a little laugh (as are all my titles), but not at the expense of it subject(s), as its subjects are actual call center reps who work hard and take a lot of crap. It's also a bit long, so set the snooze button for 30 minutes.

I had the brilliantly stupid idea of presenting real call center agents I know and their front-line perspective. I asked several of the reps who work in a certain inbound call center if I could take their picture and if they would provide a sentence that goes to the heart of their call center experience. I got one taker on the proposition.

The photo is of Robo (not her real name, but a sobriquet of her own choosing. Full sobriquet: Robo Von Cop). I hired Robo over a year ago. Before working here, she worked on a vegetable farm. Here is Robo's one-sentence distillation of her call center experience: "Working in a call center is like watching your neighbor's kids - you have to listen to them whine; clean up their shit; and they think they can get away with anything."

About Robo: She has a rather tough exterior that is belied by the gentle nature that she displays with customers. She curses and swears a blue streak in the office, but is never baited into arguing or acting unprofessionally with customers. Despite the conclusions you might draw from her quote, Robo is successful as a call center rep. Why is that? What experiences in Robo's past prepared her to be good at this? Was it working in a call center? She never did. Picking vegetables? No, although some of our customers definitely qualify as vegetables.

I believe that the answer is that, in an inbound call center environment, it takes all kinds.

It is Robo's basic nature which allows her to succeed in the unique way she does. And I can point to another rep in the call center who is the 'Yin' to Robo's 'Yang' (please forgive the analogy, but it is apt), and who has her own gifts and talents that contribute to our center's success in other ways. Did I know this when I hired them? No. I had no budget for pre-screening software (I'm still using ICMI's TurtleSpeed for god's sake); all I had to go on when I hired all of them was "gut feeling", which has both succeeded and failed me in the past.

This leads me to my philosophical definition of the metaphysical nature of the Inbound Call Center. My definition is comprised of a brief description of what I believe to be the two (yin & yang again) basic natures/components of inbound centers:

1: The True and Basic Nature of the Inbound Call Center Rep Experience
Of all the components comprising the inbound call center and customer service (I'm going to stick to that outmoded phrase Customer Service) nothing is of greater importance than the human interaction. It all boils down to two people talking to each other.

So, the crux of the job, from the reps perspective (and this, I believe, is the most important thing for a call center manager to meditate upon), is that the conversation is always one-sided and has one aim: one person (the customer) is always talking about their needs to the rep with the expectation of having the rep take care of/fix/listen to/address/give satisfaction/delight etc etc. to the customer.

This is not bad or undesirable or unreasonable. But the true challenge of an inbound call center agent is being able to deal with this call after call. Some may read this and think, "Duh!" (pardon the expression, but it's a close cousin to "mental", an old Jr. High favorite of mine, along with "Boss!", "Wicked!" and "Avaya CMS reporting sucks!"), but it is as basic a tenet as the Buddha's that 'Life in call centers is suffering.' It is this aspect that should guide the hiring decisions in inbound centers (i.e. can you somehow make an assessment regarding the candidate's capacity for fielding pleas for help, or in Robo's words "cleaning up their shit" all day long). Robo is a good example of the Yin side of this equation: while her assessment of the job of inbound call center rep is less than sanguine, it does not color her customer interactions at all.

2: The True and Basic Nature of Your Experience and Responsibility
When I say "Your" I mean "Customer", since we are all customers, and, in the yin and yang model of inbound call centers, you (I mean you who are reading this right now) are either, or, OR both.

Technology will not replace humans' need and desire to speak to one of their own kind - i.e. not a machine - no matter how misogynist a person may get. We're a relatively new specie - the dinosaurs walked where our strip malls are for 130 million years - us hominids have only been developing for 2 million. The upshot is that we need each other to help each other in our daily transactions.

We want to make a phone call, or send an email, and have a genuine human interaction in which a genuine human helps us out. We don't want to hear a script or hear a rehearsed lecture about company policy. We don't want a Venn diagram. We want the Yin to our Yang. We want the circle, the 'whole' that the Yin/Yang symbolizes. We want to sit across the table from someone like Robo, who genuinely try to do their best for the customer.

But I believe, contrary to the 'have it your way' consumer culture that has become standard, that we (customers) have a responsibility to behave in the same manner that we expect from those who answer our calls. Making unreasonable demands, treating a call center rep poorly, using degrading and abusive language is not right or acceptable. Sometimes, the customer, contrary to 'have it your way' culture, is not right. You can read about the fallout from these kinds of customer interactions in several call center blogs where the recounting of customer interactions take on an adversarial flavor.

In short, both the rep and the customer contribute something to a successful customer contact/interaction etc. Well, here ends my first installment, and probably my last, of Profiles In Courage, unless I get another volunteer.


Blogger AnonymousCog said...

Great Post and great picture. You can see in her face and eyes everything you said.


10:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

now THAT is the face of a girl who'll take pictures of her boss' ass when it looks like he shit himself.

8:04 PM  
Blogger Cogitating Call Center Manager said...

Oh, Yeah! You ain't kidding. And I'll use that picture one of these days.

12:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you better. that picture better not have been just another one of your clever ploys to get me to look at your ass.

3:26 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home