Tmobile Forbids Use Of Paper and Pens In Call Center

An insider reports that a Tmobile call center has outlawed customer service reps having pens and paper out in the open. According to our source, the outsourced Business Care facility in Sarnia, Ontario is concerned about reps making off with data. Pens, paper, pencils are not to be left out on the work areas. If they are used, they must be put back inside the desk and locked after use. This has “made life considerably less pleasant for them…There are a number of reps who write faster than they type, so they use a notepad as a sort of buffer.” Even photographs and other paper items on cubicle walls will have to be laminated to insure they’re not used as illegal writing surfaces. The tipster says Startek-run call center is conducting an audit today to insure compliance with all of its new, policies. It’s a good thing that no one working at Tmobile might have access to a small electronic device capable of data input and transmission.

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  1. mobilene says:

    Un. Be. Lievable.

  2. Asvetic says:

    Hahaha, that’s just great. There’s nothing better than a pissed off CSR handling your data!

  3. Wow. If I were told that pens and papers were verboten, I’d be so screwed. Besides, I’m so paranoid about my clients private information being shared that I have anything with that info shredded – even if it’s just their name and a phone number.

  4. legotech says:

    You can’t have pens or paper, but that flash drive is just fine…no worries there.

    Most prisoners are allowed paper and some sort of writing instrument

  5. satoru says:

    Ironic since Sarnia, Ontario is such a nice and quiet place. It’ll be interesting to read about the increased murder/suicide/violence rate in that city :P

  6. axiomatic says:

    Ummm isn’t it easier to copy/paste or Printscreen a bunch of jpg’s? What about the notepad on each of their phones?

    Never mind… this is the mobile phone industry I’m talking about. Black IS white and vice versa.

    lunacy….

  7. hi says:

    CSR’s should have to take a pill after work to erase their memories of that day. You know… just in case they remember any customer data.

  8. djanes1 says:

    for call centers located prisons, this is pretty standard…

  9. solution, a laminated sheet of white paper, and a dry erase marker. That’s neither paper nor pens!!

  10. SkokieGuy says:

    Actually this is for our protection, to prevent them from writing down confidential information and forcing all notes to be written digitally into their computer database.

    Call centers in other countries have done this for years, to prevent someone who’s making $1.00 an hour from writing down a credit card number and selling it.

    They probably prohibit cellphones for the same reason to prevent the use of cameras to trap info.

    I’m all for this.

  11. EyeHeartPie says:

    Such an awesome rule. It’s not like these people have small organic devices more powerful than any computer that they leave with every day.

  12. Gann says:

    It’s hard to believe you can get hired anymore if your typing is slower than your handwriting. I guess you’re just limited to crappy jobs that like to treat you like a misbehaving child. Like Tmobile call centers.

  13. Tzepish says:

    When I was a CSR/tech support, pen & paper were REQUIRED… and in fact, they were absolutely necessary. I couldn’t imagine trying to do that job without them.

  14. dotcomrade says:

    @djanes1:
    It’s no joke–another reason why we should be nice to the CSR–piss them off and when they get parole…well, you know what can happen!

    Who would you trust with your credit card number: an Indian college grad, or an American felon?

    In 2004, USA Today [www.usatoday.com] reported:

    About a dozen states – Oregon, Arizona, California and Iowa, among others – have call centers in state and federal prisons, underscoring a push to employ inmates in telemarketing jobs that might otherwise go to low-wage countries such as India and the Philippines. Arizona prisoners make business calls, as do inmates in Oklahoma. A call center for the DMV is run out of an all-female prison in Oregon.

    an article from NPR [www.npr.org] comments:

    Labor unions and some states say they believe it’s too much of a security risk to have prisoners talking to the outside world, even if they’re being monitored. Private businesses say it’s also a security risk to have prisoners taking down customers’ credit card information.

  15. unklegwar says:

    Ben, I gotta say I just love your method of randomly inserting punctuation in odd places. Do you have a comma-shaker that you just sprinkle over these entries, or what?

  16. Rectilinear Propagation says:

    @dotcomrade: Holy crap!

    @unklegwar: I now have the BEST visual in my head of someone using one of those large shakers for larger herbs except it’s full of commas (which is giving me flashbacks of The Phantom Tollbooth).

  17. whatNameIsLeft says:

    I think they just need to finally get around to installing the memory holes in their office.

  18. Gann says:

    @unklegwar: commas, are great.

