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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)

  • Bemused - you've made me think of a few of the 'characters' I've dealt with over the years. In no particular order, I present to you...

    The Adviser who would hang up if his call was answered by a female member of staff and would keep calling back until a male member of staff answered. He would then complain about the amount of time it had taken him to 'get through'.

    The Adviser who, upon his call being answered, would bark, "John Smith from Smith FS, Bond Quote, 100k, Mr. A. Smith, 01/01/1945, usual terms." and then hang up before the call handler had even had a chance to respond.

    The Adviser whose wife was his PA. She would phone up for a quote and we would prepare it exactly as per her instructions. The FA would phone a few days later apoplectic, swearing and screaming at our rank stupidity and incompetence when it came to quote production.He would demand to speak to a senior manager and lambast our failure to get a simple quote right. Investigation would always show that we had provided exactly what his wife had asked for. When this was pointed out to him and he was invited to listen to the call recording, he would simply hang up.

    I could tell you dozens more like this, but in the interests of fairness, I should point out that this still represents a minority of Advisers.

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  • What is required for less abuse is the ability to hang up the phone. I used to work for an entrepreneurial compliance company and if anyone tried to give you any s***t then the corporate view was to hang the phone up without warning. If the idiot then rang back generally he would get a business owner on the phone telling him not to abuse the staff he employed. Guess what, hardly any idiots, as they knew exactly what the deal was and that they could not behave as if they were in the playground.

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  • Anonymous 3.34p.m.

    1. QED, why don't you front up and quote your name? Do you work in a call centre for a closed life office, maybe even designing processes and I've touched a nerve? There is however an immense irony in that you cite data protection whilst not quoting in your own name. Pah!

    2. The puerile questions asked are about as effective at protecting client data as a dead fish. Before you respond with another inane and anonymous diatribe, just think it through for a second.

    3. Of course the Indian lady couldn't pass our i/d checks because she was ringing us! How were we supposed to know who she was but she and her employers [a closed life company again somewhat ironically] chose to ignore this bit of DATA PROTECTION and just expect us to take them at their word. Doh!

    4. Amused and superior; no more like bemused and long suffering. Why do you think you can treat people this way?

    Please feel free to contact me directly to discuss at You will however at the very least need to state your name to pass the 'data protection' tests that we insist on to protect OUR CLIENTS!

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  • As somebody who works in the technical area of a life office, I deal every day with queries escalated from our call centre. I also review a number of calls dealt with solely by the callcentre.Yes, there are decent and polite IFAs who call, and those who are pleasant and understanding and grateful. And also those that are forceful but restrained when expressing their disappointment at our shortcomings. All of which is perfectly fine. But there are also rude and arrogant callers, and often they also have a woeful ignorance. Rarely a week goes by without me having to refer an IFA to something in RPSM, or to a piece of legislation, or maybe even to point out the fact that the information they are claiming that we have failed to send is in fact in the paperwork they have received - even occasionally printed prominently in large bold typeface in the documentation. Several times a year I will either review a call or take one myself from an IFA being so outrageously rude that were he to spout such abuse face to face to people, a significant number of the general public would probably slap him.

    Much as not all IFAs are the same, I would also say that not all closed-book offices are the same; I have various plans with both closed-book and open-book companies, and whilst I'll concede that some closed-book operations are challenging to deal with, some seem to have cottoned on to the fact the only income they have comes from their existing customers and they're not getting any more of them, so they had better provide them with some decent customer service to retain them. By contrast I have a policy with a major open-book provider, and every dealing with them is as pleasant as undergoing root canal dentistry.

    By and large callcentre work is not glmaourous, not fun, not well paid and not easy. Certainly sometimes systrems and training (or having to deal with such a wide portfolio of products) limits how much the callcentre staff can help. But another of the things that makes it unpleasant is the attitude of a significant minority of callers. I know a number of our more able and competent callcentre staff have moved on to other positions in the business, at least in part because of the endless cycle of giving people as good a service as you can, only to be met with sarcasm, snide remarks or just plain rudeness saps the morale after a while. Of course, the less able staff are less able to move out, so when callers are rude to call centre staff, they're just encouraging the good ones to leave and decrease the average competence of that callcentre next time they deal with them. Yes, I know we're far from perfect, but we do monitor calls and pull up staff when they don't meet our standards. Alas we can't do the same with callers...

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  • Its disappointing to note that there is so much arguement and debate about a story which is basically a request to show each other a bit of respect and show professionalism.

    Its not much to ask!!

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  • Pensions man has it pretty accurately.

    This article was about treating people with respect, whether you do actually respect them, yet in places it has descended into the exact behaviour being criticised.

    It's also a slight surprise to see so many "stupidly busy" people responding during the working day?Unless, of course, they are responding whilst on leave (as per Matt) or from their hospital beds (as per this respondent) in which case perhaps staying away from work may help you calm your nerves.

    Oh well, back to my day time TV and codeine...

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  • I'm quite liking the irony that this young educated self-motivated articulate and professional young man who is clearly on a career path could be a client of one of you advisers one day, perhaps even tomorrow when he wants some advice about what to do about the company pension and how to invest his surplus income??
    So could any of the people reading this stream.
    It is wrong to assume that some of the less articulate commentators in this stream don't talk to their clients in the same way - it might just be normal for them. However I'm thinking that it was wise for the less respectful views to be anonymous - if we knew who you were, us mere clients might be wondering if that's how you talk about us behind our backs too ...

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  • @Anonymous | 15 Feb 2012 3:50 pm

    You are a horrible person! how dare you slate people just because they may not have had the same start in life as you, or chances.
    How dare you judge people just because you think you are all high and mighty.
    I have worked for 2 pension companies and I have taken abuse from people - becasue they dont think I know what i am talking about, however most 'call staff' know more that you do.
    I think you need to take a step back and have a look in the mirror,
    I challenge you to spend on day in a call centre and see how much work actually goes on, and you will then see that people like you do not get the 'service' you wish because people like you do not get anywhere in life! you make a few quid more than the rest but it does NOT give you the right to act the way you do!

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  • Being rude to people generally does not achieve anything for either party. We make a point of being polite to everybody we have to deal with as a firm, but moving to an hourly based fee charging proposition has helped greatly. It is difficult to become stressed listening to Vivaldi on a loop when the clock is ticking and I can catch up on the news at the same time. Good old RDR.

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  • Has anyone ever managed to get through by telephone to Bright Grey's call centre , I would be suprised to know if anyone has !

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