Thursday, September 18, 2014

Helpless Lines

We live in a very helpful world these days. For almost everything, there is always a helpline. So, if you run into a problem, you can always dial a helpline. Once you do that, the problem that you have with the helpline is guaranteed to make you forget the problem you thought you would solve by dialing it. Or, maybe, I exaggerate.

Truth be told, I have found helplines handy on a few occasions - notably when I was complaining about problems in my consumer durables. The problem for me, though, starts when I need solutions to issues pertaining to those sectors that arose as a consequence of the microchip.

There is a saying in Hindi 'Diya tale andera" viz "Darkness lies below the lamp". That saying is meant in irony - that the very thing that dispels darkness elsewhere hosts darkness under it. Seems to me, though, that people have taken it as an instruction - that there HAS to be darkness beneath the lamp. What else can explain the fact that the worst experiences on help lines arise when you deal with the very people who made help lines possible?

So there I was, approaching a Helpline for help. ("Tch! Tch! Naivete in one so old is SO unendearing", you say? This time, I HAVE to agree, alas!)

Voice: "Good Morning, Sir! I am ... from ...! How may I help you?"

(These people get trained to insult you, just with the tone of voice, while calling you 'Sir' all the way, as I soon would learn.)

Me: (Not realizing that the "How may I help you?" is as meaningless a phrase as the "Good morning") A couple of days back, you offered a 4G dongle in replacement for a 3G Dongle and said that you would activate it in 4 hours. Your executive said it would be activated within 4 hours of his logging in my papers. I have been using the 3G SIM card with the 4G dongle and it is not connecting properly. When can I expect to get the 4G SIM activated - now that it is 48 hours since I gave my papers?

(The 3G version used to connect me with all the speed of an arthritic tortoise ambling around to no purpose. With the 4G dongle, it moved with the speed of a frozen arthritic tortoise, so I was understandably peeved.)

Voice: Sir! Your connection status shows active on our Server.

Me: That's dandy for you. The problem is that I cannot connect.

Voice: I'll have to put you on hold. Is that Ok?

Me: (with visions of a sagacious superior being called to wave a magic wand to solve the issue) Fine.

(Music and, then, an astounding example of optimism. This company thinks that the time I am waiting, pissed with a product and biting my nails at the delay, is the time I would be most receptive to a sales spiel about other products!)

Voice: Sir! Your connection status shows active on our Server.

(A vague sense of having heard this before arises in my mind)

Me: That's fine but I am unable to connect. AND when are you likely to activate the 4G connection?

Voice: Do you have the executive's name and phone number, Sir?

Me: (quite flabbergasted by the thought that the personal bio-data of the executive was needed to activate a SIM card) No! If I would need all that to get answers to complaints, why did you not tell me to get those details when you rang me up to sell your 4G card?

(I must admit I was quite spoiled by the consumer durables guys. All I had to do was give them the product code of the errant merchandise and they were even able to tell me how many times and for what problems I had called them before. Here, this lady either had no access to information about whether at all someone had been sent to give me a 4G card and, if so, what was the status of activation of the new card OR was merely trained to be as unhelpful as possible.)

Voice: I need to put you on hold, Sir!

(By now, I knew that this was either a tea-break OR she was just stalling me in the hope that I would just go away. Well, I still wasn't prepared to go away)

Voice: Sir! You need to go to the nearest xxx Care Center.

Me: What? To get to know whether a SIM card is activated or not? A SIM card that YOU practically forced on me?

Voice: (distinctly sounding like an irritated school-teacher talking to her dumbest student) Sir! You need to go to the nearest xxx Care Center)

Me: (Spluttering)

Voice: (with the tone of 'God! If you had to produce specimens like this, why saddle me with answering them?') Sir! You need to go to the nearest xxx Care Center.

Yeah! Right! So, Helplines are meant to make you feel totally helpless. AND, they exist merely to tell you to do exactly what you would have done if they had not existed in the first place.

There the issue still remains. What amazes me is the fact that the companies MUST have trained these people. Most people are not geared to repeating the same thing over and over again like robots. The least that they do is tell you WHY the matter cannot be sorted over phone and WHY you need to visit in person. This robotic regurgitation of the same sentence can come ONLY from training. What beats me is why the money they spend on training is being spent to convert human beings into mere record-and-repeat devices, when a recorded voice could do as well? Why not in making them genuinely helpful?

OR do the companies think that this is all that the people they have employed are good for?

24 comments:

  1. A generation of young men and women who just scraped through college and some just class XII are making a living through these support centres. I hope the dongle issue is resolved.

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    1. Nope it is not! I have nothing against their making a living. My grouse is that the companies do not think it necessary to database information and train these people to provide support over phone instead of having them direct people to travel to care centers to get answers to even simple queries. AND, if the problem requires a visit, then teach them the courtesy to tell the customer the reason why, instead of the mindless rudeness that they now provide him with.

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    2. Very true - at the end of the day instead of creating humanoid robots who have template-prepared answers for all queries. We need skilled customer support executives who offer the human touch and resolve issues to help the customer.

