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Call Girl: What I Learned During My Year as a Customer Service Representative (bygonebureau.com)
75 points by kevinalexbrown 1604 days ago | hide | past | web | 39 comments | favorite

>If you think you’re talking to an expert when you call a customer service center, you’re probably not.

This strongly affects my opinion of a company as a consumer. Some companies have great support.

For instance, I've published a book with Createspace. They are phenomenal. They call me when I put in a support request, and within ten seconds I have an expert rep.

Usually the call takes only 20-40 seconds, including authenticating my ID, because the reps are very knowledgeable and efficient.

Contrast this to most support calls where I waste about 20 minutes of my time waiting (I do other things), and often 10-15 additional time speaking to a rep who doesn't know things, and eventually transfers me to someone who does.

The company pays those reps by the hour, so they lose money, AND make me hate the company.

This doesn't mean it always makes sense to provide knowledgeable support, but I suspect there is a stronger case for it than many companies suspect.

I think it comes down to scale and cost.

I've spent a bit too many hours in a call center, both as an employee, and a few years later developing the software that ran one.

In both instances, there were people there who really knew what they were talking about, and a lot more who read from a script. I was a script-reader my first month or so, before moving up the chain, and I was shocked by how often the script worked. Something like 3/4 of my calls were resolved with a one-line fix in a knowledge base I could search.

As I moved up, so did my pay, and I cost the call center more per hour (nearly double). So it made sense for them to a.) not have very many people like me and b.) to make sure that my time was spent only on the problems that couldn't be solved by following the script.

In fact, hell hath no fury as the per lower-level call center person who forwarded through a call to me that could have obviously been resolved if they'd just followed the script! I'd berate them in notes for not reading the numerous knowledge base articles I'd carefully prepared, or for not bothering to check a few simple things clearly outlined in their training before even engaging the script, or searching the knowledge base. They'd just wasted everyone's time. The customer who sat on hold waiting for me, the manager who had to approve the escalation, mine because I'd spent thirty minutes assuming they'd done their job when they hadn't (and double-checking just made the customer furious if, in fact, they had.)

You might think that it makes some fiscal sense for companies to ONLY hire people like me, and eat the cost as a marketing thing, or accept that by offering great support, they'll get better customers. But you literally could not find enough support people like me to handle all the calls if you tried.

So you hire relatively dumb, but friendly and resilient people, because that's what you can find. They're cheap and readily available. If one of them shows promise, you promote them. You try to find experts that are desperate for the job, but they're few and far between and generally come with baggage.

You work with what you can get, and optimize around it.

I disagree with this premise. The cost of quality customer support can easily be mitigated by factoring it into cost of your product.

"Software is eating the world"... and it's allowing companies to scale customer support more easily through active knowledge bases and better more intuitive searching. The 3/4 of calls that could be resolved with a one-line fix should never make it to a phone call, they should be directed to an online support tool that could more efficiently answer their question and if not then funneled into a call or chat system.

It isn't happening quickly, but more and more companies are understanding that the relationships customers build with companies matter immensely and those relationships often begin with customer support reps.

Quality, friendly support scales and you don't have to create a shitty work environment for employees. Look at companies like Rackspace or on a smaller scale, 37 Signals for proof. It's not just about finding "friendly and resilient people" it's about finding people who are passionate about your company's mission.

disclaimer, currently building http://awesomatic.com and tackling this very issue

>The cost of quality customer support can easily be mitigated by factoring it into cost of your product.

Sure, but that only works for high end products. Apple might be able to get away with this (and, in fact, they do exactly this by virtue of offering free in-person support at their stores). But the high end is a miniscule part of any market. But Dell? Samsung? Do you really think you can sell ten million units and offer expert support for all of them?

The Rackspace and 37 Signals examples don't apply. In both cases, they can assume a certain level of competence on the part of their customer. My mom isn't going to set up Basecamp. My grandmother isn't going to be spinning 30 or 40 Linux VMs. Rackspace and 37 Signals offer excellent tier 2 support, with the assumption that you're competent enough to do your own tier 1 troubleshooting. That most emphatically does not apply to the vast majority of products.

While I love the idea, I am sorry but call centers are about driving the cost down no matter what, and generally, the call drivers for any institution are broken into fairly small manageable chunks to be resolved by a script :(

Most of the call center industry is just outsourced, especially in the usa, and all the vendors want to do is make sure they pass all their audits, and maximize their profits. That means they generally treat their people like farm animals, and they pay about as well.

Companies like rackspace or 37 signals have a very specific clientele they have to cater to, while most large companies pretend they want this, they do not have this market or this need. (not your website, the need of unique interesting people being tech support)

"Directing people to an online support tool" doesn't work super well for people who have problems using your online tool in the first place, or if the product isn't a web site in the first place. Customer bases are different across products too.