  19. brettmeadors says:

    I agree with Tzepish. It is way too hard to do a job without Pen and Paper sometimes, and taking notes to keep your head straight isn’t a bad thing at all.

  20. hellinmyeyes says:

    When I worked in a call center, we were forbidden to write down credit card numbers. That was fine with me; they’re pretty easy to type down into whatever program we needed quickly enough. This sounds WAY too extreme, though.

  21. chrisfromnl says:

    When I worked at an AT&T call center last summer we were not allowed to have pens/paper. Doing so would result in a firing or so I heard during training.

  22. shizwipe says:

    This is not uncommom, I used to work at a call center for a certain, un-named Finnish mobile phone manufacturer and they would not let us bring in our own mobile phones. I worked at a call center for an un-named web service that lets you download audio books and they would not allow paper or pens either. They also made you pay for coffee, parking and your own headset, so I bet you can tell how much fun working for those jerks was.

  23. joellevand says:

    When I worked at a credit card company in 2005, we weren’t allowed pens/paper out on the desk either. In my first week there, three employees (two working together) were let go for fraud — as they took the call, they take down (on pen and paper) all the details — cc#, cvv, dob, security question answers, etc — and resold to third parties for a mint.

    And yes, you could text some 3rd pty this same info, but trust me, it’s easier to write it all down while on the phone and look like you’re working than it is to text someone the info and look like you’re seriously doing your job. Also, you can scramble/block cell phone signals. Kinda hard to block someone giving another person data off a piece of paper.

  24. ChuckECheese says:

    @hi: That mind-erasing drug is called Jack Daniels.

  25. ChuckECheese says:

    @unklegwar: Commas, they’re, like, jimmies, for text!

  26. Nithwa says:

    I work for T-Mobile in a T-Mobile owned call center. The call center in the article is not owned by T-Mobile, but is a “Service Parter” also known as an Outsourcer. The policy of no paper/no pen does not apply to all T-Mobile call centers. Startek is the first one I’ve heard of that does that… Kinda stupid if you ask me. In our call center, everyone has some sort of paper/writing device. Our facilities team even provides pads of paper and pens to the reps on the phones.

  27. tande says:

    @James Gamble: Having worked at StarTek I can safely say that everything they do is in fact… very stupid.

  28. LUV2CattleCall says:

    @James Gamble:

    Ah, thanks, that clears it up. I just skimmed the consumerist’s thing at first and was really confused…since T.Mo employees are usually in great moods, and ever since Nokes showed up, the CSRs tend to be respectable, ie not the type to try to pull this crap!

  29. evslin says:

    This has “made life considerably less pleasant for them…There are a number of reps who write faster than they type, so they use a notepad as a sort of buffer.”

    I think it’s dumb that they have to ban pens and paper, but this is probably a habit a call center would want their reps to kick anyway. Writing information down and then typing it into the computer results in wasted seconds you could be spent taking another phone call.

    Anytime I saw this, it was for one of two reasons:
    1) The rep was writing novels in the call notes instead of using shorthand used company-wide
    2) The rep typed 15wpm

    In short, type less and type faster.

    /threadjack

  30. @evslin: Or worse, writing notes down, then moving on to the next call and never actually entering the notes into the record. Resulting in countless Consumerist posts that include something like, “… but the next rep I talked to didn’t have any record of what the first rep said would happen.”

  31. snoop-blog says:

    Not too mention even if they are not stealing information, what about after they type it in? Does it get shredded? I doubt it. This is not new. The telemarketing place i worked for did the same thing and we never took any information other than the address. Then we’d mail the paper that they would put all their sensitive info on.

  32. WEGGLES90 says:

    Woah, I’m from Sarnia. And hearing that is not a surprise… everyone who works at the call center hates it there.

  33. DragonflyLotus says:

    I’m on leave right now from my call center job because of a broken left hand…obviously I can still type (a bit slowly with just my left thumb free) and mouse OK, but since I’m a lefty I can’t take notes, which on my usual 10 hour shift take up 3 or 4 big notebook pages.

    If I can’t take notes I can’t give good service on long calls. Of course, I could just not give a crap, like 99% of the call center reps I’ve ever dealt with (including plenty in my own company), but I’d rather not work than work poorly.

    Maybe the nature of the accounts/calls T-mobile gets don’t require note taking? I just know I get pissy when I’ve already explained problems in detail and then get asked about those details 30 seconds later.

  34. forgottenpassword says:

    I always wondered how safe my data (bank account, ss# etc etc) is among lowly paid foreign call center workers.

