Call centre horror: Why robots give lousy customer service...

Surely there is more wrong with the modern call centre than a lack of mirrorballs...

Surely there is more wrong with the modern call centre than a lack of mirrorballs...

So the Changing Rooms team have been drafted in to tart up a Grimsby call centre, hanging mirrorball (for Fridays) at the ready. I'm sure the staff are absolutely delighted - only they weren't allowed to tell us, because it was against the rules. It's true call centres have an incredibly bad image. The TUC reckons 1.5 million Britons work in a call centre. Everyone knows someone who does or has, and most seem to dislike the experience. One silicon.com reader wrote in today with another tale of call centre misery. She described how she was forced to have a mirror in front of her desk to make sure she was constantly smiling as she answered calls. Then there were the idiotic rules that benefit no-one, stupid scripts to read like a robot, and constant monitoring by untrained technicians 20 years her junior. It's not surprising she quit. The call centre industry typically rebuts this with a range of familiar arguments. To an extent, it's right. At their best, call centres can be reasonable places to work. They provide the most flexible working conditions to people who would otherwise find working difficult, with flexible hours and home working. Sadly, the business case for most call centres is about cutting costs, and little else. And management style is far too much about control. The thing about customer service is you can't force it. It's about expressing personality, showing initiative, using charm and wit - sounding like you want to work there. These things cannot be forced. Making people happy by forcing them to smile doesn't work. Managers have to - gasp - trust them and stop making them perform pointless tasks again and again. Otherwise, hanging a mirrorball in the office (http://www.silicon.com/a44728 ) isn't going to make a lot of difference. In some call centres, workers will probably end up having to use it to check their smiles.