Friday, May 11, 2007

Repost: Call centre blues, Part III

[Originally posted February 11, 2006]

In my last two posts I talked about what it's like working for the call centre of a major chain of restaurants and the problems we have with customers.

There have been times when even someone like me can get really unnerved and start to lose his cool. I've sometimes pounded my fist on the armrests of my chair or on the desk because I couldn't hold it in anymore no thanks to customers who just couldn't take no for an answer even when that is our clearly defined policy on an issue. I guess that's a holdover from my childhood, when I got bullied a lot and was prone to throwing tantrums which of course only meant getting bullied even more. I'm much calmer now but I can still get started.

For the most part I'm liked my current position, a promotion I received a couple of months ago. I hope to move up to the customer service department in the spring -- I probably could have jumped from ordertaking right to CSR when I was invited, but decided to take the intermediate step because I've heard of some people who couldn't handle it and went right back to ordertaking (along with a reduction in pay). Matter of fact, one of the people hired in my flight for verifications bailed on day one -- we really felt bad for her.

That being said, there are a few things that have emerged that have really droven my colleagues and I, both in verifications and customer service (we work next to each other in one room at the office, while most of the ordertakers are in five other rooms around the building) totally crazy as of late. I want to address a few of the major ones.

1) We don't deliver -- period.

Very few if any chain restaurants are company owned anymore. Most are franchises. They've delegated the ordertaking to us so they can spend their time making the food. That doesn't stop customers, as I mentioned before, from demanding the "real" phone number. The fact of the matter is, we're not going to give them out. They're only for contact between us and the stores if there's a customer complaint; or if we need to call the store to clarify if they have a specific ingredient (eg. Halal or kosher meat), or if they're participating in a promotion.

Some of the stores which serve universities will call in if they've gotten requests from the students they delivered to, to add tips to the orders they've done --and they can come in bulk, as many as 20 at a time and we have to approve the tips one at a time. When the validation machine for that university goes on the fritz, it can get maddening especially when you have a list of non-school orders to check up on also.

The delivery drivers who work for the franchisees have, next to toll collectors, one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. They don't work for us but the store owners. When they go out, those brave women and men often don't know if this ride will be their last. They can get attacked, mugged -- some have even been shot.

Because of this, some store owners tell us quite specifically there are some neighbourhoods they will not deliver to after a certain time. Or an apartment block where they'll only deliver to the lobby. There are a few hotels that also have this policy because they don't want the guests disturbed or they want to keep a certain "class" for their hotel. (This can be inconsistent, however -- the Intercontinental will allow door-to-door but the Royal York won't; the Chateau Laurier does, some strip motels don't.)

The customer, naturally, flips out. We have to explain to them it's a matter for their safety and ours. Some get it when we tell them the first time. Others just don't.

2) The delivery instructions aren't specific enough.

What's with that?

At least a couple of universities still aren't indexed by school or buildings in our street index. We have to ask the customer for specific delivery information so the driver isn't running all over the place. We keep pressing whoever compiles the street index to make it easier for us but it's like talking to the moon. This only makes it worse for the customers, too.

Some hotel guests don't want to give out their name, saying it's none of our business. Actually, it is. If there's a problem with the order, some front desk clerks won't patch us through unless we have the name of the registered guest. So humour us. Canada has strict privacy laws in this regard and we won't sell your name to a third party -- ever. We only keep the name long enough to do the job we have to do and only in relation to the job.

There is one other place that's also a bit of a nightmare for us -- the Blue Mountain Resort in Collingwood. Make no mistake: We love serving the compound. The guests are always nice, and the place is one of our best revenue generators. However, a lot of people don't understand it's actually a small city unto itself. Furthermore, the hotel on the grounds isn't one, but nine; so this is the one place where we need to be absolutely specific for the local store.

If you ever go there and stay for a night or a week, please note: Your hotel room does not have three digits, it has five. The first two refer to the chateau you're staying in. This will be clearly indicated on your room key. The ordertaker (I still do that, when there are no orders to verify) needs all five digits. Otherwise, if we need to call you back, we won't be able to -- in fact the store won't be able to deliver at all. The ordertaker gets charged with an error, and you don't get the food.

3) We give the customer a better deal, and they flip out and want to pay the regular price.


Usually a customer is grateful we're saving them money -- on large orders this can be as much as 30 bucks or more. Some, however, don't understand what a discount is. They really don't.

This has happened on occasion but with increasing frequency the last two weeks. I finally got one last night. They actually wanted me to charge them a higher regular price on a three item pizza with a combination that had a special on it.

Why? Are they business people who can deduct meal expenses and they want the maximum tax credit? No, they're just Joe and Jane Blows who don't understand we're trying to help them. Come on, people, lighten up! If we save you five dollars, that's seventy five cents less that goes to the government. That makes you, and us, happy -- we're sick and tired of being tax collectors too.

4) What's with the delivery charge? (Or, "Please remove it!")

Some people think we still have free delivery. We don't -- actually, our chain hasn't for about five years. The managment really should call it a fuel surcharge, because that's what it is. It's simply not fair to charge pick up and walk in customers for the gas the stores have to put in their cars for deliveries. So tip the driver. He or she doesn't get anything from the delivery charge. Nothing.

Some hotels, however, require us to tack on an additional charge as a condition for delivery. This goes to the hotel. We have absolutely no choice in this and we will not waive it even if you're Donald Trump or Bill Gates -- or Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Why not? Simple: The hotel has a restaurant on premises or has an interest in one nearby. They want their hotel "traffic" to be directed to their facilities. That's why their receipts have the room number so you can just charge the meal "on account." To make up for lost business to competitors such as delivery chains, they want compensation.

So if you're calling from a hotel, we ask you for the local hotel's number, not your cell phone. If we don't collect the charge that's due to them, they'll take note. Too many rogue orders and we'll be banned from the premises, permanently. That's not fair to the other guests who don't mind paying extra.

All we can hope is that in exchange for the extra charge, we can offer you superior service and food so you will order from us on your next trip -- or from the local store in the same chain when you get back home.

For that matter, please note if you're going to Casino Rama, our store in Orillia doesn't deliver at all there, at all. It's on native territory and the local tribal council has said we and the other delivery chains are not welcome there or any other hotel on the reservation, period. (Besides, there are nine restaurants on premises there already -- and if I'm spending a day there I want to eat at their buffet or Italian restaurant, not pizza or wings.)

5) The customer thinks we're discriminating against them.

We've had enough of the persecution complex. It doesn't work with us at all.

Most of us are either the children of immigrants or are immigrants ourselves. We know what discrimination is. The rest who don't know enough not to put up with discrimination.

So don't try to pull the "refugee" or "d. p." game on us. My father was a displaced person, and I'm proud of that. He sought a better life and because he did, I live here and am not six feet under in a cemetery somewhere in the Balkans. The same goes for the rest of us where we can claim ancestry in South Asia, Africa or Eastern Europe.

We treat all customers equally. If you're entitled to a store credit you'll get it. If you are getting a remake, it'll come you're way. If the situation calls for an apology and nothing more, then that's all you will receive. That goes whether you live on the streets or Rosedale; and if you're black or white.

For that matter, we won't cater to a racist clientèle either. Disabuse the drivers even once based on their race or ethnic background, and you'll be blacklisted. There's only so much we can put up with too.

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