    I have nightmares about my life’s savings disappearing into some lowly paid call center employees account.

  35. Consumerist Moderator - ACAMBRAS says:

    I worked a brief stint in a call center. We weren’t allowed to have any paper or pens/pencils, but each workstation had a 9×12″ dry erase board and a dry erase marker.

  36. Xerloq says:

    I worked at call centers back in my college days and we weren’t allowed pens/paper or any electronic devices on the call floor. All personal possessions had to be kept in your locker. People got fired pretty quickly for bringing anything other than their name badge and headset to the floor. We had no assigned seats, so there was no decorating cubes. You couldn’t even take out your wallet. Oh, and our compys didn’t have internet, so no email either.There was also a guy beating a drum up front to keep time, and we were whipped if we didn’t keep our call times under 4.37 minutes.

    If I hadn’t made $18/hr I’d have quit.

    Only part of this post is a joke. Yep – it’s the pay!

  37. I work at a credit card call center that’s outsourced to a prison (in for a coupla counts of identity theft) I’m gonna call the author out on this article. Each cell block gets T1 lines and local gigabit ethernet connectivity (COD4 during break and after the shift ends) and we can write down whatever, wherever, we,, want.

    PS Ben- Remember your visa payment is due on the 9’th

  38. SuperJdynamite says:

    See, the weird thing is that the headline says “Tmobile Forbids Use Of Paper and Pens In Call Center” but then the article says “If they are used, they must be put back inside the desk and locked after use,” which makes the headline sound inaccurate.

    I think what’s actually going on is that reps, after taking down your personal information, are supposed to keep that information under lock and key, not out in the open while they’re out of the office.

  39. Dillenger69 says:

    I can’t imagine being able to write faster than I type. My handwriting is already bad enough.

  40. BunnieGirlz says:

    Yeah, this is pretty standard at call centers. I’ve worked in the telemarketing industry for almost three years now and for any program where a rep might have access to – or ask customers for – a credit card or social security number, pens and papers are forbidden. However, many call centers have the ability to put the customer through to an automated line where you can use your phone to key in sensitive information. They don’t always tell you but if you’re worried about giving a stranger your info (and we’ve had instances where they’ve used customers’ credit card info to go shopping for themselves), ask if they have a secure system – the reps will never see your information.

  41. In our call center we were not allowed pens, paper, markers, crayons, or dry erase boards. The supervisor was allowed one dry erase board to post outages on. Cellphones were to be left in cars along with any electronic device. You were not allowed to have anything posted in your cubicle, including pictures. Books, newspapers, etc were not allowed. All computers were blocked from using word, notepad and outlook. Websites were limited to internal websites. It was complete lock down so no customer information could be stolen. Why? To protect the customer. I learned to do my job without saving customer information, it was no big deal.

  42. dotcomrade says:

    It appears that at least one company is grooming inmates to become CSR’s after they’re released from prison:

    It bears repeating, if you must call customer service, be kind to that person on the phone.

  43. NinjaMarion says:

    @full.tang.halo: Nope. At least not in the call center I worked. No writing implements of any kind or any paper. And not just left out at night…period. Ever. None on the call center floor, which meant no whiteboard and dry erase marker to put people’s schedule for the day up where it could easily be seen. We also weren’t allowed to have cell phones out on the call center floor either.

    Nevermind that these rules were being enforced when the RFID locks on the doors weren’t even being used because we had no key fobs, so anyone could walk in off the street and wander the call center, in theory.

    The best though was when, like outsiderlookingn‘s place, we eventually had web filtering software put into use. The problem there is that the entire company was run by morons (Digital Dialogue), and pretty much anything that wasn’t internal was blocked. That’s a problem when you’re a call center for hundreds / thousands (CU Service Center) of credit unions. Some of the CU websites would work, but at first, there were TONS that wouldn’t pull up at all. They got it a little better, but even by the time I left there, there were still plenty we couldn’t pull up.

  44. PHX602 says:

    They actually employ people at call centers? My God. I never can seem to get ahold of the El Dorado of customer service.

    /sarcasm

  45. carefullyreckless says:

    Yeah, I’m not too surprised. The call center where I work recently decided to enforce a “no internet” rule since they caught someone playing online games between calls. Instead of simply blocking game sites, they have restricted us from all non-work related sites permanently; the first person who violated the rule last week was fired.
    We can’t even check our email during lunch or breaks – We have a list of “allowed” sites and can not go anywhere else (even for work related searches).
    The worst part is that we have a weak scheduling department and frequently have 30 minutes between calls! One word: boring.

