THIS BLOG WILL FOCUS ON THE CALL CENTER EMPLOYEE AND POSSIBLE LEGAL ISSUES. After doing some research on the subject of call center issues, I have become increasingly concerned about the well being of the employees being part of the “cookie cutter” call system syndrome. To gain further insight, I have discussed this subject with several current and former call center employees as well as doing basic research. It is somewhat depressing to picture a professional with a college degree such as an insurance agent or financial advisor, working under this prototype call center environment without any customization to ensure that both the needs of the customer remains a top priority but also that employees are treated with dignity and respect.
How could agents not suffer some anguish if they felt required to compromise their moral values in order to keep their job? How would anyone not be uncomfortable by finding themselves being placed in a position as at Wells Fargo by which you are directed to sell hard on each and every incoming call no matter what the customers’ circumstances. What if the customer is calling in about a serious complaint; is very upset due a recent tragedy and is calling in a claim; they have just lost thousands of dollars due to a poor investment; they have lost out on the purchase of a dream home due to the company’s poor mortgage customer service etc.? An agent would have to be blessed with a strong stomach to continue in the hard sales role even if pressured by management. It is easy to think that the employee should just quit. However, what if you are the family breadwinner with several children and can’t risk the consequences of just leaving a company during a time when the job market is on a downturn. You could ask why doesn’t the agent protest to management. As one agent advised me, it is management who are enforcing these standards. If you are perceived as not being a team member, your life will be made very unpleasant. You will be marginalized with a reputation for being a difficult or disgruntled employee; someone who is unstable as well as not being a team player. An agent from a well established company described to me what typically occurs when an employee dares to challenge the status quo. The offending agent could be subject to excessive monitoring with supervisors listening in at random and excessive surveillance. As time passes the agent will experience extreme discomfort and will eventually leave.
One agent described how she had worked for a company for seven years and had many plum assignments typically given to top performing agents along with outstanding employee reviews. She was a young, healthy adult with a college degree as well as some previous successful sales experience and management training with a beauty product company. However, at some point while being employed by a company with an excellent reputation, she voiced concerns about the sales tactics being practiced. She eventually ended up with mental health issues and left the company on disability leave after enduring many weeks of bullying. She tried returning to work but found that her anger issues were returning as she would still be working for the same supervisor who had harmed her. She didn’t want to live in fear and so she resigned. She had been subject for weeks to a frequently deployed tactic by call center management of excessive surveillance and constant monitoring. This includes the supervisors listening and recording many calls for hours and at random times with the intent to catch the employees making an error. Then the employees are frequently confronted with all their errors, written notices, increased coaching sessions with the employees’ full knowledge that they are helpless, and even if they get that they are being treated unfairly and unjustly, they have no legitimate, reliable and effective recourse for relief. This is just for starters! These tactics are also used to set up an employee to be fired. If companies believe that this pattern of subjecting offending employees to these bullying and mental harassment tactics designed to separate out an agent, is a way to avoid legal repercussions, please reconsider this stance. Currently, these systemic practices may not be sufficient for claimants to legally prevail on the basis of the companies’ managers, intentionally “inflicting extreme emotional distress” on any particular employee. However, as per an article in the Insurance Journal, published 3/4/2013, titled “Workplace Bullying Emerging As Major Employment Liability Battleground “by Sam Hananel, “more than a dozen states — including New York and Massachusetts — have considered anti-bullying laws in the past year that would allow litigants to pursue lost wages, benefits and medical expenses and compel employers to prevent an “abusive work place.”
In the text of the “bullyonline.org” website that I mentioned was very popular in the United Kingdom in a previous blog and which has been inundated with calls from call center employees, lists one of the mental illnesses resulting from working in this highly stressful industry as PTSD. My first reaction is that was just too far fetched as no “cookie cutter” call center worker can claim to have been subject to the stress of a war zone. However, according to a standard definition of PTSD, the leap is at least worth consideration. A standard definition is as follows: “Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that is triggered when a person sees or is party to a psychologically traumatic event, such as war, a natural disaster, or any situation that invokes feelings of helplessness or Intense fear. While most people eventually adjust to the aftereffects of such events, some people find their symptoms getting worse with time. These worsening symptoms are the product of PTSD.”
Why tempt fate? Perhaps your legal division can look at the bigger picture and ask themselves, how would your company’s reputation be tarnished by having some of these practices being depicted on the front pages of the Washington Post due to some unforeseen incident?
Some other methods designed to separate a quality employee from a company are more subtle. One gentleman had an MBA, a strong, successful real estate sales background and he also had received outstanding reviews, accolade letters from the President’s office, had a track record of surpassing any and all sales goals set by management and was well respected by his peers. He just made the politically incorrect move to question some of the company’s sales tactics and treatment of the clients. As a result, whenever he applied for another position within the same company, he was never successful. There came a time when he needed to be able to work from home because of a difficult family health issue. Other representatives with minimally acceptable employee evaluations were granted this exception but this one gentleman with an exceptional record was not. Consequently, he did resign and another company is reaping the rewards of employing an outstanding worker.
