Annals of Commerce: The Customer Service Function

Thank you for reading. To assure quality, reader clicks and keystrokes may be recorded. [music you don’t like, or at least the middle frequencies of it that a telephone can transmit]Please enter or speak your account number, followed by the pound sign…You entered …if that is correct, press one [music] We are experiencing a high-than normal reader volume. Your insight request will be served by the next available post. [music] You can do a variety of interesting things on our website, though not what you placed this click for. [music] Your opinions are important to us, and after this visit, we would like you to take a survey. Please click “1″ for yes, “2″ for no. [music]….

This post provides a translation of some common specialized language in the world of customer service, a land in which many seemingly simple English phrases and constructions have specialized meanings only taught in advanced MBA courses.
To assure quality, this call may be recorded.
Certainly not ‘listened to’; do you think we are going to spend actual money paying someone to listen to this drivel? But we need to scare our agents into thinking we are listening in, and maybe you will think that will improve their performance, so it doesn’t hurt to make everyone a little anxious.
Please enter your account number
We will not transmit this to the agent, so you get to say it again later. But if you’re in this queue with a problem, you’re obviously so stupid that you can’t buy stuff from us the way we have in mind: playing with the keypad probably amuses you.
Please listen to this menu, as our options have changed.

You are too dumb to remember what number goes to what queue, and need to be retaught no matter how often you come here.
We are experiencing higher than normal call volume….
Please do not confuse normal with typical. Normal for us is no calls, because these calls do nothing but cost us money and annoy us. We have done an excellent queuing analysis of our call pattern, and the call volume now is exactly typical, right at the mean level predicted for this day and hour. Wait time is high because we have carefully understaffed the CS function to assure (i) the minimal idle time for people on our payroll, and therefore (ii) a long waiting queue for you, who are not, and have no real option but to wait for us. Ideally, you will get fed up, disconnect, and not bother us at all.

This staffing also assures that everyone our undertrained and overworked agents talk to will be furious, like you, so their job is soul-crushing, but unemployment is very high and what are they going to do about it, quit?

Shorter version: we think your time is much less valuable to you than ours is to us, and it is especially worthless to us.
Unfortunately, I’m not able to help you with that. Please hold while I transfer you to our senior bedbug division.
If you’ve stayed around this long, you really need to get a life. I’m going to put you in another queue for twenty more minutes so you get the idea and leave us alone. If this happens again, I will drop the call so you can call in again. And if you do, I will be on break, or my shift will be over, so you can really start from the beginning.
Your opinion/experience is important to us …[survey].
This one, recently grown into a pervasive plague, has two interpretations:
(1) When it is, we have legitimate ways of learning it, and a random survey soaked in selection bias like this is not one of them. On the other hand, pretending to ask you for your response might make you think your views are of interest, and as the survey is automated, it costs us nothing to let you pretend and then throw away the results. Also, if you get to vent to the machine, you might not call us again to complain that this call didn’t solve your problem!

(2) We really hate paying money for consulting and research so we prefer to draft you to do this for us for free.
Have a nice day!
So long, sucker.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-Based Community]

Michael O’Hare

Michael O'Hare is a Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.