Someone Should Write a Book About That

By Peter DeHaan, Ph.D.

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of AnswerStatYou don’t need to spend much time in a call center before realizing agents enjoy sharing stories about their callers. This can be good: establishing community, providing a safe outlet, and building a collective understanding. (Conversely, venting about callers should be discouraged.) After such stories are shared, someone often says, “We could write a book about this.” Unfortunately, it never goes much further. I’d like to change that – and I need your help to do so.

As you’re thinking of stories you can share, here are some of mine:

Like a Birgin: At a hospital call center, I was doing side-by-side monitoring when a call came from an elderly lady with a heavy accent. The agent requested the woman to spell her name. The caller said “B,” and the agent replied, “B?” The frustrated caller said, “No, B!” This exchange repeated until the agent eventually asked, “B as in baker?” The exasperated caller retorted, “No! B as in birgin.”

Fifteen minutes later, the information was finally gathered. But before the women could be thanked for calling, she interjected, “Don’t you want my daughter’s address? The brochure is for her!”

Timing Is Everything: We’ve all been guilty about muttering a disparaging remark after a call is completed. This practice is highly discouraged; nevertheless, when it is done, it’s critical to completely disconnect before voicing any editorial comments. One agent, who persisted in making post-call comments, caused a ruckus one day. It was on a patient call that was being recorded for the doctor. Although the caller hung up, the audio was still being recorded when the agent spouted her opinion of the patient using a most unacceptable expletive.

The doctor, while not disagreeing with the agent’s assessment, forwarded the recording to the call center manager. The agent was understandably embarrassed, learning an important lesson to not say everything she was thinking. After learning she would not be terminated for her error, she graciously allowed the manager to share the recording with her fellow agents. It was a powerful lesson of what not to do – and was heard more effectively than anecdotes from any trainer’s lips.

I’m Not Keith: In working at a technical helpdesk, I fielded a call from a man covering for his son over the weekend. Although Dad knew how to manage a call center staff, he wasn’t up to speed on the technology. The system was down and could not be restarted.

Over the next couple of hours, I guided him through a troubleshooting process. Even the most basic steps, such as, “Open the cabinet door” or “Check the power light,” required an excruciating amount of detailed instruction. Throughout the ordeal, he kept calling me Keith, the name of my coworker. After correcting him for the third time, I gave up, realizing my name was not important at that time. Eventually the problem was resolved, and a most grateful customer thanked me profusely.

About a week later, my boss bounced into our call center, gleefully waving a poignant thank-you note for a stellar job “Keith” did in helping resolve a most arduous problem under difficult circumstances. My boss enthusiastically read the note to our entire team, ceremoniously handing it to a befuddled Keith. Keith gracious accepted the kudus but later admitted, “I don’t even remember taking the call.” Nonetheless, the note – for the work I did – was proudly posted at Keith’s workstation.

Now It’s Your Turn: Email me (peter@answerstat.com) with your amusing, entertaining, or educational call center stories. Be sure to include your name and your call center – or you can remain anonymous. I have the first three stories for our book; will you help with the rest?

Peter DeHaan is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat magazine and a passionate wordsmith. Connect with him on his personal blogs, social media sites, and newsletter, all accessible from peterdehaan.com.

[From the June/July 2012 issue of AnswerStat magazine]