“If I’m sitting in the third row, can I see the stage?”
A phone call, a stupid question. Poignant and stark in a sea of common sense and an otherwise dull working day. But stupid questions are one too, too many in a day of work for Freddy (not his real name), and he welcomes them gladly, if only to laugh about them after his shift is over.
Work for him is in a call centre for one of the largest ticketing services in Singapore. While the majority of us who navigate the web frequently might be more comfortable booking our tickets online, there are still people who prefer dealing with a living, breathing human when it comes to parting with their money.
Me And My Lonesome
“The past jobs that I’ve worked are usually customer service related. The first job was at Swensen’s and the other one was this retail skateboarding shop at Cineleisure — I don’t even skate — but at least I don’t need to face the customer in person when I’m at a call centre,” he shares.
If you think life at a call centre is robotic and systematic, where human interaction is kept to a minimum, then you may be quite correct. Upon reporting to work 15 minutes before their shifts, all operators key in their user ID on the telephone system to mark their attendance at work. The duty manager will then conduct a short briefing before the shift on the sales of events, credit card promotions, and sometimes even drop a pop quiz on how things work, just to keep everyone on their toes. Fun stuff.
And then the real fun begins. Or not. The barrage of phone calls arrive, some simple and quick, others of the brain-racking (and wrecking) nature. “Every single call we answer is recorded into an excel file. From the customer’s name, contact number, account ID, the tickets they book and other remarks,” Freddy says. “After the shift is done, we save the file and inform the duty managers about top recurring questions the customers ask, and any problems we run into during the day. It’s all very dry.”
Being Professional, Sometimes
“Some of us have to handle phone calls from two big accounts — one for the main ticketing service, and one specifically for a big event (it involves cars). We have this big screen television where we can see what calls are coming in. Whenever I see a call coming in from the big event line, I will press the “BUSY” button so that I don’t have to answer the calls,” Freddy admits while laughing.
Other than the occasional deliberate sneakiness, he tries his best not to let down customers, even if it is bad news he has to tell them. “Once, this customer bought a ticket for a show on the wrong date. Sadly the show was over and the customer wanted a refund. Due to our policy, we don’t do exchange, refund or cancellation of tickets once the ticket is bought. Plus the show was already over by that time, and the customer must have the responsibility to check their dates,” he said, turning on the PR a little.
Sometimes it pays to be nice, he shares from his experiences. He has had his share of pleasant people who call him “dear”, fill out those pesky customer survey forms and leave him compliments, and also some who remind him to “have a nice day and be positive”.
But sometimes, most times, without fail, every single day, there will be the curious incident of the stupid question.
Patron: “If I’m sitting in the third row, can I see the stage?”
Freddy: Errr yes.
Freddy: You can only make payment by debit or credit card.
Patron: If I’m talking to you on the phone right now, is there anyway I can pass the cash to you?
Freddy: (in his head) YOU TELL ME HOW?
Patron: Hi, I want to enquire if the Ed Sheeran tickets are still available.
Freddy: It’s sold out.
Patron: What do you mean sold out?
Patron: I regular customer always buy so many tickets before, got buy one get one free?
Me: Sorry ma’am, it’s not applicable.
Patron: Haiyah, why like that?
“Once, a customer called back to enquire about a refund which he was entitled to — he was so angry that he didn’t receive his 50 cents from the delivery method of the ticket collection. First, we only refund the price of the ticket itself. Secondly, when I had to check on his details, I found out he was a doctor,” Freddy recalls.
A Chill Bro
Getting shouted at for various reasons like tickets getting lost in the mail, or wanting a full 100% refund for a mistake that is fully their own (like forgetting about a show) — all these and more might sound horrid, especially if you have to go through it everyday. But Freddy takes it all in his stride.
Besides composure, he says, attentiveness, the ability to use positive language, and knowledge of the product goes a long way in creating a conducive relationship with the customer. “Patience is so important if you want to work at a call centre, but some customers are just ultimate douchebags,” he says.
What’s next for Freddy? “I would like to be a barista or a baker!” he says. “I always want to try something different.”