  46. Parting says:

    Idiocy.

    This policy penalizes only honest CSRs.

    Criminals are still one step ahead.

  47. lauy says:

    Many BofA call centers have also gone to this policy; they are allowed to use dry erase boards and pens, or Notepad on their PCs….

  48. ampersand says:

    Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for the crappy CSR jobs that sustained me through college, but this kind of shit is exactly why I’m so. freaking. glad. I never have to have another one again.

  49. gomakemeasandwich says:

    “Actually this is for our protection, to prevent them from writing down confidential information and forcing all notes to be written digitally into their computer database.

    Call centers in other countries have done this for years, to prevent someone who’s making $1.00 an hour from writing down a credit card number and selling it.

    They probably prohibit cellphones for the same reason to prevent the use of cameras to trap info.

    I’m all for this.”

    Finally someone nailed it. Policies like this are for your protection. I used to work in a call center (not in a prison) and we had a policy like this as well, and it also included no cell phones on “the floor” so people couldn’t type the info into their phones or take a picture of the screen with all of your personal info on it. Again, this was for your benefit, as any person with half a brain could figure out. All of you geniuses mocking this rule need to use your heads. Do you really want someone to be able to write down whatever the fuck they want, stick it in their pocket and take it home? I didn’t think so.

    That’s why the notepads were digital, internet access was blocked, and the USB ports were turned off to prevent people from using flash drives (there were ways to get around these measures, but you had to know what you were doing, and most people didn’t).

    Also, there is no way that a pen and notepad are “required” to do the job. Anything relevant to the job that can be put on a notepad can be put on the computer as well.

    As for the people saying “well I’ll just memorize it,” you’ve clearly never worked in anything like a call center before. Yeah, work 10 hours straight fielding maybe 100-200 calls and be able to memorize people’s personal info on the fly while doing your job…yeah right. It can be done, but it’s not like reading a sentence and memorizing it. Do some of you even think of the amount of numbers and info a CSR gets thrown at them everyday and the number of problems they have to deal with?

    Some of you need to get a clue. This article is stupid.

  50. DrCrippen says:

    Wow. I have worked in four call centers, 1 airline, 2 banks and a health insurance company, and only one of them had a similar policy, and that only covered locking paper with personal information on it up when it wasn’t being used. The silly part of that rule was you couldn’t even have a magazine with your address label on it out on your desk… You could have the magazine, but no label.

    The contact center I work in now, the insurance company, is awash in paper. I have two dozen pens and pencils on my desk and notepads and sketchbooks everywhere. I am a compulsive doodler, and if I could draw while I talked, I’d go mad…

  51. Dobernala says:

    All of you geniuses mocking this rule need to use your heads. Do you really want someone to be able to write down whatever the fuck they want, stick it in their pocket and take it home? I didn’t think so.

    Don’t treat your workers like slaves in a sweatshop and you’ll find that people tend to be less inclined to engage in such behavior. Use your head.

  52. This is a necessary ‘evil’. I don’t want anyone stealing my credit info, so smart move.

    I wouldn’t want this crappy job though.

  53. furball says:

    This is full of stupid. CSRs need access to consumers’ personal info to do their jobs. If you’re concerned about non-trustworthy CSRs writing personal info down on paper and stealing it, you may want to rethink your hiring policies.

  54. aphexbr says:

    @gomakemeasandwich: I see what you’re saying and I accept your point to a certain degree. But isn’t all that locking down and total mistrust a big reason why people get pissed off and want to make more money on the side in the first place? That sounds like an extremely crappy environment to work in.

    I’m with a lot of the other guys here. When I worked in a call centre, it was a lot easier to note down a postcode, account number, error codes, model numbers or names to refer back to while you were on another screen (the systems I used could be anything from 2 to 6 non-integrated systems, so really helped speed up the job). It’s also a help when you have 20 seconds between calls to type notes up on the system – much quicker to write shorthand notes than type longhand for non-trained typists (i.e. most call centre people).

    I can’t imagine having to do those call centre jobs without pen and paper, but admittedly I’ve not had to deal directly with credit card numbers for the most part. When I did, the account details were accessed through surname/postcode and only the last 4 digits of the card number were visible to me – this would be confirmed before continuing the call. Much safer not to give people access to the full information (why would a T-Mobile telephonist need your full credit card number?) than to treat them like they can’t be trusted – that will often backfire.