Also, neither Rackspace or 37signals have scaled well at all. I'm a customer of both, and it's been fascinating to watch the quality of their support decline the bigger they get.

As for "factoring it into the price of your product", that's super silly thinking. Not all products have elasticity in their price, nor are all products capable of supporting both a company AND quality support. This is why so many founders end up doing support themselves.

Quality, friendly support scales


or on a smaller scale, 37 Signals for proof

These statements don't match. Similarly, Rackspace is still a niche product - it's not providing services to the greater public.

Call centres are the modern-day factory job. They're where you go to work if you can't find a job elsewhere. No-one wants a career at one, so the staffing is either going to be high turnover or scraping the bottom of the barrel (or a mixture of both)

If you think you’re talking to an expert when you call a customer service center, you’re probably not.

I work at a company that is 2/3 customer support (in employee count) and prides itself in customer support compared to competitors.

Despite that, they all the get the same training on all the products. If you call in about a specific product, you just get the experience that a particular rep has with it (or has been trained on) or can find the KB. There is one team of specialized reps for a specific product, but that's it.

I was just talking to my team the other day about how much better I think it would be if all reps specialized in a specific product/area and then when calls came in they would be filtered and redirected to the right person.

The company pays those reps by the hour, so they lose money

In our case, the customer support is both support and sales, so the call center is actually a revenue generator as opposed to a cost center.

>This strongly affects my opinion of a company as a consumer. Some companies have great support.

In my experience, the entire _retail_ banking sector is devoid of 'experts'. They are all salesmen/saleswomen. (Yes, even those "Financial Advisors"!)

Apples and oranges. Createspace services a niche market and not the greater public. I've worked customer support in both kinds and it's chalk and cheese.

Pretty easy to identify the company she's talking about (CSN Stores, now Wayfair). They've significantly changed their strategy, and consolidated their various speciality stores into one shopping destination ... and made it into the top 50 internet retailers.

That said, I'd imagine most retailers have pretty comparable customer support experiences once you get to a certain scale. I'm not sure the 37 Signals experience really scales ... and from my, limited, experience, customer service work get really monotonous fast.

Even the most calm and cool among us will become on edge when they have to go through 10-15 levels of voice menus, dropped transfers and being forced to listen to ridiculous and inane advertisements for the company website ("did you know you can find information about our products on xxx.com?".... thanks for that 20 second delay).

When I have to call a customer service rep, by the time I finally get to them, I'm usually in a worse mood than when I called.

>4. Okay, so this one’s not a huge surprise: people are jerks.

I try really really hard to be as pleasant and understanding as possible when I'm speaking to a customer service rep (and I think that I behave decently). I've found that rather than raise my voice, trying to be understanding of their position and limitations gets me closer to "what I need/want" from the support organization.

That being said I have had cases where the person had absolutely no idea what I was referring to and gave me wrong information, etc. But even then, I can't blame them (a DTC stock transfer isn't something that a bank's retail branch person is going to deal with very often. They didn't even know what a DTC number was, and I don't blame them. I managed to get the correct info on the 3rd try.)

It's worth pointing out that all callers aren't arseholes. It follows an 80/20 or more probably a 90/10 rule. As long as your queues aren't hitting 20 minutes, most people just get on with it and you go your separate ways. It's just that the arseholes really stick out.

I once did customer support for a telco. I'd have people ringing up to pay their $900 phone bill with zero concern or hesitance, and one old man who rang to contest a single 20c flagfall charge.

But the funniest demographic were the people ringing up to complain about having their internet cut off for non-payment. So many of them were 'brokers' who were 'losing thousands of dollars an hour', yet for some reason never had backup internet, never paid their bills, and never bothered to move off a residential-class connection with all that moolah they were making, nor show interest in moving to a business-class when offered.

I'd also say that by the time I've waited 20 minutes, I'm a bit of an asshole (probably). While managing call centre service levels is a very challenging problem, I haven't been particularly impressed in the past.

Slightly off topic, but a different story regarding cutting off for non-payment: I recently had my ISP invent a new credit card number for me while I used a free trial account in parallel with my actual subscription for a while (it was "123456..."). They then tried to debit this imaginary card to pay for my actual subscription, eventually adding a penalty fee which brought my account into arrears. All of this without my knowledge of anything strange happening. As a result, my account was disconnected a few days before the end of a month I had already paid for. This type of incompetence seems to be fairly widespread these days, and after several emails, phone calls, etc, all I got out of them was a "oh yeah, you should probably change those payment details".

I'd also say that by the time I've waited 20 minutes, I'm a bit of an asshole

The flip side of the coin is that the busiest call centres are generally for the cheapest services - and you get what you pay for. Running a support service is extremely expensive. For most services, there's usually an option where if you open your wallet wider, you get better service (often at another company), but the general public don't like that option.

