Wednesday, January 14, 2009

MSN Money's 2008 Customer Service Hall of Shame

Apparently, when the economy goes south, so does customer service. MSN Money posts a list of the top 10 worst customer service experiences. Here is their list for 2008:
1. Time Warner AOL
2. Comcast
3. Sprint Nextel
4. Abercrombie & Fitch
5. Qwest
6. Capital One
7. Bank of America
8. Time Warner Cable
9. HSBC Finance
10. Cox Communications
From MSN:
The company at the bottom of the customer-service heap is Time Warner's AOL. A remarkable 47% of people who had an opinion of AOL's customer service said it was "poor." Analysts said that rating may have something to do with its effort to transition from an Internet service provider -- where it still has more than 9.3 million paying subscribers -- to an ad-supported Web portal.

"I don't know what to attribute that to," AOL spokeswoman Dori Salcido said. "I just do know that we continue to improve customer service."

I've heard AOL customer service is the worst. If you try to cancel dial-up service, it can get really ugly. My grandma said that she tried to cancel her dial-up service with AOL, and they threatened to shoot a poor, innocent bunny rabbit. But my grandma says crazy stuff sometimes. She told me the same thing when the cashier at Kroger's handed her some coupons. Way to go AOL. Nice work on the dial-up features in 2008.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Poor service matters!

An interesting piece from the SMH a few weeks back on the natural reluctance that most consumers have to switching from one company to another, especially in the areas of finance and telecommunications. Whilst consumers are reluctant to move to chase a better deal, there is something that will get them moving:

What does prompt people into action to switch is poor service.

In a separate survey by AMR Interactive, more than three-quarters of the 1054 people interviewed said they had switched companies due to a poor customer experience.

The research, commissioned by RightNow Technologies, showed that the quality of customer experience - matched with the quality of product - was more important to 85 per cent of people than price and reputation when it came to loyalty.

And they had proved the point by taking their custom elsewhere. So while procrastination means consumers are failing to save money, they are still saving face when it comes to punishing poor service.

Telecommunication companies and financial services are the two industries consumers were most likely to walk away from.

Call centres were identified as a major source of customer dissatisfaction.

Almost half those interviewed said they would rather visit the dentist, clean the toilet or pay their bills than endure being put on hold for a long time.

Almost one in five respondents said they would rather be stung by a jellyfish.


Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Telstra's call centre blog

Call centre blogs are few and far between (at least in Bunyip's experience) but Telstra have set up a fledgling blog run through their main PR blog, Now We Are Talking.

The blog is only one post old, but it has the potential to be really interesting. True, it may well become Telstra fluff, with little attempt to seek the truth, but then again it may actually offer some insight into what's really happening in the industry.

It does beg the question, though: just how many call centres are still 'in house' at Telstra? In my experience there are some that are outsourced within Australia, some sent over to our friends in India... and then there's Odette, possibly the last woman standing.

Check it out.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Optus heading to India

Looks like Optus are ramping up their Indian call centre operations.

From the Hindu News:

The inkling of Optus India move has reportedly come from briefing by the management of the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) listed company to thousands of its call centre staff about increasing the numbers in India from 500 to 800 on immediate basis.

"On Thursday we reported to staff on the progress of our programme to grow offshore call-centre operations capability to supplement our domestic call centres," Optus spokeswoman Melissa Favero told reporters.

Lufthansa individual contacts

From ABC News on Wednesday:

ACTU welcomes investigation of call centre contracts
Victoria's Workplace Rights Advocate is investigating plans by an airline call centre operator to offer individual contracts.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) says about 80 staff at the Melbourne centre, operated by a subsidiary of German airline Lufthansa, will see their take-home pay cut by $80 per week under the contracts.

The ACTU says the contracts cut evening and weekend penalty rates and penalise staff for taking sick or care leave.

ACTU secretary Greg Combet has welcomed the investigation.

"I hope that they just thoroughly go through all of this, lay out for all to see the true discrimination and unfairness of this type of conduct," he said.

"This is the mandated conduct that John Howard has brought in under the new industrial relations laws."

The telephone sales company was unavailable for comment.

Individual contracts are becoming more and more common in call centres. We may well end up going down the path that some call centres have already headed down (hint, hint), where staff are contractors rather than employees, complete with their own ABNs, with none of the rules that regulate traditional workplace arrangements, like break times and superannuation.

We're not in Kansas any more, Toto.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Oh, Matron

In the People's Republic of Victoria the Government has launched a new call centre where the stakes are higher than at most other centre. From Chairman Bracks:


Victorian families wanting immediate health advice now have it at their fingertips, with the launch today of Victoria’s Nurse-On-Call 24-hour hotline.

Launching the service at its new Richmond call centre, Premier Steve Bracks said callers would be able to speak to an experienced nurse, discuss their illness or condition, receive advice and be directed to the care or treatment they need.

“Whether you’re a mum whose kids have come down with the flu in the middle of the night, or an elderly Victorian who wants advice about how to manage their long-term back pain, you’ll be able to get straight through to a registered nurse, without having to endure an annoying automated menu system,” Mr Bracks said.

