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Business News/ Opinion / Online-views/  Four kinds of call centre agents

Four kinds of call centre agents

Four kinds of call centre agents

Shyamal Banerjee/MintPremium

Shyamal Banerjee/Mint

On 31 December 1999, I could have been in Europe with my husband, participating in the excitement of the new millennium unfolding. We were newly wed and it would have been fun and memorable. Instead I spent that special new year’s eve in the basement of the bank I used to work for then, watching out for the mythical Y2K bug. I used to manage the bank’s call centre and was in the line of duty, anxious that computers would wipe out customer accounts. What was I thinking choosing the call centre over Paris, asks my husband, for whom this incident remains a sore point. Sigh. Call centres. For much of my working life I have been associated with them in some way, not always by choice. So, let’s just say I know a thing or two about today’s topic, which is about the kind of agents you find in call centres and what’s the implication for you as a customer. Here we go:

Shyamal Banerjee/Mint

Me: I just renewed my subscription online. Apparently, I have to activate it through the call centre. That’s why I am calling.

Agent: I am sorry for the inconvenience. Can I put your call on hold to check?

(Later) I am sorry for putting your call on hold.

Me: How do I get Fox Crime channel?

Agent: I apologise for your not getting Fox Crime channel Madam. You have to…

Perhaps it’s a quality parameter. Three apologies a minute, whether it is required or not.

Implication: Such an agent has poor listening skills. So make sure that you plough through the maze of apologies and manage to get your issue across. An excessive display of contrition can also mask inaction and helplessness. Unlike the above example, if yours is a serious complaint, you will be left stamping your feet on the ground like a mad Rumplestilskin in the fairy tale.

The Street Fighter: If you were not far away, on the other side of a phone line, this agent would be pulling you by the collar and punching you in the face. For he’s a belligerent bull, this one. He imagines personal insults when a frustrated customer is merely vexed with an issue and the organisation, not with him. He doesn’t give allowance for the fact that an angry customer is bound to yell and demand action or insist on speaking to a senior. Instead of diffusing the angst, he stokes the flames and the conversation goes nowhere constructive.

Implication: When you hear the agent reprimand you for speaking loudly and take away the focus from the issue that’s bothering you to your manner of speech, you know you’ve got this kind. You can keep screaming that you want to complain about him, but no agent will gleefully hand over the phone to his superior to help you ruin his career. Someone’s got to back off, so although it is ego bruising, you would do well to recognise your opponent and calm down so you can state your case. Else, hang up, bravely retry and hope you get a sane soul next time.

The Over Cautious: Mother’s maiden name. Mailing address. Date of birth. We know the drill. This agent is the one who will cover more ground. He will ask for five transactions when three have always been okay. If you falter in one, he will pause dramatically till you answer correctly. You have to rack your head and come up with that exact amount you withdrew in your fifth transaction two months ago. You may rattle off your mailing address but if the PIN code of your office address has always been your Achilles heel, he’ll get you there. In another life he was in the KGB. Suddenly, you realise you’re endlessly answering questions and you haven’t even begun explaining the real reason why you called. You wake up just before he asks you when you were last kissed or what was the surname of your first crush, and you say “But I have already answered so many questions. I don’t think there are so many verifications to be done." There’s a moment’s silence and then he mumbles unconvincingly “We have to ask Madam, else we cannot proceed."

Implication: You can only weep and surrender. Perhaps we must take consolation in the fact that someone cares so much about the privacy and security of our accounts, that they are willing to stretch themselves, and stretch you as well, to safeguard it.

The Nay Sayer: In socialist India, this lady would have been behind a desk, deep inside the bowels of a government office like passport or ration card issuance, making life really difficult for the customer by asking him to return each time with a new document or quoting new rules which didn’t exist in the last conversation. But now we have call centres, so she’s come into her own here. This is one person who doesn’t need to learn stuff like “the art of saying no." In fact she could write the rule book on it. Can I pay by cheque? No. Can I speak to whoever has the authority? He’s not available. Can I do it online?

No, you have to go to the branch. Can I send a letter? No, you have to go personally. Can I request for a refund? No, you’re not eligible.

Implication: To be fair, this agent is often trapped because of the rigid policies of the organization. But one can’t help detect a certain relish in her refusals. That’s why she so resembles her government cousin of yore. She’ll make no attempt at finding a solution but revels in the fact that you are in a sticky situation and she’ll be damned if she’s going to help.

The kind of agent you end up with when you contact a call centre is a draw of lots. Just like you’ve to make the best of the hand you’re dealt with in life, you have to try and achieve your objective on that call, despite the agent’s personality type. Or else you have to hang up, dial again, hope to get through, choose between a dozen IVR (interactive voice response) options, listen to piped muzak while on hold, repeatedly hear the company’s ads before finally connecting to another agent, who may be even stranger. Who said life is easy?

Vandana Vasudevan is a graduate from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and writes on mass urban consumer issues. Comments are welcome at

Also Read |Vandana Vasudevan’s earlier columns

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Published: 17 Feb 2012, 01:10 AM IST
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