Despite the technology, call centres don't work

I yield to nobody in my admiration of call centre technology. But painful personal experiences are giving rise to deep misgivings about corporate Australia's ability to lock in the benefits of this stuff.

Here's why:

April 28. I wake up on a wintry morning with a home gas heater that needs 12 restarts before it will work properly. Dialling Boral Energy's support number in Brisbane, I am promptly connected to its new national call centre in Adelaide, which logs my problem. A repairman arrives the next day, says the heater needs its innards dusted out with compressed air and carts it away. So far, so good.

May 10: Nearly two weeks later I have no heater and no news from Boral so I dial the call centre again. They can give me no information but later that day, the repairman re-materialises with the heater that he pronounces fixed. Unfortunately it isn't. So back it goes.

Mid-June: After another news-less three weeks, I jog the call centre's memory and am told the repair depot is waiting for a part. I guess waiting for customers' patience to snap is part of Boral's service strategy.

June 23: The heater finally reappears. And infuriatingly still doesn't work, although I don't discover this for some days.

June 28: The call centre operator is momentarily nonplussed when he can't find the account but eventually unearths it in the "work completed" category". I point out that it isn't and register a request to have the repair depot contact me directly. Nothing happens.

June 28. I again call and ask for the repair depot to contact me. The operator says my previous request isn't on the record.

June 30. A call centre person contacts me to say the wrong part was ordered and a re-order has been sent. The repair depot remains incommunicado.

July 1. A red letter day! Carol from the repair depot phones. Not because of a message from the call centre though. She simply got tired of looking at the job docket sitting untouched and has called on her own initiative. She gives me my options and the costs associated with them, information I have been pursuing fruitlessly for the last month via the call centre.

The lesson seems to be that Boral's shiny new call centre is constricting the flow of information between the customer and the regional depot actually doing the repairs.

So Boral Energy may be impressed with the cost savings and productivity increases of the call centre, but its implementation rates a near-zero on this customer's scorecard.

The upshot is the winter solstice is long gone, my heater still doesn't start properly and I have a sneaking suspicion Boral's billing software is even now printing my name on an invoice.

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