When the idea was first canvassed, it was controversial. The theory went (with some validity) that the call centre was merely an excuse to erode funding to more conventional face-to-face medical services. The assumption implicit in this thinking is that call centres are a second best option, an assumption that is far from clear. The convenience of phone contact, plus the ability to service remote areas effectively and the chance for a second and third opinion mean that a nursing service call centre is an idea with plenty of potential.

According this this FAQ the staff on board are all registered nurses rather than coming from a call centre background - thankfully, given the woeful medical knowledge of most call centre employees. (However, they seem to know plenty about popping pills. Go figure.) It's heartening though, that work in a call centre is perceived as worthwhile and professionally fulfilling when a generation ago it's likely to have been sneered at. Given that 500,000 calls a year are estimated to be recieved by the centre (1 for every 8 Victorians), it's clearly a significant part of the government's health strategy. With a highly competitive Grade of Service of 80-20 (80% of calls answered in 20 seconds) required by the contract, it seems that the government are keen to make sure it avoids being perceived as a second-class service.

It's worth noting that the contract to manage the call centre hasn't gone to one of the big call centre outsourcers: instead it has gone to McKesson Asia-Pacific, a niche operator who specialise in medical call centres. According to their website, here's their sales pitch:

McKesson Asia-Pacific is the leading provider of high-quality telephone-based healthcare throughout Australia and New Zealand.

We employ health professionals, including nurses, social workers and psychologists, to provide health advice programs for:

State and national governments
Area Health Services and District Health Boards
Health insurers
Other private healthcare providers

Carry on.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Now that's a bonus!

From The Age today:

NEXT time you walk into the office tea room, don't be surprised to see a wanted poster offering a lucrative reward. It won't be for the colleague who stole your chocolate biscuits.

As the nation enjoys near record low unemployment, the skilled worker has become Australia's most wanted. Last week, Fitzroy web design company Reactive Media sent out an email that transformed its 25 staff from salaried cyber geeks into corporate bounty hunters.

"We've decided to start a recruitment bonus scheme here at Reactive and it could mean a cool $500 in your pocket," the message said. "Here's how it works: You refer a potential employee to Reactive. They get the job. They stay in it for at least three months. We give you a $500 bonus."

Refer-a-friend campaigns are nothing new to the call centre industry, but now it seems the stakes are getting a little higher. In my call centre, there's a long standing promise of a pair of movie tickets (total value = $30) to whoever refers a friend who ends up lasting more than a month in the job. According to The Age article, hundreds, and potentially even thousands of dollars are now on the table.

Encouraging your existing staff to recommend people to fill vacancies is a fine idea, particularly during a prolonged labour shortage like the one we're experiencing at the moment. It seems doubly useful in the call centre biz, given that the industry traditionally has a high level of turnover, with many staff coming and going within a few months.

There are considerable benefits to both employers and employees in the model. For employers, it reduces the risk associated with each new recruit: new employees who come with a recommendation from existing employees would surely be more likely to stick around than unknown candidates with only a resume and a friendly smile to back them up. It's hard not to have just a smidgeon of sympathy for employers who go to the invest in the training of staff only to see them walk out the door soon after.

And for employees, the cash is not the only benefit. You can imagine that staff are more likely to stick around if they are working amongst friends, and this style of recruiting will do just that.

So with both parties as the winners, who are the losers? Only the professional recruiting companies, who traditionally charge a significant commission for their services, and are now seeing the job done by amateurs.

Viva la labour shortage!

Friday, June 16, 2006

It really does hurt to smile

Researchers in Germany might be busy trying to score tickets to Togo versus Ecuador at the moment, but a few months back they were on the money with some interesting research into stress in the service industry:

The study tested students working in an imaginary call centre who were subject to abuse from clients.

Some of the participants were allowed to answer back, while others had to be polite and friendly all the time.

Those who stood up to clients had a rapid heartbeat for a brief period, but for those who had to remain friendly their heart was still racing long after the client had hung up.

The conclusion reached by the psychologists was that "being friendly against one's will causes nothing but stress".

So Stan Zemanek's not an arse-hole, he's just looking after his health.

Thanks for holding

Hope the wait wasn't too long and you liked the on-hold music. I'm sure you'll agree Greensleeves does sound good when it's played on a synthesiser with just three notes.

Mad_Bunyip has been overwhelmed with other things these past few months, but now that Mum's posted bail I'll be back on deck. A post every few days is my aim, give or take the occasional distraction.

Flick an email my way at or stick your big nose into it by leaving a comment.


Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Government moves (slowly) on Do Not Call

One solution to flood of telemarketing calls to those people who don't want em is the establishment of a Do Not Call database. The idea is simple: an online database of phone numbers of people who have requested to not be called. The devil is in the detail, and that's what has kept it in the too-hard-basket for so long. Over the weekend, though, the government made a move on the issue:

30 October 2005

A solution for nuisance calls: Options for an Australian Do Not Call register
A discussion paper canvassing options for a national, legislated Do Not Call register was released today by the Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, Senator Helen Coonan.

“Australian consumers are increasingly frustrated by interruptions from telemarketers, particularly unsolicited calls that come from call centres overseas,” the Minister said.

“But in formulating a way to cut down on unsolicited calls there are a number of important issues to consider including how bodies such as charities and legitimate market researchers can continue to operate.

“The discussion paper I am releasing today is a vital step in formulating how a national, legislated Do Not Call register would work in Australia.”

Check out the discussion paper, which can be downloaded here.