Wednesday 20 January 2010
The hole with the mint
15st 5lb, 3.0 units. Which genius decided that it would be a good idea to centralize all customer contact in distant call centres? I’d really like to know his or her name (but it has to be a “him”, doesn’t it, to be honest?) Then I’d like to organize an appeal to commemorate this outstanding human being with a really large statue – something along the lines of those favoured by Saddam Hussein or that world class nutcase who used to run Turkmenistan. Then I’d like to arrange a flash mob to pelt it with rotten vegetables and manure, before pulling it down and smashing it into pieces small enough to fit through, say, a wedding ring. Yes, I think that should just about relieve my feelings. Now, I happen to agree that there is nothing more annoying than being the customer physically present at a shop counter or hotel reception desk, who finds that their conversation with the person allegedly serving them is interrupted by the ringing of a telephone. Just why, I always ask when I can finally regain the attention of the individual I was dealing with, do you assume that the person on the other end of the phone is more important than me? Theirs is simply a crass failure of manners, but I can just about understand why the genius might have thought it was a good idea to deprive employees of the opportunity for this sort of rudeness by routing calls elsewhere. Once I used to be able to ring my local station before leaving home, to ask Athol the stationmaster if he expected the London train to be on time. Now I can only get through to a call centre in India, where they struggle with “London” never mind the name of my starting point. True, there are information resources on the Internet that compensate for this to some degree, but until I got a BlackBerry I was in the dark once I had left home, and with my local station being unmanned in the evenings that left Bangalore (or was it Delhi?) as my only option. The lowest point was being huddled in the waiting room with half a dozen other people one winter’s night, waiting for the delayed 18.00 to London. After an hour or so one of them stood up and handed each of us a little leaflet, suggesting that this might be a good opportunity for us all to say a little prayer together, and let the love of the good Lord flood into our lives. I made an excuse and left. Then there was being able to ring your local bank and ask a question about your account. That was quite handy, too, wasn’t it? I sacked one bank after a pompous bloke in India told me that they had “decreed” that I must go through the rigmarole of registering for “telephone banking” if I wanted to be sent a reminder of my forgotten PIN. I maintain another account with one of those posh banks I cannot really afford, simply so that I can speak to a human being in London about my direct debits whenever the fancy takes me. In short, I hate call centres with a passion so strong that I will do almost anything to avoid them. And, to look on the bright side, they are clearly on the way out because most internet retailers now only seem to allow their customers to contact them by e-mail, just as most big shops seem to want us to scan and pack our purchases ourselves so that they don’t have to pay spotty adolescents to man their checkouts. But last week I found myself drawn by an unfortunate compulsion to telephone the Royal Mint, in an attempt to find out why they had sent me a set of coins I hadn’t ordered. It’s not what it was, the Royal Mint. Their coin designs are depressingly feeble, for the most part, and I keep receiving irritatingly sloppy letters from a bloke called Dave, who is aged about eight to judge by his signature, and who bathetically describes himself as “Director of Commemorative Coin”. Yes. In the singular. Their call centre is a classic, with an endlessly repeated message telling you how important your call is, but they are exceptionally busy right now. After a bit, another voice comes on to suggest that perhaps you might like to leave your name and number after the tone, because they are exceptionally busy right now but your call is very important to them and they’d like nothing more than to ring you back when the pressure eases off a bit. You don’t believe that for a minute of course, but it wouldn’t make any difference if you did because – and here’s the real beauty of it – there IS no sodding tone or opportunity to leave messages. You just get looped straight back to the endlessly repeating message you started with. I gave up several times, but kept being drawn back, against my better judgement. Eventually, I got through to a Welsh woman with a stinking cold. One might at least assume that she was in Wales rather than on the other side of the planet. In Pontyclun, even, home of the Royal Mint since they expanded its capacity to cope with decimalization in the 1960s (it was wittily nicknamed “The Hole with the Mint”). Though I suppose one should not put it past them to have farmed out the call centre operation to some remote corner of Welsh-speaking Patagonia. First Blodwyn (as it might have been) asked me a lot of questions to which she should already have known the answers, given that I had checked my account details online during the endless wait for the phone to be answered, and if they appeared on my computer screen then they must surely also have been on hers. “What’s your daytime phone number?” she asked. “You’ve got it,” I replied. “Yes, but could you just give it to me again?” I gave her my mobile number, since I wasn’t at home at the time, and later found that she had typed this in to replace my (correct) home number, which was where I wanted them to ring me if they ever absolutely had to. Obviously hoping against hope that that day will never, ever come. Then she asked “What’s your date of birth?” and I replied, as I always do “What’s that got to do with anything?” This was clearly not a permitted answer, as she just kept repeating the question, like a demented parrot. After the second or third repetition the line went dead and I thought she had put the phone down, but it turned out that she had just turned it off for a moment or two to swear, cough or seek advice from a colleague. “What’s your date of birth?” she asked for the fourth or fifth time, and I explained yet again that I failed to see the relevance of the question. “It’s just for our promotions,” she mumbled reluctantly. “Well, I don’t want to be promoted to, thanks,” I said. “Now could you possibly deal with my query?” She certainly got her own back for that. She could offer no explanation of why I had received the coins I had not ordered. She categorically assured me that there were no standing orders in place which would result in any further unordered coins turning up. She could not take my order for something I actually wanted to buy because I could not supply her with the “order code”, merely a precise and accurate description of the item I hoped to purchase. She could take payment for the item I had not ordered, which I decided to keep rather than sending back, though God knows what she actually charged to my credit card. And, on Monday, another set of coins that I hadn’t ordered turned up. I joined the queue for the call centre for half an hour or so to query this, then I dropped them an e-mail. I’m still waiting for a reply. And I’m definitely not holding my breath.