    Then again, if these places weren’t so mercilessly stat-oriented, high-pressure and low paid, maybe they could attract honest people who cared enough not to from their employer and customers in the first place…

  55. Technick says:

    I believe this is for PCI Compliance. Depending on how much money you take in via credit cards, dictates what level PCI Compliance your organization needs to run at or otherwise face fines from VISA/Mastercard/AMEX or the ultimate punishment of not being able to take credit cards at all. (Business Suicide)

    More information can be found here.
    PCI Compliance Guide

  56. Dobernala says:

    @Technick: Does it actually mention this in the PCI Compliance Guide (sorry, too lazy to read it all)?

    It seems to me that they should be worried about massive theft, not the theft of a few customers’ credit card numbers by a rouge CSR with a pen and pad. A single CSR isn’t going to be able to go home with that many CC numbers.

  57. davemei83 says:

    My old company uses call centers who also employ similar practices. No pens, pencils, or paper are allowed. THOUGH….they DO try to spice up the place with a bunch of motivational posters and signs (typically the ones you see in Kindergarten classrooms…no joke).

    Its actually funny because some of our clients want the call center to push their products…so they give away promotional items to the call center works….and usually, they give pens.

    Ha.

  58. colineff says:

    I use to work for a call center for onstar, they said that as a requrment of being part of some credit card groupe call centers that take cc info are not suppose to have pens or paper (it does make sence for security) no cellphones / camera phones too but this wasnt a reality

  59. investigator says:

    @Technick:

    It’s not technically a PCI DSS requirement, but the regs state that the company needs to take increased steps to maintain the security of personal information. If an incident occurs, the FTC would levy much smaller fines if a company can demonstrate that they tried. If good security controls aren’t in place, the fines would be really bad.

    Love,
    An Investigator for a Global Call Center Company

  60. weakdome says:

    I definitely only clicked on this because I thought the title said they were banning Penis and paper.

  61. pigeonpenelope says:

    tmobile does not forbid the use of paper, pens, and pencils.

    an outsourced company is not owned by tmobile.

  62. Confuzius says:

    Sarnia is the asshole of Canada.
    The only saving grace is that due to all of the chemical manufacturing plants there for some reason female births outnumber male births something like 3:2 when it should be 1:1
    [www.cbc.ca]
    So being a dude in Sarnia should increase your odds ;-)

    That aside, horrible policy.

  63. Twilightred says:

    Even though this is an outsourced call center, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s still a T-Mobile directive. My experience with T-Mobile has gone from great to horrendous in the space of four years. Anyone know if they were bought out/restructured?

  64. KarmaChameleon says:

    @SkokieGuy: You’ve clearly never worked in a call center. Neither have the people who are agreeing that this is a good idea.

    aphexbr is right. The way most systems in call centers are set up, you can’t have multiple screens open to view info, so writing things down is a necessity if you don’t want to have to keep clicking back and forth between workflows. I can’t imagine the nightmare it would have been working at Chase and not being able to write things down when working accounts.

    You can’t simultaneously bitch about how awful customer service is and deny CSRs the tools to make their jobs easier. I defy any of the people agreeing with this policy to memorize 2-3 16 digit account numbers, click back and forth between slow and often times counterintuitive workflows all while someone is screaming at you and resolve their issue in under 2 minutes. Several hundred times a day. All for $9/hr and the ever-present threat of your job being sent to Mumbai or Manila.

    There are ways to ensure the security of customer data without crippling a CSR’s ability to serve the customer.

  65. chartrule says:

    @dotcomrade:

    prisoners have no business having access to anything especially someones personal data

  66. mkanoa says:

    My wife works for Startek and it is T-Moblie corporate policy for there to be no pens or paper in any call center. It doesn’t matter whether or not the call center is outsourced or within the company.

  67. amandabee says:

    Maybe they just need to watch New Jack City already and start making everyone work naked.

  68. Sweetleader says:

    @furball:
    Call centers literally the worst attrition rates for almost any job.

    I used to work at a T-Mobile 3rd party call center and we weren’t allowed pens and paper but we were however allowed laminate boards and sharpies(well not alowed but nobody cared). Personally I just used notepad to write down certain information or just typed it in the account notes. Not to hard

  69. Jabberkaty says:

    *shudder* So cold. So very cold. I honestly feel very sorry for anyone who has to work in such a soul-sucking job.

    *makes a note – on paper – to be nice to a CSR*