Beyond the call of duty

Gayle's blood boils at the duplicity of scripted 'personal services' from call centres.

MUCH as the American 'Have a nice day' culture sets my teeth on edge, I must admit to a certain nostalgia for the days when you could expect goods and services to be provided by a person rather than an internet website or a call centre.

I know that call centres are in fact staffed by real people, but by the time you have got through the whole: 'Press the star button on your telephone keypad - choose from the following options - please hold while we try to connect you' routine it is hard to remember that you yourself are a real person, let alone that you may be connected to a flesh and blood 'customer service adviser' rather than a disembodied automated voice.

The choice of gender and accent for these voices is carefully calibrated to match what are believed to be the preferences of callers. People are supposed to think a male voice is authoritative, a female voice more sympathetic. Scottish accents are thought to be appealing to the general public, wherever they themselves come from. Received pronunciation (so-called BBC English) may put people off - but is it worse than, say, a Brummie accent?

The whole situation is fake; call centre operators have to pretend that they know - or care - about what you are enquiring about. Staff based on the other side of the world are told what time of day it is in Britain and what the weather is like, even given pretend names, in an attempt to establish a rapport with callers.

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Yet it all falls down when it comes to resolving the matter you called about.

I once used telephone banking to confirm that I wanted to take out a loan. The branch in England had told me the loan had been set up and could be activated by me at any time. I was confidently told by a call centre representative that it had already been activated - which was not at all true.

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It is even worse if you are calling to complain about poor service. Accepting that the call centre operator is not the person who caused the problem, they are the only person you can get hold of to complain about it and very often they are unable to do anything to put it right, or even to explain how things came to go so wrong.

Having decided to go over to water metering, and being told I would be sent a six monthly bill, I was very unhappy at receiving a red bill for non payment of my un-metered supply. On ringing up to ask what was going on, I got through to a call centre operative who kept talking about 'switching back' to a meter, even after I explained to her that the property had never had a metered supply. When I objected, she said she had to keep saying it because it was in her script.

So much for personal service.

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