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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)

  • 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.


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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 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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