This type of incompetence seems to be fairly widespread these days

Not just these days. I worked for the telco 9 years ago, and we had a main product and a rebadged rural-friendly product. We could access the main product webpage to help talk people through how to log in (very useful), but the side product was banned for us. I emailed management: please unlock our own product page, it will help us help the customer and shorten our queue times. Management's response? "That's an IT decision". So I emailed IT the same thing. IT's response? "That's a management decision". Come on guys, I'm taking calls 100% of the time and I have the political power of a newt.

At this same job I would work 15 minutes unpaid overtime just to finish off the paperwork for the day and leave good notes that I didn't have time for. The other calltakers thought I was deranged for working when not paid. After the above story, it's not hard to see why. Management really didn't care, and that filtered down. It's not like my colleagues were motivated achievers in the first place, but there was also no high bar set at any point, no leading by example. Next time you're angry that no notes were left in your account, realise that more likely it's a management issue. Curiously as a counterpoint, in my next job it was expected that 30% of a field technician's time was put aside for paperwork. Didn't quite work out that way, but that was the nominal benchmark (as opposed to 0% at the call centre).

Clusterfucks in billing were the usual error on our side. It was interesting - the call logs off the exchange were almost always rock solid (in those cases where investigations were launched), but billing had mistakes six ways from Sunday.

I hear you, it's a complicated problem with many sides to it (I was also involved with call centres from the software side). In my particular case, I was just disappointed with everything from the implementation of the actual free trial, their silent changes to my billing details, adding penalty fees when it was clearly their mistake, daring to deny me access during a month I'd already paid for, completely indifferent call centre agents, and lack of any response from their management when I pointed out the original problem to them (multiple times). And this was a small company who supposedly pride themselves on service - I suspect they've grown in size sufficiently to be flooded with support calls now.

My girlfriend used to work in customer service of a hosting provider and this is funny because I feel like I've heard every single one of these stories before.

She wasn't that pessimistic though, I think she liked explaining stuff to other people.

In college I worked phone support for the IT department--learned a lot about talking with people and being patient. You get an awesome range of human communication: "I want this right now now now" to "You are the best thank you for the help <3 <3" to "I have a simple problem and I know it's really easy and can you just do this" to "WHAT THE CHRIST GOD CANT YOU EVEN FIX THIS SIMPLE THING".

It's also a great chance to get out of your shell if you are nervous about talking to strangers; you are effectively anonymous and don't have to worry about getting stalked or screwing up too badly if you do your job and help the customer.

Honestly, I think it's every bit as valuable as, say, a job as a waiter or server or some service industry experience.

I spent 6.5 years in a call center for a smallish (really only covering a single state) dial-up internet service. Everything you say is true. Though I'd add the caveat that while I am more comfortable talking to strangers after that experience (I was, and still am, a shy introvert), I now loathe speaking on the phone, even to friends/family, where before, I had no problem talking on the phone for hours. I now try to use email/text messages as much as possible.

On-call work makes you hate phones too. Phones ringing with annoying things for you to do at annoying times.

I also had this job. I remember a professor calling me up to inquire as to how to pirate Microsoft Word, as he didn't want it to come out of his department's budget. (I believe it was a $20 charge or something.)

I referred him to my manager.

I don't think the pun in the title is in good taste.

I think it is, and Good Taste is having a good time.

seriously, what did she expect?

if you work any kind of helpdesk, inbound call center or even management - your job is to help people fix their problems.

now, does a calm, rational, smart person have a problem? unlikely. something is not working, hard to figure out, etc. the person is frustrated, angry, feels stupid for not figuring out - and now you come into the picture.

it is assymetrical, one side has build up emotions, one hasn't. if you get affected by this, the job is not for you - and it is great to realise this as early as possible to prevent yourself from causing harm to others by being a shitty helpdesk, inbound call center, management person.

i think this assymetry is the prime cause of all the BOFH (http://bofh.ntk.net/BOFH/) behaviors encountered in IT departments. young males wanting to work with machines, but suddenly being forced to interact with and help other humans in an assymetrical, emotional state.

>seriously, what did she expect?

now, first? you are saying "this is completely normal and expected" - and if by 'normal' you mean 'average' I agree. this is how customer service usually is.

But it's not acceptable. Certainly not acceptable from the perspective of the poor kid getting yelled at.

>it is assymetrical, one side has build up emotions, one hasn't. if you get affected by this, the job is not for you - and it is great to realise this as early as possible to prevent yourself from causing harm to others by being a shitty helpdesk, inbound call center, management person.

Here, you seem to think that it is mostly the employees fault. I'd argue it's mostly management's fault.

