Derailed by a Common Language
Anchorwoman Decibella Chatterjee walks in to a classroom, followed by a heavily laden camerman. DC stops, looks around, sees no mirrors, takes one out of her purse and admires herself. Cameraman walks around, studying angles, backgrounds and lighting; then sets up tripod and mounts camera; tests sound levels and gets ready.
DC: Camraj, are we ready? [Cameraman nods. Meanwhile, instructor and students have been watching all the preparations with interest.] Hi, I am Decibella Chatterjee [beams at the instructor].
Instructor: I am Priya Sethi. My boss told me to expect you.
DC: Is he one of my fans?
PS: [Trying to remember] He just said, ‘You will have to put up with an annoying media intrusion today.’
DC: What? Cammie, did you hear that?
Camraj: You should have heard what he told me when I asked for permission to broadcast from this classroom today.
DC: Well! [Doesn’t know what to say, gives up. Looks around, sees Baldev, Gurbux and other boys gazing at her lustfully. Cheers up.] Never mind, I know my viewers want to see this Call Center business from the inside.
PS: What you will see in my class room is the preparation for working in a Call Center. We get run-of-the-mill students [Students who understand English frown; others continue gazing at DC] and turn them into passable Call Center operators.
DC: OK, then! Let us get started. Proceed with your class. Cammie will start recording; I will just stand here, looking good.
PS: Good morning, students. I am Priya Sethi, and I will be your instructor for the Error Lingua Productions course on Call Center English, offered on behalf of your employer, Airhead Telecomm.
Airhead has retained us, as have many profitable enterprises, to teach their Call Center employees the proper way to deal with customer calls.
Student raises his hand.
PS: What is it, Baldev?
Baldev: Miss, we are knowing English already. Company employing us because we passed out English test only.
PS: I know that, Baldev. But what you learned at your school – which was probably not as good as this school [sniff] -- was standard Indian English. That may be good enough to work at Byebye Consulting Services or Ifnosys Corp; what Airhead Telecomm needs you to learn, and utilize, is Call Center English.
Student stands up but does not raise his hand.
PS: Yes, Shrini?
Srinivasaraghavan: Kindly enumerate, in descending order of importance, the differences between SIE and CCE.
DC: [Interrupting] What is SIE? And CCE?
Camraj: Oh, Bella!
Srinivasaraghavan: As should be clear to the meanest intelligence – even an anchorwoman’s [DC starts to protest, Camraj pacifies and silences her] – SIE is Standard Indian English; CCE is, needless to say, Call Center English.
PS: That is exactly what I am about to teach you. Listen carefully.
Studies have shown that 87% of all customer calls to a Call Center are for a complaint. Of these, 95% are for the purpose of gaining $50 or more for the complainant. Think of it! More than four calls out of every five are made for extracting $50 or more from your company. Remember that customer’s gain is your employer’s loss. What is it, Gurbux?
Gurbux: Why we don’t send a munda or a gunda to bash up complaining customer? Aphter all, we have name and address in database.
PS: Gurbux, Airhead Telecomm does not want to bash up its customers; that would discourage them from spending money on Airhead products and services, do you understand?
So – talk to the customer, thank them for being your customer, sell them additional products, services or contract extensions. But if they persist in complaining or – worse – asking for a refund or a credit, then you switch to CCE.
Here’s what you do. Forget all you learned in school about grammar. Subjects, verbs, numbers, genders, tenses should all be disconnected, asynchronous, unharmonious. Fracture the language to the point that the caller has trouble understanding you. Speak calmly, politely, softly. Repeat platitudes often, such as “You must be joking!” or “There is no question” or even “I beg your pardon”. In fact, that last one is good for a lot of aggravation.
When you start to respond to the caller, repeat their complaint, but distort the English so it sounds different. If they interrupt to correct or contradict you, beg their pardon, and go back to the beginning. Repeat.
Always address the caller as “Saar”, if male; not as “Sir”, that is standard. But “Saar” sounds close enough to appease the caller but secretly amuses you because it is derived from “Saalaa”. If the caller is female, address her as “Maydumb”, not as “Madam” or, God forbid, “Ma’am” – that is far too Standard. “Maydumb” sounds close enough but, again, asserts your suspicion that the caller may be dumb.
Srini: Kindly give us examples of the foregoing.
PS: I can do better than that. I am going to have you role play an interaction between an irate cell phone customer and you, the Airhead Rep. Shrini, you read this script, for the customer; Baldev, you read the lines for the Airhead Rep. Now, go!
Rep: Airhead Telecomm. Baldev ispeaking. Saar and/or Maydumb, your name is what?
Cust: Actually, my name is Whatson. That is, Tommy Whatson, founder of Indian Business Methods.
Rep: Saar, I beg your pardon.
Cust: I am Tommy Whatson, President of IBM.
Rep: Welcome, Saar. You are wanting what, Mr. Whatson?
Cust: I’m having problems with my Airhead cell phone service; it keeps dropping calls…
Rep: Saar, you must be joking!
Cust: What do you mean, joking? Do I sound like I am joking? I can tell you your bills are no bloody joke. You advertise a service, take my payment, can’t deliver quality services and then tell me it’s a joke? You’ve got a nerve…
Rep: Saar, there is no question. I am having several nerves, tendons and muscles. But why you are dropping your cell phone? That is not good for the phone, are you knowing?
Cust: I do NOT drop the bloody cell phone, although I should, preferably from a tall building…It’s the damn phone that keeps dropping my calls. What is wrong with your service?
Rep: Saar, thank you for being Airhead customer. We are appreciating your business. But your business is not appreciating. It is static-ing. You are paying same monthly amount now as last year. You must be joking! You are not wanting additional services – like video mail or textual harassment messaging?
Cust: First, get your voice services to work correctly, consistently, predictably. Then talk to me about additional services. Why should I buy anything else from your company when you can’t even get the basics right?
Rep: Saar, or Maydumb, as the case may be – we are working hardly to maintain your loyolalty. We are wanting your business and willing to earnestly yearn your revenue. You are wanting to drop your cell phone service? But you are calling from your cell number. If you drop service, how I can be talking with you? There is no question.
Cust: I can’t deal with this. Good bye!
Disconnects the call.
PS: Well done, gentlemen. Class, remember, CCE is one of the tools Airhead wants you to employ – since you want Airhead to employ you – to turn away customer complaints. After lunch, we will take a look at the use of background noise and sound effects to distract a complaining customer…
DC: That’s it, Cammie. You can shut down. Priya, that was very interesting.
PS: Glad you liked it.
DC: Liked it? I learnt so much. First thing I have to do this afternoon is switch my cell phone service.