A week ago, while in the middle of a meeting, my mobile vibrated, seeking my attention. The meeting was important, but the number was distinctly recognisable. This call just could not be ignored — after all, hope springs eternal in the human breast.
A young, eager voice spoke into my ear. “Good afternoon sir, this is a call from Airtel. I wanted to confirm that you are satisfied with the resolution of the ticket”.
Age and experience have worked relentlessly on a hard problem – they have made remarkable headway. My being has been transformed into a tolerant one. Even so, there is the clear sensation that I was now scouring the bottom of my patience reservoir. I start to enquire which ticket he is referring to. “I do not know, sir. My database does not show me the ticket number”, he replied. “But I do have a notification that your ticket has been resolved, and I wanted to know if you are satisfied. May I please close it?”. My heart sank. Alas, no resolution yet. I dug deep into the Reservoir of Patience. No, I replied, politely, please do not close the ticket. Not that my response mattered.
Repeated requests, nay pleas, have fallen on stoically deaf years. The service has since been disconnected. I continue to receive calls for non-payment of bills. I repeated my woes for the hundredth time to the eager rep that the plan for what we are being billed is not what we applied for. Could they please correct the plan? If they did that, they would realise that we actually have made an advance payment for three months. “We are sorry for the inconvenience caused, sir” comes the plastic response. “Your problem will be resolved by Nov 29th, 20:13:34 hours”. Meantime, my mobile phone is flooded with SMSes asking my if I was happy with the resolution of the ticket. I am not sure that the rep had any other than marking it as resolved. After all, he had absolutely no idea what he was resolving for me. But he was going to be measured based on whether he had resolved my ticket or not.
Sample this call from Aditya Birla Money.
“Sir, I am calling you to find out why you are not using your demat account with Aditya Birla Money” goes a young lady from Chennai. “Huh?” What demat account?”, I ask myself. After a few moments of utter blankness, my brain responds to the frantic searching. I tell the rep that I had, once upon a time, a PMS with AB Money. A year ago, I had exited the PMS. Could she please close the demat? The formerly eager, now anxious representative does not know how to respond. There is no data in front of her, and she is certainly not authorized to take any action on the ticket. She merely had in front of her a customer name, and a corresponding demat account that was not being used. She was asked to call, and she had done so. Her charter was to lure me back in. My response did not fit her mandate. She hastily exits the call telling me that she will check with her supervisor, and let me know.
These hapless reps have no databases, no empowerment and, perhaps, no training. I have long learnt not to yell at them. They come in various modulations. Varying accents. Eager, even desperate to get a good response from their customers. They belong to various departments. It could be billing or it could be collections or it could be customer care. One department does not know the details of the interactions of the other department. Thus equipped, they are thrown into the big, bad world of irate customers. The organisations that they represent have often grown too big to listen to their customers. These faceless reps are now the face of the organisation.
My colleague recently made a profound observation on how the too-big-to-fail, too-big-to-care organisations had set up their systems. It was succinct yet unerringly accurate in explaining this malady of mindless calls and ceaseless woes.
For them, the customer is the database.