Monday, June 25, 2007

I, Robot

Robotisation amazes me. All our call centres are evidence of that. I truly sympathise with the youngsters sitting in back-offices answering questions by rote and putting up with the collective angst of the world of bad-tempered people who think it's all right to yell at that anonymous voice because a credit card didn't function, because a bill arrived late, etc. But the way they turn into robots when you speak to them makes it hard to tell when the IVR ends and the human voice begins.

Of course, you have to get to it first, while an annoyingly happy-sounding woman whose head you'd like to bang on the wall tells you in this accent from somewhere off the coast of the USA that 'Sorry, all our customer care representatives are busy attending to other customers. Your call is important to us. One of our customer care representatives will attend to you shortly.' At that point, you'd give anything to be one of those 'other customers'.

Then, hallelujah, the interminable wait ends and a voice picks up and says "Good afternoon, you have reached blah blah may I help you? At this point of time you suddenly have a panic attack because you have forgotten why you called them at all. Only to be expected, because in the last 5-8 minutes of monotonous 'you-are-on-hold' music, you've got absorbed in picking at the dead skin around your right big toe, or in examining that pimple, or in today's headlines. Then, just as the magical voice at the other end says 'hello' for a second time it all comes rushing back and you embark on your question, at the end of which, you are asked to provide information about your credit card or phone number or whatever-it-is that they really should have taken in the first place!

A carefully memorised answer is presented to you, like the noncustomisable 'today's specials' at a seedy cafetaria. Most times, if you have trouble understanding, these winkies of the call-centre world cannot even explain it to you in fresh words, repeating instead the same sentence, occasionally with a slight change in modulation to provide the illusion that they are saying something new.

Finally, when you hang up (hopefully feeling liberated, empowered and without a squished ear), you get an INSTANT sms (if only they were as prompt at picking up the phones in the first instance) asking you if you are satisfied with the interaction!!! Now we know why our call is important to them!

The recountable gems of such interactions occur when the computer tells them one thing and you tell them another. Such as, 'I live in Mumbai now, why do my bills still go to my Delhi address?' But Ma'am, you are living in Delhi, our system is showing.

Recently, we needed to pay off a loan that's in my husband's name and I called the bank call centre to figure out what the procedure would be. I had all the papers with me so that there would be no problems. The customer care representative told me everything that I needed to know, and I gave him all the information he asked for, including our account number, husband's date of birth, etc. Eventually, it boiled down to the fact that we were required to register for a foreclosure statement. So I said, okay, please send us one. And he said "Who's speaking?" So I identified myself as the wife of the poor loan-burdened creature. And he said, "I'm sorry, the request must be made the person concerned."

Puzzled, I said, "But I'm his wife, and I have just given you all the relevant information." Now read the following exchange:

Bank: Ma'am, I'm sorry but the request must come from the concerned person.

Me: But why is that?

Bank: Ma'am, that is the policy.

Me: But obviously I gave you all the correct loan account information so I have all the papers. Why don't you record my request?

Bank: Ma'am, you are not the concerned person. As per bank policy we must receive the request from the person in whose name the loan is taken.

Me: So if any man calls you and says his name is ___, you will accept his request, but not mine. That man could be pretending to be my husband.

Bank: No Ma'am, we have to ask some certain verification questions.

Me: Okay, what sort of questions will you ask, then I will ask him to call you prepared with that information or the relevant papers.

Bank: Sorry Ma'am, but I cannot disclose that.

Me: But are those questions regarding personal information or banking information?

(Brief pause)

Bank: Ma'am, there will be both kinds of questions.

So anyway, I hung up fuming. If I'd had a baritone I could have pretended to be my husband and got this done at one go. I fumed some more and explained it all to my husband who calmly said 'Okay, I'll call the bank.

He called, armed with just the loan account number as opposed to the file I'd sat down with, and the request was registered. I was extremely curious as to the questions that were asked in this mysterious verification process with the 'concerned person'.

Turns out, they asked him his date of birth (personal question) and EMI amount (banking question) and recorded his request on the basis of these two.

I'm hanging up my boots. Actually, I'm just hanging up.

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