I thought, given the title of my blog, that this was appropriate.

It appears that Hurricane Katrina vicitims, stuck without homes and belongings, are now stuck on hold.

Now before I get into a rant I want to say that the Red Cross is doing a pretty darn good job in the circumstances and I hesitate to believe the rather muted outcry that NPR tried to muster about this this morning. Recieving 25,000 calls an hour is a pretty heavy burden for anyone so it makes sense that people are having trouble getting through. So despite what appears to be a bit of beaurocratic rigamarole that could be straightened out they seem to be doing an OK job.

That said I think this speaks to a broader problem in this country. Corporate America doesn't seem to care that we wait for hours on hold and we don't scream enough about it to make them change anything. I understand that automated call centers help to screen peoples calls and route them to where they need to go. This is an 'efficiency'* and thus helps the bottom line. Fine, great, I totally agree. But corporate America has gone the step further and found an 'efficiency' by realizing that letting us wait on hold can save them money by letting them cut their call center FTE* expenditures through 'downsizing' the number of call center employee's (even as they outsource them to India) at the expense of actually quickly helping thier customers in anything but a token manner.

Now, don't misconstrue me to think I want business to stop being efficient. But 'efficiency' has taken on a cruel twist in the world of business jargon and I think sometimes loses it's tie to the 'customer'* as they say in business speak (see free Jargon Decoder included at the bottom of the post if you are not fluent in Business Speak).

Basically some manager realizes that his call center employee's are doing OK in fielding calls and can go through quite a few in a day. So he presents his results as the number of calls fielded per employee, not as number of calls total because this makes him look like a good, 'motivating'*, efficient leader. He then is able to present a case to management for an 'efficiency' he has found whereby cutting half the staff will save FTE's and still net the same per employee calls fielded. Of course the number of calls fielded total goes down but because callers don't complain too vociferously, and the manager hammers relentlessly on how efficient each of his employees are, upper management see's the money saved and gives him a pat on the back and tells him to increase the remaining employees 'productivity'* to close the gap. Meanwhile we are stuck on the phone for 20 minutes or more at a time listening to garbage music and twiddling our thumbs while we dream up ways to murder said manager.

My point is that big business is so big that no matter how much we callers yell about waiting on the phone they don't care. They make a charade of wanting to be the best in customer service but there are so few options and so many profits to be made (especially in the banking industry where the new fad of ATM fee's, exorbitant counter fees and punitive charges are seen as a good way to make money hand over fist) that they would rather let us wait. After all where are we going to go? As long as their wait times are similar to the competition we have nowhere to turn.

I'm not sure I have an answer to this problem to be honest. There is alot more communnication now days and business is stuck trying to up it's revenue every quarter. Until we realize that nothing grows steadily forever will we be able to reign in this relentless need to cut workforce at the expense of the 'customer'. And no one here really wants a call center job which is why they all are going to India. But at least they could be honest about it. I seem to hear "Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line and a representative will assist you shortly." an average of 5-7 times before I actually hear someone. Obviously my call is not all that important.

I would rather simply hear the recorded voice tell me how long the wait will be without the "Your business is so important" rhetoric so I can decide whether to call back later. My dream would be a cell phone/iPod that would let me listen to my own damn music until they actually came on the line to talk to me, at which point the phone would cut back to the call automatically. Such are dreams.

Lately, on a positive note, I've noticed that some call centers have decided to use some really nice classical guitar stuff as hold music. That's a start. I certainly don't mind listening to Segovia for a while. However the people who put the music in must not know much about recording. Each time I've had this happen the music sounds like it has been input without accounting for the limited sonic range of a telephone speaker. The result is a deafening crackle and warble on crecendo's as the telephone speaker attempts to put out more amplitude than it can handle. Too bad because it would be a perfect way to sit and relax with some really well done and exciting music that would appeal to most everyone. All they need is a recording engineer who knows how to use a compressor and a mixing board but I'm sure his position was an 'efficiency'.

In the mean time these folks have an interesting project to try to interject some decent music into the world of hold music. It is arresting and makes you think, even if it isn't "fun" to listen to.

Free Business Speak Decoder:

Efficiency - How many hard working employee's can we lay off to make the quarterly profits look good

FTE - Full Time Employee. A organizational unit used for business management which equals the blood, sweat and tears of one wo/man for eight hours per day over a 365day period minus vacation, weekends and holidays. (This unit does not include overtime and is equivalent to the word Pawn as upper managers are never considered using this equation.)

Customer - Whoever you pass your work to when you are done with your section of the beaurocracy. (Example - your customer is Joe if you give him your forms after filling in section 236 line AG so that he can fill in section 236 line AH.) Alt. Meaning - Antiquated - The people who buy the good or service which you produce. (Still used for those who occupy a job at the end of the beaurocratic chain of command.)

Motivating - The practice of handing out worthless golf trinkets, apparel or mugs bearing stupid slogans in an attempt to make one's FTE's enjoy handing over thier blood, sweat and tears each day.

Productivity - The amount of blood, sweat and tears measured in Liters extracted from one FTE over a defined period of time.

(As snarky as the end of this post is don't get to thinking I hate my job, I rather like it for the relative lack of the BS described above. However, I've had my share of jobs from which to learn how bad it can be.)