Los­ing the plot off­line

The night­mare of deal­ing with a call cen­tre knows no end

The Witness - - FEATURES - TR­ISH BEAVER

“YOUR call is im­por­tant to us please stay on the line ... you are caller num­ber 534.”

I have been raised to be po­lite. It’s a faulty by­prod­uct of stiff English up­per­lip pro­gram­ming and a com­bi­na­tion of be­ing taught never to make a fool of your­self.

But even with nerves of re­in­forced steel one is likely to reach the end of one’s tether try­ing to get help from any cus­tomer care lines. My most re­cent foray into the abyss hap­pened re­cently.

Our mo­dem went on the blink be­cause of elec­tric out­ages — that is an­other whole story. I see the red light blink and I get a sink­ing feel­ing.

Cus­tomer care op­er­a­tor num­ber one re­quires the name, iden­tity num­ber of the ac­count holder. That’s all fine — ex­cept he lives in Dur­ban. I ask the ac­count holder to pur­sue the is­sue hop­ing to fob it off on him. He tersely replies he is busy at work and I must just deal with it. We have a war of words on What­sApp and he says he does not have time for this **** !

I once again call the com­pany now fur­nished with the ac­count holder’s name, iden­tity, blood type and favourite colour. Op­er­a­tor num­ber two has the en­thu­si­asm of a zom­bie, her script has been re­played count­less times and she mum­bles in a mono­tone.

I ex­plain that the mo­dem is ka­put and I now am in pos­ses­sion of the ac­count holder’s num­ber, ID num­ber and DNA. I feel a slight edge creep­ing into my voice. A mix­ture of des­per­a­tion and ag­gres­sion.

We now play a game called “how can I drive you mad”. This in­volves us­ing my an­droid tablet to get onto their In­ter­net site. Us­ing my own data of course. I then have to hop be­tween the mo­dem which is in an­other room and my tablet which is charg­ing via a plug point. My blood pres­sure is sky­rock­et­ing.

I trip over the mo­dem ca­ble and slide across the floor bang­ing my knee on a chair. My el­derly fa­ther comes to see the com­mo­tion. He kindly of­fers me a cup of tea. “Tea!” I shriek. “I need a frikkin drink!”

The lady again is­sues a new pass­word and am told to re­set the mo­dem. I do this and in­put the new pass­word to no avail. She as­sures me she will re­set the mo­dem on her side and all will be well.

Ten min­utes later the mo­dem’s red light is blink­ing at me like Satan’s evil eye. I breathe deeply and phone the cus­tomer care line again. “We have an un­usu­ally high vol­ume of calls. Please be pa­tient ... blah blah ... ” I wait 32 min­utes to be con­nected with a per­son.

Lady num­ber three is slightly more en­thu­si­as­tic and we once again go through the rig­ma­role of re­set­ting the mo­dem and the pass­word. I have spent a to­tal of three hours on the phone to this or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Even­tu­ally she agrees to send a tech­ni­cian. At times in this process I have won­dered if they are agents of the devil or if I should just take this as a sign that I should go on a so­cial­me­dia break, per­ma­nently.

While wait­ing for ser­vice you get inane mu­sic, ad­verts and lots of no­tices en­cour­ag­ing us cus­tomers to chat to other cus­tomers to find so­lu­tions for the prob­lem. I am a lit­tle put out by this ad­vice. Why would I ask other irate cus­tomers how to solve a prob­lem?

There is some kind of per­verse logic here. The banks use it — you get the priv­i­lege of cough­ing up a for­tune in ser­vice fees so you can do all your own bank­ing.

I di­gress. The tech­ni­cian ar­rives, hot and ir­ri­tated. Eureka! He di­ag­noses that the mo­dem is bro­ken. How per­cep­tive. He doesn’t keep re­place­ment modems in his large van. I am told to go and buy a new one and then to ring cus­tomer care to re­set the pass­word.

Fed up, I de­cide to change ser­vice providers. I phone an­other highly rec­om­mended com­pany. Their mes­sage says: “We are sorry there will be a de­lay due to the high vol­ume of cus­tomer queries .... ”

Her voice is smug and pa­tro­n­is­ing. She knows there is a queue of dis­sat­is­fied cus­tomers flee­ing from the other provider.

But ap­par­ently I am caller num­ber two. I feel ex­cited. Then a buzz and an an­nounce­ment. I have been de­moted to num­ber 14. You re­ally can­not scream at an an­swer­ing ser­vice. I have tried.

That phrase: “This call is be­ing recorded for qual­ity pur­poses”, is per­haps a slightly veiled threat that one should be­ have. But I think they tape these con­ver­sa­tions and play them back at staff meet­ings rolling on the floor as irate cus­tomers lose the plot.

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