Are You Ready To Break Out of Customer Service Jail?


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One of the best blogs is Guy Kawasaki’s ‘How to Change the World’. Although Guy is a VC, his blog is full of interesting takes on sometimes unusual issues. A recent post on The Banality of Heroism led me to a website about the Stanford Prison Experiment. The experiment was set up by the Stanford Psychology Department to look at the behaviour of intelligent people arbitrarily split into prisoners and guards in a make-believe prison.

The behaviours exhibited by the prisoners and their guards was truly a catalogue of human behaviour at its most degraded and its most degrading. Prisoners became completely swept-up in the experiment and played their roles with uncanny similarities to real prisoners. Guards did the same and treated the prisoners with dehumanising cruelty. Observers who knew what life in prison was really like acknowledged that the conditions were remarkably similar to those in real prisons. The two week experiment was wound-up after only five days before it got out-of-hand and inflicted lasting psychological damage on the people playing the roles of prisoner and the guard.

The experiment shows how ordinary people who should know better and who are better, easily get swept-up into playing ‘games’. This is sometimes no different in the cooped-up conditions of call-centres. Only here the prisoners are customers and the guards are call-centre agents. This mutually exclusive, them or us behaviour makes it much more difficult to handle customers appropriately. And of course leads to retaliatory behaviour from customers. Customers armed with the Internet and these days, with YouTube. Which in turn leads to defensive behaviour by agents. Outsourcing can make this much worse. A cycle of destructive mistrust.

What do you think? Are your customers doing time with no chance of parole? Or is your customer service thoroughly human?

Post a comment and get the conversation going.

Graham Hill

Graham Hill (Dr G)
Business Troubleshooter | Questioning | Thoughtful | Industrious | Opinions my own | Connect with me on LinkedIn


  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I work in a USA retail bank and we often have to cold call the customers. I have also worked in an outsourced company in India. As far as my experience, I definitely believe in your thoughts on outsourcing: A cycle of mistrust. I also feel that outsourcing also could degrade the customer experience. It also does not guarantee quality of business that an outsourced person can bring to the company. There is hope with globalist economy or there was hope with cutting costs. Providing great customer experience also comes from motivation and confidence.

    I currently consider myself student of marketing and enhancing customer experience. I am a recent undergrad, majored in Marketing. I look forward to be able to use my every-day experiences in retail and service industry as my own little experiments. I call them my personal reality shows, trying not to get swept-up in the experiment.

  2. Neha

    Thank you for your comment. It is much apreciated.

    I agree with you that outsourcing is not always the panacea for all business ills that it was once held up to be. And not just in the area of call centres either.

    Outsourcing a call centre can go spectacularly wrong; leading to reduced customer satisfaction, a customer revolt (where customers refuse to call the call centre), increased service costs and eventually, the return of an outsourced call centre to home soil.

    Many of the problems associated with these failures are due to a combination of not understanding the business’ dynamics well enough, not understanding customers’ likely reactions and perhaps above all, an over-concentration on supposed cost savings rather than actual value creation.

    It is always easy to reduce the bottom line, but doing it in a way that doesn’t damage the top line is not so straight forward.

    Graham Hill

  3. Graham

    Total agreement regarding the call centers. I used to work as an inbound call specialist for a specific program then later as a UNIX/MUMPS programmer where I worked directly with project management and specific clients. I am aware of inbound and outbound CSRs.

    From my experience of the inbound call center, I worked both generic and specific programs. Luckily the supervisors and floor managers I had were very helpful. That being said, if patience and full attention is not being focused, things can get out of hand very quickly especially when calls begin entering fast and furious. It can raise stress levels of the CSR which can cause difficulty of communication between peers and upper management. This type of thing can also cause a disturbance between the CSR and the customer (i.e. phone ettiquette) which is one thing no one wants.

    I agree, outsourcing is an issue that should be examined on a closer and tighter knit scale. Consumers expect value and quality, it works the same way when phoning customer service. A person would anticipate to speak with someone is aware of the product or service.

    FWIW, I’m a graduate student in management and am studying project management with client services in my spare time. I am noticing changes taking place in the realm of change management however there are still some businesses not yet taken hold in making the customer #1 on this matter.

    That’s just my opinion.


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