A few evenings ago I was giving a friend of mine a bit of advice. She’d been asked to, as a “career development opportunity” (alongside her day job) to create a digital channel strategy for her organisation.

One of the topics that came up was the subject of telephone helpdesks, and specifically whether helpdesk callers these days are generally angrier these days?

I’ve a lot of time for people who work answering phones to customers. It’s where I started my career, on the IT services desk for KPMG. Back in those days the calls we got were a bit of a mixed bag: procedural stuff “can I order…”; break/fix stuff “my x isn’t working”; functional queries “how do I … ?”; and then the occasional moan.

Those calls came through in a simpler, less connected age. Digital channels didn’t exist- if you wanted something sorted out you called the helpdesk. When you called, we answered your call, usually reasonably promptly. No intranet self service portal. No email. No “press 1 to enter the seventh circle of hell”.

By modern metric-driven customer service standards it was dreadfully inefficient, but we resolved 70% of calls on the first call, and we built up relationships with many of our customers. We were also at the brunt of many of their work stresses too, though, as something stopped working at a crucial time in the customer’s working day.

Many of the issues that we had to deal with just don’t exist these days… Boot P IP records are one that stick in my mind (everyone does IP dynamically these days, but that’s a geek-out too far…). And helpdesks of that form don’t exist these days either.

Many of us claim that “we’d rather talk to a human being” when interacting with an organisation. I’m not so sure. Most of the time it’s just a lot easier to fill in a form or send an email than have to actually talk to someone (Amazon’s success beats testimony to that). But we do tend to prefer to talk to someone when we’ve got a gripe. And that makes me think: is the job of the call centre call handler a stack more stressful these days? Is every call from Mr or Mrs Angry, primarily on a mission to vent their ire?

Think about that next time you’ve successfully navigated the automated call handling system to get through to a living, breathing and emotional human being at the end of the line. If your day is bad, I imagine their’s is worse…

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