I love my job as a software engineer. I love it so much, in fact, that whenever I have time, I do it for free by working on open-source software and writing about software development on this excuse for a blog.

I am, therefore, highly aware that some people don’t enjoy their jobs. Call centers, for example, which will be the focus for this example.

When I lived in the UK, call centers were a fact of life. Anytime you needed to call your bank, your car insurance, your ISP, whatever, it’s a call center. Anytime you need to call one of those places because there was an issue or they’d screwed up in some way, there would be a call center operative doing their job by taking your call. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, they would be extremely helpful because that’s the best way to enjoy your job – do it well, and try to get some satisfaction out of it. One time out of a hundred, they would be…um…anywhere on a range of not-so-helpful through to downright rude and obstructive.

Call centers, as far as I can make out, are set up to do three things – field calls, field calls that are complaints, and field complaints against the call center personnel. There is one category that it seems they’re not set up to deal with.

When you call a call center and the call ends, occasionally you’ll have a little touch-tone survey. “Did the operative help you? Press 1 for yes, or 2 for no”. Press 1 or 2, and you’ll get a cheery “Thank you for your feedback”. This is not the way to collect satisfaction data – or, at least, it’s not the way to collect anything other than the coarsest-grained data possible. The survey may as well be tone-sensitive and ask you to fart or belch to indicate your level of satisfaction.

Personally, I make a point of explicitly thanking people when they’ve been helpful. If the calls are recorded (which they invariably are, for “training purposes”), then you would hope it would show up. I also think those tapes are only used for the training purposes of lawyers when the company in question is getting sued. That’s why I also like to speak or contact the operative’s manager to pass on my positive thoughts on their performance.

Fast forward through two years of living in Belgium, and I’m back in call center land. I just signed up with Lampiris as my new utility provider, and there was an issue with my on-line sign-up. I got in touch with the service center and the guy I spoke to – in English, of course, despite the fact I’m living in Belgium – resolved the issue, looked at the root cause of the issue and got me to where I want to be in the sign-up process. I am one happy bunny.

So I ask to speak to his manager, at which point he gets a little bit confused. Now, customer service in Belgium is not what you would call satisfactory – in the majority of cases, you feel like you’ve achieved something when asking customer services anything if they haven’t poured sugar into your fuel tank as a response. Consequently, when you do get not just good but excellent customer service, you feel inordinately happy – maybe this is a country-wide long-term strategy, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

But I digress – I asked to speak to the guy’s manager, and he got confused and asked why. I briefly explained my philosophy, and he went off to get his manager (another difference to UK call centers – there, it seems the lines are constantly monitored by people issues can be referred to). The eventual outcome of this – his manager had stepped out for a minute. What a kick in the nuts! I put up with crappy customer service all the time, and when I want to express my satisfaction, there’s no-one there I can do it to!

I think I’ll file this one under “thoughts”.

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