A sad robot with a human call centre worker showing empathy

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In a world of AI, it is time to value human interaction as a skill.

The other day my car broke down.

So naturally, my first instinct was to call for Roadside Assistance.

After wading my way through an unnecessarily long IVR menu system of press 1 for this, 2 for that (after all, I’m calling Roadside Assistance; chances are the reason is that I require Roadside Assistance…), I eventually get through to a real live human being.

My experience from this point was a ‘make or break my day’ moment.

As a former call centre operator, trainer and manager who has helped her fair share of rude, arrogant people, I would be easily the most forgiving person to anyone in a call centre interaction.

Because I know first-hand what their day was probably like.

Yet…

What I was confronted with is a systemic wide issue that I have stayed silent about for way too long.

Until now.

When all you need is some understanding and empathy

Let me give you a bit of context.

At that point in my day, I was tired, cranky and I wanted to get home.

The only lifeline I had to enable my miserable day to end was an incompetent, rude, individual on the other end of the phone.

They had all the understanding and empathy of a potato and were supposed to help ME!

Maybe it is time we pop the hood on the potatoes day?

Nobody is calling you because they are thrilled about their car breaking down.

Anyone who is calling roadside assistance is almost certainly navigating some big emotions related to the fact that they are stranded, they are running late, they are stuck somewhere they don’t want to be!

Their only lifeline is you on the other end of the phone.

Does that mean you deserve respect?

HELL NO.

Does anyone care about YOUR bad day?

Nope!

Why would they?

You apparently get paid to be sitting where you are.

A broken down car with an angry customer calling roadside assistance
If you find yourself in this situation it can be a highly emotional and stressful - perhaps not the ideal time to talk to a robot?

The last person yelled at you, but this woman stuck in her broken car doesn’t know that.

In fact, you get yelled at for even suggesting that anyone will need to wait more than 5 minutes for a mechanically minded rescue van person to arrive.

No doubt the person doing the actual rescue is bubbling with praise, or at least has a shot at helping someone.

A shot at making someone’s day.

The invisible worker

You will be forgotten as a nuisance.

A necessary evil.

At the moment, every day, you hear a story about how AI is going to take over your role.

No one even values you enough to think that you might read that article saying that any software can replace you and not be hurt, afraid or intimated by that.

You are unseen.

You go about your day organising assistance for people who treat you like dirt.

To the point where you have realised that if you call someone “mam” through the bitter teeth of being underpaid, you can convince your supervisor that “mam” was polite.

“I will arrange that for you now …MAM”, secretly you delight in the fact that you know you are pissing this woman off.

Why shouldn’t you delight in it?

You get paid next to nothing and NO ONE ever tells you how you are worthy of thanks.

The only compliment you ever get is from someone who, in their own disgust at your existence, grimaces out a sarcastic “thank you …you compassionate potatoes.”

Respect for the call centre employee is well overdue

They don’t know you, they won’t remember your name, and when you go home tonight after a day of abuse, you know that woman with her angry frustrated tone is bitching about you to ANYONE that will listen.

Let me put this another way.

Think about your job.

– Can you have lunch whenever you want? Call Centre Employee cannot. They have to have lunch at a time that
was calculated to be the most time efficient.

– Can you have a conversation that isn’t “recorded for coaching and quality reasons”? A call centre person knows
they are constantly being listened to and their performance scrutinized.

– Can you have a team lunch where you get to hang out with the people you work with? A call centre employee
can never have lunch with a friend from their call centre, as they all cover for each other when they are at lunch.

– Do you need to explain really hard to grasp concepts in 550 seconds? Do you know how hard it is to explain an
invoice in 550 seconds? 100 of those seconds are filled with the person complaining that it took 35 minutes to get
through to you, leaving 450 seconds, and 120 of those seconds is dedicated to documenting the explanation.

– Do you know everything about your organisation you work for? That includes “that nice man I spoke to 5 years
ago with an accent” name and details? A call centre employee gets asked every weird and whacky question under
the sun. They know the answers, it is their job to know the answers and then explain it in, what are we left with?
330 seconds.

– Does your manager time every break that you have, and you cannot go overtime? Every break. On the dot.

Maybe there is a better way?

Why it’s time to value human interaction as a skill

Dare I suggest that making a human connection, that being that voice of patience and understanding on the other end of the phone is a skill we should value?

A skill that deserves to be respected.

It is a skill that few would have in a thankless job.

It takes empathy, knowledge, wisdom, and kindness, to embrace this role.

Ask yourself if you would survive in an environment where you cannot move from your desk, unless it is at a predetermined rostered break, that isn’t actually when you need food, but at some random time of the day that a computer calculates the queue wouldn’t be busy.

You aren’t allowed to stop and talk to a family member who called you!

Your frustration is rarely the fault of the person you are speaking to

The marketing team have just put out a TV advertisement.

You need to know everything about that advertisement because you will get calls about it.

People won’t like that the ad wasn’t diverse enough, or they didn’t like the music, and they will tell you all about that (a lot!).

The thing is, it isn’t the music you would pick, it isn’t the advertisement you would put on tv.

Business decisions are made well up the food chain, and though you may not agree with those decisions, every day you happily tell people that the reason their bill has gone up, or their internet is down, is all justifiable.

You have to have that sizzle factor.

Happy mature call centre worker smiling
With the Australian call centre industry over 40 years old, it's been a lifelong career for many!

Why professional contact centre agents deserve our respect

Regardless of their own personal feelings, stresses or pressure they’re under, they’ll put that to one side to comfort people who are crying because they can’t pay their bill.

To help calm down an angry customer who’s angry through no fault of their own.

To help resolve an issue that was not caused by their making.

They’ll go out of their way to make you feel better using empathy and understanding. 

And do it call after call. 

Why do they do it?

Who do they do it for?

YOU

They do it for YOU!

It is time we value these amazing people.

These amazing contact centre employees.

They provide a service that no one, except people who have walked in that role, will ever understand.

It is a hard and thankless job.

And they do it every day.

For YOU.

Upcoming ACXPA CX Roundtable - Next Guest Announcement
Upcoming ACXPA Contact Centre Roundtable July 2024 - John Stavrakis

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Nadine Power, ACXPA National Advisory Board Member

IVR Best Practice

Over 90% of contact centres are using an IVR (Press 1 for this, press 2 for that), and we've encountered many contact centres with over four layers of options for customers to select from. In this session, Nadine will be sharing some best practice tips on IVR design for 2024.

Presented by Nadine Power, Client Success Manager, VERSA Connects (and ACXPA National Advisory Board Member)

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