Spiritual Adventures in the Workplace

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Why Help Desks Aren’t Always Helpful (Part 4 of Series)

Series Disclaimer: The scenario in this series is fictional.  The bank, the banker, the customer, and the card in question are all created as an example for this series.  The training department, help desks, and procedures are equally fictitious.  Any resemblance to actual people and situations is purely coincidental.

Our banker is still trying to understand why an unauthorized debit keeps showing up on our check card even when she blocks the card and sends us another one with a whole new number.  She has gone through her notes from training and has tried to find the answer in her branch policies and procedures.  Now she is calling her Help Desk………


Call centers are governed by rules that the average caller knows nothing about.  The people who answer the phones are allotted an average amount of time per call (usually less than 5 minutes).  They are given scripts that they must follow, including words and phrases that they must not say (“unfortunately,” for example).  Both the audio and the screen shots of their calls are recorded and are stringently evaluated.  On one hand they are pressured to shorten their calls, but on the other hand they are required to “form an emotional bond with the caller” by making small talk.  Statistics are kept for each employee, and the members of the department are stack ranked.  Those at the top of the ranking are given some small token of appreciation; those at the bottom are penalized.

Our banker calls her Help Desk, which is an internal call center devoted to guiding the branches through policies and procedures.  The man who answers sounds friendly, but when she tells him the problem, he becomes hesitant.  He cannot explain why the merchant keeps gaining access to the latest 16-digit card number.  “All you can do is block the card and order another one,” he suggests.

The banker takes a deep breath.  “I’ve already done that… more than once… and it hasn’t worked.  I’m to the point where I need a solid answer.  Nothing personal, but if you don’t know, can you ask someone?”


Here’s what’s happening behind the scenes.  The answer is in the Help Desk manual, but it isn’t easy to find.  It’s not cross-referenced in other related articles, and the search-words that the Help Desk associate would have to key in are not intuitively obvious.  The answer is there, but he can’t find it.

Unfortunately, for the past several months this guy has had the highest escalations of anyone in his department.  (“Escalations” is the technical term for asking for help.)  He has been formally disciplined and ordered to lower his escalations to 3% or else he will be fired.  He has been trying to comply, but right now he’s at 3.6%.  If he escalates any more calls for the rest of the month, he will lose his job (and of course his insurance for himself and his dependents).  His family is counting on him.  He wants to help our banker—he really does.  It’s killing him inside.  But the sacrifice is too great.

So when she says, “Can you ask someone?” he doesn’t know how to respond.  He can’t say no, but he also can’t do it.  He offers to transfer her to another department, but now she’s getting mad.  “I don’t need to be transferred.  I called the Help Desk because I need help.”  He apologizes, but she’s steaming.  “You know what?  Let me talk to your supervisor.”

She doesn’t realize it, but she has just solved his problem.  Because she has insisted on being transferred to a supervisor, he can do so without it counting as an escalation.  Greatly relieved, he gets a supervisor on the line…

(To be continued…)


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