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How to stay one step ahead of call centres

Bogged down by telephone calls offering loans, insurance, credit cards and bank accounts? DWS provides a primer on how to beat the Attack Of The Clowns.



By now you must have heard of it, unless you read about it already. American radio station Power 99 FM just suspended one of its celebrated anchors. The reason: He used abusive, racist language on an innocent call centre employee in India in a staged talk-show. He called the hapless woman "bitch" and "rat-eater" and ran down outsourcing to India. Click here for a transcript of the abuse:

Sad and shocking, I must say. My heart goes out to the victim. May her abuser rot in hell. It wasn't her intention to destroy the Angelic American labour force when she joined the call centre to earn a living. Nor did she have much idea of the trans-continental labour dynamics or the backlash it had created abroad, we presume. We condemn the racist and stand by the victim.

Why then do I feel some hidden delight somewhere? Am I evil?

After a day of cogitation, I came to the conclusion: I am not evil. My sub-conscious is enjoying some vicarious pleasure at a course of action I never took on many call centre staff in my encounters of the fourth kind. 

Credit card call centres are the milder sort. You can handle them easily. Every week, I get several calls from call centres (mostly when I am in the office loo, travelling in a packed train or sitting at a meeting) offering me credit cards with exotic offers, free insurance, add-on cards, free girlfriends etc. In the past couple of years, I must have got at least a dozen calls from ICICI Bank offering me a credit card which I already hold. When they datamine, isn't there some way they can set a check to find if the bum they are calling already holds a card? Can someone enlighten me on the options of suing call centres for such nuisance calls? Ive heard that someone was recently jailed in the US for email spam. Do we have any laws to jail these nosy calls?

Market leader ICICI Bank has sent most unsolicited calls my way. Does my holding an account with ICICI give them any right to disturb my peace? 

Very recently, I got a call from an ICICI Bank call centre guy asking me to open a savings bank account with them. I told him I have been holding an ICICI Bank account since the time he was playing cricket in school. He wouldn't believe me. Since I had better use for my time than explaining my accounts to a moron, I hung up and went about my work.

There is special category of moronism I have come up with my mobile service provide BPL Mobile. The company's service has always been, well, ok. No major complaints. I left my previous residence over a year back. When I moved to my present house, I called BPL to change my billing address. The lady at the other end said she cannot change it on the phone: For an address change, I will have to sweat it out to the next BPL Mobile Gallery and tell them to do the needful. (I thought one of the reasons why people buy a phone is to avoid avoidable trips like that). Since I have an auto-debit facility on my credit card to pay the mobile bill without my involvement, I thought, what the hell, I don't care where the bill goes. 

Now, Every two months, the courier agency which delivers the bill calls me to find my whereabouts to deliver the bill. I give my address on the phone. They deliver at my current address. The drama goes one forever. 

Recently, another sweet voice called me from BPL Mobile's call centre and asked if I would like to have an add-on card. I said I don't mind, but only if she would change my billing address. She said she could not. I said don't bother me then. Next time, another lady called up to enquire about the card, and I repeated my demand: Change my address in your system, only then will I take your card.

To my surprise, she immediately agreed. She took down my new address and said she is making the change in the system right away. I said OK to the card. She asked for a convenient time to send her executive. The "executive" turned up at a time different from the one agreed upon, and returned without meeting me. A couple of days later, she called again to fix another time so the executive could meet me. Again, no one turned up. The third time, the executive himself called and said he is coming. But never did. 

Now, I made it a point to murder the next person who calls me regarding the add-on card. They must have sensed red lights turning on at the customer side. (I think modern cellphones transmit danger signals from your brain to the cellphone which are relayed to the call centre to save their employee from tele-destruction. I intend to find and disable that feature soon). No one called again. Meanwhile, the bills still go to the earlier address. I am not surprised. I have decided to feed the BPL Mobile courier pedas when he brings me my first mobile bill after years without the courier drama.

Here is another. Every month, I get at least one call from ICICI, HSBC and ABN Amro offering me a personal loan I don't need. In my innocence, I would earlier say that I don't need a loan, that I already have a loan or that I cannot afford the interest rate. The call centre chap / chick is used to all these excuses and have standard responses too. They have tremendous patience which we don't have. Nowadays, I inform them that I just won a lottery, that I just lost my job or that I am facing lawsuits for not paying previous credit card bills. Experience has shown that these work, while honest responses just lengthen the meaningless conversation and test your patience.

Insurance is another. My sweetest revenge against my worst enemy would be to distribute his mobile number among all private sector insurance companies. Then they would call up him a dozen times a day to describe wonderful types of insurance which one never even knew existed. Finally, out of complete frustration, he will jump from a cliff and kill himself. 

I have been offered all kinds of insurance products in the last few years that if I had taken at least one-tenth of them, I would by now have choked and died under the weight of all the insurance cover, immediately brightening up the financials of my nominees. I seriously suspect that my phone number is regularly disclosed to insurance companies by my potential nominees who already have their hands deep in my bank locker.

Unlike other products sold on the phone, insurance is something you will have a tough time rejecting. If you tell the call centre woman you have a lifetime policy, she will offer you a Medi Claim. If you say you have that too, you will be offered a money back policy. If you lie that you just took that one last week, you will be offered a unit-linked policy. Next will be an accident policy. Then comes a pension plan. Next will be a household insurance. Next will be a children's policy, though the very thought of children gives you fits. Explaining that you have a policy not to have children, or are impotent is not going to help much.

Unless you have enormous free time in your hands or are keen on trying to date the call centre girl, forget talking: that will never get you anywhere. Here is the solution: When I take the mobile call, and find to my horror that it is an insurance call centre fellow on the other side, I shudder, but regain my composure. A few seconds into the conversation, I say hello-hello two three times loudly and hang up. Since call drops are very frequent, no one will doubt you. Sure enough, the caller will call back. But when you see the same number or a similar number, you can either reject the call or put the phone on mute. I put it on mute.

For the feeble-hearted, I suggest the following: Pretend you are extremely busy, and tell them you will be free only between 12 and 1 at night. Then you can switch off your phone at that time and remain in bliss. In most cases, they won't call back, because few of them have proper systems to call back at an appointed time. They will just move on to the next victim.

God save the Malayalee

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