DEAR COMPANY, do not allow accountants ( cost cutters) or the legal division to recommend actions intended to avoid negative legal consequences which are counter to your mission statement of providing excellent customer products and service while treating your clients with exceptional levels of integrity and respect; and which could consequently cost you your business reputation. Frequently, these divisions view the company’s well being from a limited viewpoint and cannot envision the big picture. Right now I am talking about how an employee described to me how she is strongly discouraged from documenting anything she discusses with a client even if it is important. The reason given for this rule was that the writing of notes on the various accounts over time adds to the average call handling time. I suspect that this directive has more to do with the legal department wishing to prevent future legal claims by not leaving a paper trail. As per “Do You Know Your Call Center Law?” which was published on 1/21/2014, by Tracey E. Schelmetic, TMCnet Contributor, “if an agent hands out faulty advice and it results in an injury, the contact center could be liable.” Their advice is to make sure agents are properly trained to provide directions and advice.
The problem with the plan of not allowing your employees to keep notes to avoid the paper trail is that technology is improving. In time, a customer will be able to record their conversation with a call center representative. As per federal laws, there cannot be any expectation of privacy as most call centers record calls as well. There are discussions on the blogosphere as how to manage the state laws regarding a consumer being legally able to record a call center call. As an example, on the blog, The Daily Dot, dated August 12, 2014 , titled “How to Record a Customer Service Call Without Breaking The Law, ” the Author Aaron Sankin writes, “if you decide to start recording your customer service calls, it’s a good idea to ask the customer service rep if it’s okay before hitting the little red button. In this case, it may be better to ask permission than forgiveness. Laws regarding the recording of telephone conversations —typically called “wiretap laws”—fall in to two basic categories: one-party consent, and two-party consent. In many two-party-consent states, all parties on the call must consent. At the moment, 18 states and the District of Columbia have wiretap laws on the books. It’s important to note that the location of the person you’re recording matters when it comes to state laws. Here’s a quick rundown of each state’s law, according to the Digital Media Law Project:
• Arizona: One party must consent
• California: All parties must consent
• Florida: All parties must consent
• Georgia: One party must consent
• Illinois: Unclear—so get two-party consent to be safe
• Indiana: One party must consent
• Massachusetts: Two-party consent; secretly recording calls is illegal
• Michigan: All parties likely must consent—but courts are divided
• Missouri: One party must consent
• New Jersey: One party must consent
• New York: One party must consent
• North Carolina: One party must consent
• Ohio: One party must consent
• Pennsylvania: All parties must consent
• Tennessee: One party must consent
• Texas: One party must consent
• Virginia: One party must consent
• Washington: All parties must consent
• Washington, D.C.: One party must consent
Mr. Sankin recommends that even if you don’t see your state on this list, make sure to check all applicable state laws before recording anybody. He continues to state, “If you’re calling from a smartphone, you’re going to need a different system and a perfect app for that is called TapeACall. TapeACall, which runs on both iPhone and Android phones, lets users record any conversation at the touch of a button. Those recordings are stored on TapeACall’s servers and can be played back instantaneously on the device. The files can also be exported and saved on the phone or a computer in .mp3 format. The service is free for 60-second clips, but costs $9.99 for a version with unlimited recording time. (Full disclosure: I use TapeACall almost every single day doing reporting and can personally attest that it’s magical).”
Mr. Sankin added the following: “Paul Stockford, research director of the National Association of Call Centers, said he doesn’t think it’s especially commonplace for customers to record their calls with customer service reps. ‟I’ve seen isolated incidents,” he said. ‟But I don’t know about this being any kind of trend.” Recent events indicate that it may soon become one. A few weeks ago, another dissatisfied Comcast customer released a legendarily painful recording of a company rep making every possible excuse to avoid letting him cancel his service. The call went massively viral and became a huge black eye for Comcast, which is in the process of waging a publicity campaign to convince federal regulators to approve its proposed merger with Time Warner Cable. In short, your best weapon against bad customer service may be a recorded call. Just be careful before you use it.”
In the end, there will be a paper trail and the company will be forced to increase their training programs and to stress quality control as to the reasonableness and accuracy of information provided by their representative. Why allow your company to be impeded by the accountants and legal experts from investing now in increased training and from implementing a constructive, quality control plan to improve the quality, completeness of detail and accuracy of information provided by your agents?
There are those who are asking me why am I discussing the employee. These “cookie cutter” call center systems have huge expenditures associated with high employee turnover rates, non planned absentee days; employees out for weeks due to mental health disability leave and the higher health care costs due to the increase in physical health and mental health employee claims because of this work stress. The additional costs alone to train professionals with college degrees to keep up with high turnover rates is astronomical in the insurance, banking and financial advice companies. These jobs can involve complicated thinking and long term learning curves and so there is that hidden problem of having customers interacting too often with inexperienced agents. These are unnecessary costs which can be allocated for example, towards lowering the costs of company’s products, investing in research and development and/ or increasing company revenues. It would be helpful if the “cookie cutter’ call center business analytics included tracking the above mentioned costs.
YES, THERE ARE MAJOR COMPANIES TREATING THEIR BOTH THEIR CUSTOMERS AND THEIR CALL CENTER EMPLOYEES WELL WHILE ENJOYING TREMENDOUS SUCCESS SUCH AS AMERICAN EXPRESS, JACKSON AND ZAPPOS. I WILL DISH OUT MORE IN MY FUTURE BLOGS.
1.)How American Express Transformed Its Call Centers – Harvard …blogs.hbr.org/…/american-express-how-we-tran…
2.) Workplace Stress and Mental Health Issues – Academia.edu www.academia.edu/…/Workplace_Stress_and_Mental_Hea…
3.) 15 Effects of Stress on Call Center Agents and the Company blog.talkdesk.com/15-effects-of-stress-on-call–center–agents–