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Categories:Advisers

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 Matt.....as 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.

    Pathetic

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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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  • Rude FA with no manners uses the 'I'm in a hurry so will abuse anyone who doesn't give me what I want now' routine.

    Pathetic

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  • So Anonymous 3:16pm, you're evidently one of the ones who shouts and throws his toys out the pram then... and you say others are pathetic.

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  • Manners cost nothing. A little more empathy for someone working for a company which doesn't provide much value for money for the person on either end of the line will always receive a better response. This could be anyone you know and abuse just doesn't work.

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  • Well said Matt - i was you many years ago - believe me there is light at the end of the tunnel, moving on from this environment is the best thing you can do.

    Polite but firm is the way to go - sadly these days common courtesy is far from common.

    And for the Anonymous poster, firstly have the courage of your convictions to put your name where your mouth is, and secondly - rudeness, shouting and abuse is unacceptable EVERYWHERE - call centre staff are people too, and deserve the right to do their jobs without such childish and ridiculous treatment
    Some of the things that i had said to me or the tirades i had shouted at me during my 18 months in a call centre at the beginning of my career would have you physically ejected from a retail store, or refused treatment at a doctors or hospital. Just because the person is at the end of a telephone and not physically in front of you does not change how it is acceptable to treat them.

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  • I do sympathise with Matt Worthington, especially if he was/is a competent person. I know I have raised my voice from time to time, but I always make sure that the person on the other end of the phone knows that I am not angry them, but with the company that too often ends up either having people on the phone who lack the necessary competence or has a system that is itself incompetent. For professionalism to work it should be matched by professionalism. It is often said that courtesy costs nothing, but with some companies it could cost a blood pressure table or two!
    But frankly I can't extend any level of professionalism to Keith Thomson. What element of RDR is geared to changing personal behaviour on the phone? What aspect of RDR is actually geared to behaving in a professional manner? What aspect of RDR will affect the behaviour of people so that the world will become a more pleasant place to do business? I know a few people who are unbelievably boorish on the phone, and RDR will not change them in the slightest.
    Living in fantasy land about what RDR is designed to achieve or even likely to achieve demonstrates a lack of professionalism in you, for you portray a message to others that RDR will change human behaviour. And pigs might fly. RDR will have a hard job doing what it is designed to do; do not add the impossible to that burden.

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  • After 50 minutes on the phone to Barclays Indian call centre operatives I gave up and called their Complaints department.

    If you want service don't go to customer service, go to Complaints!

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  • Politeness brings proactivity! The more pleasant an IFA, the harder I worked for them - keeping an eye on their clients and making sure they knew of any issues up front. I didn't have to, but I chose to because they were pleasant to deal with and said thanks. When they get angry, you are concerned and actually care.
    To those of your who swear, rant & rave and belittle us when things aren't to your liking - learn some manners pronto - they really go a long way. Otherwise, I will remember you for being atrocious and then make sure I steer clear of you & your clients....you get what you required initially and no more. Your rudeness feeds my utter contempt.
    I have heard IFA's lambast people to the point of tears, it doesn't make the receipient feel good, so why be so vicious? If it's your fault for not completing the forms correctly, accept it graciously - or ask us for advice up front on how to fill it in!
    Often a well worded e-mail or letter when you are fuming gets more response than an aggressive shouter. IFA's are so beautifully eloquent on paper.....
    Thank you Matt - it's hard to just have to take it. Until someone swears profusely & is warned, an operator on the end of the line cannot just end the call & just has to take it. Life & Pensions Companies - stand up & give your staff some more protection from verbally nasty customers who don't just swear, but clearly also bully and bully just for the sake it....we can all name a bullying IFA instantly..... (so can their own office support team, as we hear from them....).
    So all you aggressive shouters, think twice and then open your mouth before you tear a strip off someone and ruin their day!

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  • To those who demand very high service from providers, let's be pragmatic for a minute. I could create a provider where the staff were all highly trained and knowledgable, there were so many on the phone lines that there was never, ever a queue and every FA had his own personal contact. Sound good? That provider would probably be so expensive to run that its rates would be awful! At the other end of the scale, I could employ lowly trained people in minimal numbers and the running costs would be pretty low (allowing better value products). Realistically, most real providers are going to fall somewhere between these theoretical examples. Reasonable rates and reasonable standards can and should be expected by FA's. But stellar service and very competitive rates are probably a tad unrealistic (no matter what anyone's marketing blurb might say!).

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  • How many times have you been through the grind with a semi-literate, semi-interested, salaried call centre gimp? Slumped in their chairs, clock watching, idling the day away without a care in the world. These people make me sick.

    FA’s are hardworking people who need to protect their client’s money. We need high quality answers quickly not spending our days on the phone dealing with such gibbery.

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  • Patronising in the extreme. IFA's get more angry than the others because we know what shoody service is being served up and the others are merely ignorant of that fact. Clue comes in "closed" as rubbish service is endemic in many life companies and despite all the apologists here the fact is you reap what you sow.

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