A Tale of Two Call Centres

Happy belated 2008. Holidays are over. School's back. Traffic sucks. The weeks off were not only welcome but refreshing, although I must admit there was the odd day or two that saw my "peace on earth, good will to men" disposition - well, shall we say - lacking.

Yes, there's nothing like the odd call centre experience or two to dampen the old holiday spirit. That said, not every experience was negative - in one instance I was actually delighted.

Being the holiday season, these situations revolved mostly around delivery of gifts, and my best experience was the first. Keen to get top marks from my granddaughter Lily this Christmas I was determined to get her everything on her wish list (and more). A couple of years ago I brought her back a baby doll from the US. The doll, which is called Bitty Baby, is part of the American Girl range of dolls, accessories and clothes, largely sold online and not retail outlets.

Lily informed me in late November that Bitty Baby was deserving of a few new outfits for Christmas, so figuring said wardrobe might take some time in making it to our shores, I immediately rang American Girl to place an order. The young call centre woman I spoke with was informed, accommodating - all in all a delightful experience. I placed my order and reckoned it would be three or so weeks until delivery.

Four days later a box arrived from American Girl.

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About the same time I placed an order for some cubby furniture from a local supplier. Because I was working right up until Christmas, I told the company that it was okay to leave the delivery on our porch (we live in a very safe neighbourhood). Three weeks later - on Friday, December 21 - I got home from work and there was a note on the door to call the logistics agent. What transpired next was one of the most exasperating experiences I've ever had.

First, I was told that I would have to wait 48 hours for delivery. Fine, I said, I'll be home Monday the 24th. Uh no, the call centre person said, the weekend doesn't count because we don't work, so we won't be able to deliver until December 27. What kind of logistics company opts NOT to work on the weekend before Christmas? I was told I could pick it up at their depot on December 24. Not thrilled, but desperate, I said give me the address and we'll be there on Monday. The call centre person said she couldn't tell me the address at that time, but would ring at some point in the next 48 hours (those same hours when they weren't working).

Let's just say I was not a happy camper and things got ugly. I ranted, I asked to speak to a supervisor, but I had apparently hit a brick wall. I hung up the phone despondent. It was 3.30pm.

Five hours later the phone rang and someone in management was on the line. The woman explained that the company was delivering on the weekend, and we'd receive delivery the next day.

This is a tale of two call centres: one experience a customer-centric delight, the other a negative, unhelpful, frustrating experience saved in the end by management stepping in. But the lessons to be learned here are not confined to call centres. IT departments who subscribe to a culture that believes in a delightful customer experience, an empowered staff and the ability to deliver not just on time, but before, are always going to have more street cred than the ones that are always apologizing and playing catch-up.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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