Thursday, September 21, 2006

Call centre blues, Part IV

It's been nearly three months since I moved to the Customer Service Department of the call centre where I am employed. So, to build on my previous posts about some of the grief my colleagues and I face on a daily basis (here about ordertaking, and these two about being a verifications officer), I present some of the issues of being in the trenches -- in the hopes, as before, you get a better idea of what it's like for us.

We keep track of all mistakes and who's responsible for them. We compensate stores for our mistakes but the stores pay us a penalty for theirs if they're above the chainwide average of mistakes. (That draw, plus a commission for each order we take on their behalf, is where we get our salaries from -- after all, we technically work not for head office but the franchise owners.) That explains why some specials are walk-in only, because the store would lose money on the order if we took it at the loss-leader price -- and we have to deal with screaming customers who just don't accept we don't take those specific orders.

Customer service doesn't just involve working with the customers, but also with the stores, drivers who deliver, a smaller and complimentary chain for which we also take calls -- as well as, on occasion, management and even law enforcement. Every call is different and we have to think on our toes. About half the calls we get still fall under ordertaking or verifying -- after all, if all the ordertakers are busy with calls and some of us are available the call gets directed to us. We answer "Customer Service," usually out of habit, but the customer wants to go back into ordertaking. Which is kind of weird especially if they've been on hold for ten minutes and they're implying they're OK with waiting another ten.

We take the order -- no questions asked. There are some other issues, though, and it's worth pointing out why we do it the way we do. This is by no means exhaustive, but here are some of the most frequent issues.

1. The customer wants a store credit for another day.

This often happens when a customer is unhappy with one or more ingredients, but they've eaten the pizza anyway. No can do. We normally offer only same day replacements. Among the exceptions are if the store is closed, the pizza has been remade already and the customer is still unsatisfied with the results, or if the customer is in an area where we don't deliver after a certain time. As I explained before, each store has a specific delivery area; boundaries are only crossed if a huge order has to be split betwen two or more stores, or an emergency crops up and another store isn't too busy and prepared to take up the slack. I can't count the number of times I've gotten into an argument with a customer about a replacement. But sometimes the customer is surprised and even delighted we would actually go to the trouble of remaking something. That's our job. We want them to be satisfied.

2. The customer wants the "real" phone number.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: It's on a need to know basis, and most times (99.9%), the customer doesn't need to know. They're unlisted, on purpose, so the store is freed up from being on the phone all the time so they can make the customers' orders. If a message needs to be passed, we take the customer's number and ask the store to call them back.

3. The order was sent to the wrong store.

It does happen, but agents do often send pickups to the wrong location; or they enter a street name wrong and it winds up in another part of town or even another city. We offer compensation, and in this case give the customer a choice. Either they go to the "wrong" store, or a fresh order is made at the right one. The customer gets the order for free, and if the order has to be remade we also compensate the other location for their expenses. Simple enough -- although it sometimes takes a few attempts to explain this to an irate customer.

4. A customer wants such and such driver fired.

That's up to an individual store, as they're franchises. We do pass on the complaint, though.

5. A customer had their order verified, and still wants a free order.

The reasons some orders are checked out are because of size or credit issues, or because a store wants all orders to a certain address confirmed. That doesn't stop some customers from claiming the time guarantee began from when the order was placed. (It's from the time we confirmed it and gave the customer the new time.) Or that they weren't expecting a call back. (We always tell them we will.) Or we have the wrong address. (That's the purpose of a verification -- if you confirmed the address and you gave us the wrong address on purpose, hoping to get a free order, we're not that stupid.) Oh, and for a multi-unit delivery point, such as an apartment or hotel, the guarantee ends in the lobby or front desk; unless you have no buzzer, in which case there is no time guarantee at all.

6. Stores don't want to remake an order, because they think the customer is lying.

We work on the presumption the customer is always right, and that they're being truthful. We do keep a log of the number of orders vs complaints, but one of our problems is that we keep track of them by phone number and not address. Stores on the front lines do remember like an elephant, however, so if a customer is trying to scam us with multiple phone numbers at the same address they know it well. In that case, and if a store manager insists, we ask them to talk to their regional sales manager, and we investigate it further. If an address needs to be blacklisted or otherwise get close scrutiny, then and only then do we flag it.

7. The stores want compensation for an undelivered order, or one cancelled by the store.

That depends on whether the order was sent to the right store in the first place. If it was, the store doesn't get comped and has to bite the loss. It's tough, but those are the rules. If it was a mistake on our end, such as an error in the street file, then of course, we'd be happy to comp.

8. The stores pin the blame on the commissary and not themselves.

We do have some very specific cooking and quality control rules, but once in a while head office does screw up. They label a mild sauce as hot, or lightly breaded wings are heavily breaded, and so forth. In those cases, yes, the error is on us. But if a store didn't prepare it properly, then it's their fault.

Two last points: Sometimes, when we're offering a remake, the customer wants to give the other product back. Health regulations forbid us from doing this, with the sole exception being a foreign object complaint. In that case, the regional sales manager gets in touch with the customer and arranges a pickup time.

Also, there is a priority for calls we take. Stores and drivers get priority (they have a special number that puts them at the front of the line), followed by customer service issues, orders for our fried chicken outlets and then orders for all our other outlets. Sometimes, an issue can be resolved during a call and we just take the next one, but sometimes we have to follow up and make sure all our notes are right -- which means not all of us are available at any given time. Please be patient if you do have an issue. We will always answer your call. Some nights, like on major event nights, we get backed up with orders and that also reflects on the queue in customer service but we do try to clear up that backlog as soon as possible. And if you're just ordering and you hear "customer service," don't hang up either. After all, all customer service agents are ordertakers -- but not all ordertakers are customer service agents.

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