It’s easy to forget that despite infuriating scripts and adherence to dogmatic corporate policies, CSRs are real people. A former call center worker wrote in to describe the extraordinary pressure CSRs feel from management to keep customers from canceling their accounts.
You’d think it was so easy: call to cancel service, and it’s cancelled. And yet, it never is. Here’s why.
Most customer service is outsourced, but either way, customer service is a cost. Businesses dislike costs. It’s much easier to try to cut costs than to make more money; costs are to be minimized unless they can be directly quantified as creating more money. So customer service, which costs money, is generally done in a manner that costs the company the least amount.
Smart companies realize that good customer service does create more business. However, most companies either get the lowest possible costing customer service. This is done through, among other things, outsourcing to India. But one way to skirt this is to actually make money through customer service. This is generally done through two ways: upselling or retention.
I worked for a customer service outsourcer. It was part of our agreement with the client that we would retain a certain percentage of customers who wanted to cancel (25% to 30%). The client — our real customer — loved this. Through the magic of creating mandatory scripts for our CSRs to read, little actual personal interaction was a part of this process, in order to make it as predictable and regulated as possible.
In these scripts, if a customer wanted to cancel, you’d ask them why, then input the reason for a relevant retention script. There was often no option for “Prefers not to say” / “Doesn’t know”; the CSR was responsible for asking more follow-up questions for “resistant” customers. In the rare cases that “Prefers not to say” was even in the script, the response would be something along the lines of “I can certainly understand you might now want to discuss the matter right now … would you like to hold your subscription for three months [at which point we start billing you and you've probably forgotten] and be guaranteed the same rate?”
CSRs were tracked and rated based on their retention rates. It was also a part of their employee review. Reviews were done by the numbers: call length, attendance, customer retention. A small amount (generally 5%) was actually under the discretion of the supervisor for employees who, say, actually went out of their way to help customers out.
Failing to attempt customer retention was a serious offense; it was considered more serious than screwing up a customer’s account. After all, screw up an account and it’s probably an innocent mistake; fail to try to retain a customer, which was a huge part of employee training, could only be done by willful negligence. Not making at least two attempts to save the customer would also count against the “quality” of the call. Quality and retention percentages together generally comprised over half of the employee’s score, which was the general measure of their performance, and strongly affected their pay and work schedule.
Not surprisingly, such strong focus on customer retention created many situations where employees would not cancel accounts. Misleading wording, while not encouraged by the company, was common to offer alternatives to canceling. Outright lies were less common, but still occurred. Often, many “mistakes” in processing accounts were failing to cancel. Strangely, accidentally cancelled accounts were rare to the point of extinction. After all, making a mistake on an account was less of a black mark than failing to retain customers, and a few extra mistakes were unlikely to be caught. Failure to meet the retention goals meant trouble and eventual termination. What’s more, to decrease costs, management and any kind of oversight is minimal. Twenty, often thirty employees to one supervisor was the norm.
If you are a typical call center worker – unskilled, uneducated, living paycheck to paycheck off a generally low-pay and no-benefit job, being constantly driven by management to retain customers – what do you do when your numbers are low for the month: cancel Suzy Q.’s account and risk being fired, or sweep it under the table and be able to pay for your kids’ school clothes? After all, if you call back tomorrow to see if the account’s really cancelled, chances are this customer will reach a different CSR. Chances are, this call isn’t one of the three or four calls a month that is actually monitored by someone. Chances are indeed very good that there will be absolutely no consequence to not canceling this customer’s account, but there will definitely be a consequence if the account is actually cancelled.
You canceling your ISP’s internet service or your magazine subscription is a very small matter to you. But it is a critical matter of employment to the CSR. Under such pressures, created by greedy companies, who can be surprised that “mistakes” are made.
Corporations are ultimately responsible for creating and supporting ruthless retention practices, though that doesn’t absolve CSRs who lie about canceling accounts just to get customers off the phone.
Canceling an account is a battle of wills. Corporations are determined to keep your money; CSRs are determined to keep their job. Don’t be a pushover. If one call doesn’t work, call back. Keep calling until your account is cancelled; and then, call once more to verify.