Yeah, a lot of the problems you list are real; sure. But they are hugely exasperated by companies that setup their callcenter such that employees can't be anything but emotional punching bags for angry customers. The place I worked as a tech support person? you were judged by your call times, not by actually solving problems. (fortunately, I got promoted to NOC before I got fired for, you know, actually helping people.)

It was exasperating, because, at the time, I had a bunch of experience helping old people operate windows boxes (I was a helpdesk tech in highschool for an office with a median age around 45.) /and/ I had a basic understanding of IP, routing, and the like. And I liked helping people. But my supervisor kept giving me a hard time about how long I'd spend on the phone with a person.

I mean, I was pretty good at focusing on the actual problem, and generally? when they figure out that you are actually solving the goddamn problem, even angry people calm down. And you know? actually solving the problem feels pretty good, even if many of the people start out angry. (the hard cases are the problems you can't solve, of course, especially when the problem is probably between the keyboard and the chair and they won't try the thing you ask. It's /way/ easier to do this in person.)

Seriously, if you (the company) aren't going to put in the effort to maintain a decent callcenter? why bother at all? people buy products without phone support all the time. The way it's set up most places, not only are most employees not technically qualified, you don't train, and you don't expect employees to be technically qualified.

But my main point, here? is that as a callcenter employee? you need to recognize a bad callcenter and /leave/ - if management's goal is to get complainers off the phone, well, you aren't going to be successful if you try to actually help people.

(I mean, I think firing your expensive customers; the customer who need the most help is a reasonable business model. Hell, I put a lot of effort into scaring that sort off at signup. But having a really bad callcenter is about the worst way to do that firing, especially from the point of view of the kid who has to answer the phone.)

i never said it is her fault. but listing this as some kind of hard obtained, new knowledge?

of course the company should properly train their support staff, etc. but this is not the point here.

people needing help are in a stressful mental state. they don't act rational, some stay nice, some turn into monsters. first step is to calm down, then solve the problem. some need tough love, some need love.

dangerous analogy: sort of like dealing with an argument with your female partner in a relationship. it's first and foremost about the emotions at play, the factual problem is secondary.

if you get stressed out by other people's emotions, you can't help them. basic human triage is calm down first, establish sympathy/empathy, then move to the issue. a good doctor works like that, a good sales person as well.

>people needing help are in a stressful mental state. they don't act rational, some stay nice, some turn into monsters. first step is to calm down, then solve the problem. some need tough love, some need love.

If you solve the problem, the rest of it goes away. Yeah, if you exasterbate the emotional bullshit, you can make it harder to solve the problem, but my experience on the phone? Playing the autistic nerd works just fine. They called for help on a problem, if you just bring the conversation back to the problem, and, you know, fix it for them, they are usually pretty happy with it, even if you don't "build rapport" or whatever.

Of course, this assumes they are contacting you because they are trying to solve a technical problem. If you are sales or what have you, I'm sure the rules are completely different.

Why would she work in a call center when she could probably make $200+/hr instead of $10/hr as an actual call girl? (i.e. a prostitute)

Beats me why anyone would do something that pays 20 times less what they could earn WHILE ALSO getting laid, working whenever they want and being more appreciated than in any other job.

And yes, it's illegal in the U.S. but it's not really enforced and she could anyway move to several European countries where it's legal.

…because I'm betting the joy she gets from not having disgusting men enter her vagina with their penis is worth more than $190/hour to her.

For all I've read about the topic, the kind of men who are able and willing to pay $200+/hr tend to be not so disgusting, and the kind of women who gets $200+/hr can afford to be somewhat choosy in their clients.

The direct downsides seem to be more psychical than physical, and not necessarily worse than regularly being verbally abused by irate jerks while having to remain calm and polite yourself.

And because you do not prostitute? There is enough demand for prostitution for men also

I'm not so sure there's much demand by women, and even so I believe they would have extremely high standards for men that I'm not sure I'd be able to meet (esp. without lots of work in the gym).

If I'm mistaken, let me know, since it would probably be kind of cool to get money to help ladies (even if possibly old and/or ugly) achieve orgasms.

> it would probably be kind of cool to get money to help ladies achieve orgasms

Yeah, that's not what most male prostitutes do. Can you think of any other demographics that might demand male sexual services?

An industry ripe for disruption? Do you have any solutions cumming soon? Are you up to the task? Godspeed little toaster.

1. A lot of people have strong emotional aversion against having sex with random strangers they didn't choose themselves.

2. There's a pretty strong social taboo against it and many people will refuse to associate with those who do it. People such as family, friends and potential future employers and mates. You can keep it secret, but that carries its own costs.

3. There's a somewhat increased risk of running into organized crime and/or psychopathic killers.

I didn't appreciate the pun either, but I find your comment to be rude and tangential.

Prostitution is actually legal in Nevada.

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