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“Your call may be monitored … “

In general, my dealings with customer service/call center operators have been positive over the last few years: I may not get done exactly what I wanted to get done, but I usually have the sense the person tried, and more often than not I take my issue up a level anyway, where actual decisions can be made about such things as waiving fees, reducing charges, getting better deals, actually getting something fixed — the important stuff.

I think a large part of the improvement in customer service — at least from what I have anecdotally observed — is due to the potential omnipresence of monitors on the call lines. This is somewhat similar to the concealed weapon theory. The NY Times takes a look at these ghosts in the dark:

    Call monitors eavesdrop on millions of exchanges a year, and listening to the mumblings and rants of people on hold comes with the job. Over all, about 2 percent of the hundreds of millions of calls made to call centers are monitored by a company’s own managers or, increasingly, by third-party monitoring companies, which have come on the scene in the last couple of years.

    ….The business of assessing the behavior of operators has taken on a new urgency in recent years. With so many companies selling similar products at similar prices, competent and professional customer service agents are more and more the difference between a sale and a lost opportunity, a burnished brand and a tarnished one.

    That reality has turned third-party call monitoring into a fast-growing industry watching over the nation’s six million call center operators as well as hundreds of thousands offshore. And people like Mr. Pike, who listens to about 150 calls a week, have become the equivalent of factory foremen policing America’s service economy.

    ….under tighter scrutiny by regulators, most financial institutions are now taping all their calls.

    The growth of monitoring has also been fueled by the advent of Internet phone technology, which has substantially cut the cost of long-distance calls and made call monitoring as easy as clicking a mouse. Sophisticated software that automatically records conversations has increased the number of calls monitors can assess.

    As more call centers move offshore, companies are starting to outsource the monitoring, too. From any corner of the globe, call monitors with just a computer and an Internet connection can oversee workers virtually anywhere. For instance, Mr. Pike on Long Island listens to service agents in India who may be talking to customers in Indiana. Monitors in Britain are likely to listen to customers in New York talking to German operators in Frankfurt.

    In effect, monitors have become referees on an international scale. “We act as the conscience of the company,” said Paul Kowal, the president of Kowal Associates, an industry consultant and a third-party monitor.

    ….Just a few years ago, most companies simply ranked their operators on how quickly they picked up calls and ended them. Now call monitors rate operators by checking off boxes on detailed electronic questionnaires that assess qualities like efficiency, conversational skills and ability to mollify frustrated customers. The scores from each monitored call are collected to rank an operator’s performance.

    ….Monitors typically score operators on their “openings,” like the friendliness of their greeting. They flag annoying habits like using run-on sentences or talking in a monotone, and even gauge the mood of calls by noting whether operators sound like they are smiling as they talk.

    Operators are given demerits for transferring customers without asking, keeping someone on hold for too long and blaming others instead of trying to solve problems. Providing incorrect information is another no-no.

And that’s good for customers’ satisfaction.

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: [email protected], Facebook.com/amhaunted, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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