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The angry view from a closed-life call centre

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Matt Worthington, a former call centre worker for a closed-life company, has a few things to get off his chest.

The CII has been throwing a lot of weight behind the concept of “professionalism” lately; both internally and externally. Last week’s Money Marketing article is just one example of their current lobbying for “a requirement for firms to demonstrate professionalism”.

I would like to add my own voice to the call for (delete as applicable) IFAs/financial planners/asset managers/wealth managers/money gurus/wealth creation consultants to demonstrate a greater degree of professionalism.

Now, I am not writing to you as a regulator, or a trade body, or a client, or even as a fellow IFA, but as a call centre operator for a large, closed-book life and pension provider. Every day I deal with an average of 70 calls; from clients, IFAs, solicitors, accountants, bank managers, tax inspectors, HR consultants, funeral directors, welfare benefits officers…the list goes on and on. And each caller will come on the line with a differing degree of financial awareness, and a differing degree of professionalism.

As you would imagine (and hope!) IFAs tend to score top in the financial awareness field. But consistently, and disappointingly, my colleagues and I find IFAs to be the least professional people we deal with.

Basic courtesy and politeness is a given from most callers, but all too often lacking from IFAs. And I’ve never been shouted at by a solicitor, but again, it is a common occurrence from IFAs. Same story for being sworn at or personally insulted. We would never expect an accountant or a bank manager to hurl abuse down the line like a drunk at a football match, but sadly we tend to anticipate it from IFAs.

I understand your frustrations, definitely. You’re kept on hold for ages (with some pretty dire hold music, I admit). You have to go through the same repetitive data protection routine over and over again. Then sometimes we can’t give you the information you need. Or we give you the wrong information. Or we tell you it’ll have to be sent in writing, which takes a few weeks. Plus postage.

As a company we’re not perfect, but what company is? And as call centre operators we’re obviously not going to have the same breadth and depth of experience and knowledge as you are. Otherwise we wouldn’t be call centre operators; we’d be IFAs. I know we are “the face of the company”, but please, show some respect to people trying to do their job as best they can.

Contrary to popular belief, we call centre operators aren’t actually responsible for setting HMRC’s trivial commutation rules. Nor do we have much say in when Royal Mail decide to deliver the quotes we posted to you. And surprising as it may be, if you decide to transfer your clients substantial funds to the far reaches of the globe, we don’t have the authority to “bypass that ridiculous anti-money laundering malarkey and chuck the cash over sharpish”.

Shouting and swearing at a minimum wage call centre operator because you feel that the “f***ing company is stealing my clients money”  will never get you a result.  On the other hand, “I’d like to discuss my concerns over the charging structure of your product” sounds much better, doesn’t it? And far more likely to get a half-decent factual response.

I’m pleased to say that I’m putting this behind me now. I am leaving the call centre for a small asset management firm, having (like most of my colleagues) studied for my first qualifications (PFS Diploma in Regulated Financial Planning, PFS Certificate in Financial Planning, CII Award in Financial Administration, and IMA Certificate in Money Advice Practice).

Anyway, rant over. Sincere apologies to the polite and professional IFAs out there - I have enjoyed speaking with you and dealing with your queries. No doubts I’ll share your call centre frustrations in the near future, but whatever I encounter, I wholly intend to maintain a polite and professional manner in all of my communications; not just those with fee-paying or prospective clients.

Matt Worthington


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Readers' comments (64)

  • Well said a Customer Service Representative in a Commission department within a Life company I can wholeheartedly agree with your rant!

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  • Well said Matt. Eloquently and clearly put. You will always get a better response from call centres and in life generally if you treat people with respect and explain in simple terms what you are trying to find out regarding a client's policy. I can only hope that the proposed changes in ethical and professional behaviour that should come with RDR will remove the bad apples and the world becomes a more pleasant place in which to do business.

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  • Well said Matt, completely agree and sympathise

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  • Shouting abuse is inexcusable. It probably shows just how much pressure IFA's are currently under. Most of us don't know whether we have a business next year.

    I guess if you are a solicitor and charging £250 an hour you are happy to listen to 25 minutes of hold music at 7p a second.

    We all know that RDR will hopefully rid our industry of the knuckle dragging, mouth breathing, slow moving baboons that still operate. Hopefully post 2012 they will have gone and Matt and his colleagues will be left with polite professional IFA's to deal with.

    Sadly I suspect that a lot of the good IFA's will go too.

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  • I suspect the difference between IFAs and the rest are that advisers spend soooooo much time, on the phone to companies, that their nerves are in shreds. As a rule I do not shout at call centre workers but when I get frustrated with a the company I may well get forceful but always tell the person I am speaking to that I am not blaming them, personally, for the company's shortcomings.

    However...occasionally I have spoken to someone who will just refuse to give a direct answer (yes/no/don't know). I don't mind someone admitting they don't know and offering to find out for me (I don't know everything either). But I have had quite a few people who do this (they don't seem to realise how contadictory they are being) and that does make you go a bit mental, I can tell you. But it is no good going into any conversation with the intention of shouting and, quite understandably, that rarely gets the desired result.

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  • I've dealt with a huge number of FA's in over a decade in a call centre environment (much of this as a supervisor). To be fair, the majority are reasonable and professional. However, a small but significant number are rude, unreasonable and thoroughly unpleasant people who remind me of toddlers throwing a tantrum. I absolutely accept that we do get things wrong sometimes, but take it from an insider, you'll get vastly superior results complaining politely yet firmly. It's sad and embarrasing to hear a middle-aged FA doing a very good impression of one of those problem children from Supernanny!

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  • Poorly trained staff in mediocre firm uses the 'we're ask crap as everyone else so don't shout at us' routine.


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  • The fault lies not with call centre staff but with the service levels decided on by their employers. The closed companies know perfectly well that the money is likely to be leaving them so slow down the process as much as possible. That said, there is never an excuse for rude or aggressive behaviour and I agree with Matt that it is counterproductive.

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  • Best article i have ever read, so accurate. if you went into public place and said some of the things these people say you would get done for breach of the peace. making someone feel crap to feed your ego is so wrong.

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  • I couldn't agree with you more Matt. I am an IFA in my own very small practice and it never ceases to amaze me how our industry seems to have grown so full of our own importance.

    Whenever I go to one of my networks forums, it seems to be full of advisers who "would get out of bed for less than £100k per year" and who look down their noses at anyone who drives a car worth less than £50k and so it’s of no surprise to hear how this attitude carries over when dealing with others.

    Unfortunately there seems to be a core of Advisers who seem to have lost touch with reality and seem to feel they are so hard done by because they may now have to actually work for a living.

    I have lived my life trying to the best of my ability to treat people how I would expect to be treated. I think my mother was the one who told me something like “good manners costs nothing”

    Yes occasionally I come across call centre staff who clearly don’t give two hoots about their roll in their company and provide a below par service but this is not an everyday occurrence, however I find meeting fire with fire with these select few still doesn’t get me what I need any quicker or easier.

    I am pleased to say the majority of call centre staff to be helpful and friendly to deal with and let us not forget without these minimum wage people our jobs as IFA would be considerable harder.

    Congratulations Matt on working hard and finding a position out of the call centre and I hope your experience there will hold you in good stead in your future career.

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