      The biggest joke after arguing with the support team is an SMS asking for feedback and rating the executive's telephone guidance.

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    3. After the way I reacted to the girl blandly ignoring all my queries and robotically repeating the same "Go to the Call Center" thing, I suppose they decided not to send me that SMS :P

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  2. They should just go ahead and rechristen these lines as 'helpless lines' given the amount of helplessness and ignorance displayed by the people manning and womanning them :)

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    1. Yes,helpless lines is the answer.The only good these lines do is,they bring down the figures of unemployment.

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    2. Hmm - cannot help wishing that they also made the people who are employed DO something more worthwhile. They would contribute more to Society if they dug ditches instead of merely parroting a memorized set of lines :)

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  3. We can't blame the customer care guys too. They have limited authority, which entails them to only speak politely. Most company do not seem to care about customers. Despite having so many choices, the service is uniformly poor at most places (especially in telecom sector). I have had bad experiences with mobile phone service centres, and I have come to accept the fact that we can do nothing about it.

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    1. If you see, I have blamed the companies and not the so-called customer care guys.

      And whichever idiot taught them that it is polite to totally ignore what the customer is saying, and keep repeating the same thing over and over again, needs his head examined - just saying "Sorry", "Please" and "Sir" doesn't constitute politeness.

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  4. Suresh, as per the guidelines issued by TRAI, the call center person should come to line within one minute of the call. But we are forced to hear the music or advertisements for many minutes. All the call centers are manned by outsourced and untrained personnel who are not aware of the issues. They just escalate it to others or ask you to hold on for several minutes. So far we blamed the government as bureaucratic and now we face the great private bureaucracy. It is the problem of the 'BIG'. I wrote on private bureaucrats earlier in my blog. I also hate the mechanical 'sorry', 'thankyou' and 'Is there anything else I can do?' etc by these people, when they can actually do nothing for you!

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    1. Quite Sibi! And, as I mentioned in one FB status of mine, the PSU helpline people have probably NOT been trained in this idiot's version of politeness and, hence, can prove to be far more helpful many times.

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  5. First it was the 'arthritic tortoise' and then came along 'frozen arthritic tortoise'...guilty of laughing at the cost of your inconvenience. It's the quintessential illustration of the beginning of dismal after sales service. It's the companies policy now to pocket the customer and then make him go around in circles. Hope your issue is addressed...

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    1. It has been - sort of :) As for what remains, I just do not have the energy to enter this fray all over again :)

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  6. I have faced all this for my Dongle, Sureshji!
    After N # of such calls, they still have charged me for the period I haven't used as my connection showed 'active' while I had no signal :)
    Phew!

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    1. I am sure that will happen too when the bill comes for this period :)

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  7. Wonderful post and so close to my heart given my recent experience with my phone company.

    Incidentally, I spent all of this and last week trying to get to the Verizon (my service provider) to get clarification on an invoice they sent me.

    At least you got to a human robot, I on the other hand could not get to a real (well after reading your blog post I know real humans are no good either) human when I called they "helpline" from my phone since I always got an automated message saying I was up-to-date with my payments and what my next billing balance was etc. I am on a pre-paid plan.

    So I contacted the Live Chat where you actually reach humans (or so I think), not any better than the ones in your experience, and they said said call a certain number and dial 0000 to get to a human. I profusely thanked them and dialed 0000 and got a recorded message that they could not understand what I really wanted and thanked me for calling and hung up :) Now, granted I have a thick accent but to be slighted this by a computer for dialing zeros was to say the least confusing… the insult sank in a bit later.

    As it happens, my number was part of a corporate account which I took ownership of. But since my account is now a pre-paid account, their automated system knows nothing about my past history or the invoice I received.

    I received couple of invoices with pending payment and all of them say "Previous Balance" for why they want X dollars from me :) The invoice has nothing about about why they want me to pay up the $X :)

    So now, in this day and age of technology, I have to go find a Verizon store to get clarification for the invoice and pay up since there is no way for me to pay that invoice from the phone or online!

    Now, talk about stupidity! :) I mentioned this to the last person I chatted about how computers were being "too" helpful and she pointed out to me, in that condescending attitude you pointed out, that computers were here to help us! Now this is the sort of "help" I can do without :) This is enough to make even an athiest wish there was a God who could save us! :)

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  8. This is so funny. Suresh. I just love it when I ask to speak to a supervisor and know without a doubt that my customer service person is waiting for his buddy to get off his/her current call so they can pretend they are the supervisor. And it is so clear when that robotic reading takes place.

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    1. Thanks Mary! About the only thing that keeps you from being stressed with these 'helplines' is to be able to laugh at them :)

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  9. LOL Suresh ! This reminded me of my misadventures with customer service executives and the most infuriating of all were the telephone customer service :)

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    1. I knew I was not alone in suffering this nonsense :)

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  10. These customer service BPO guys are just impossible. But there is a reason why they are like that as well. BPO SLAs are designed like that. Having done lot of projects with them I know how they work.

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    1. I know - and that's my grouse with the companies

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