Should Call Centre Software Guess Your Anger Level?

If you're forced to ring an inbound call centre, you want your call routed to the most useful person as quickly as possible. But do you want your voice analysed in real time to detect just how aggro you are?

Picture by Scott Akerman

Last week, I saw a demonstration of the Interactive Intelligence Interaction Analyzer software, which performs a real-time analysis looking for key phrases likely to indicate an annoyed customer (such as "frustrated", "money back", "sick of calling" and various swear words we won't repeat here). If a call scores too highly, the call centre manager can opt to move it to a supervisor or take other actions.

Part of me thinks that anything which ensures I get to talk to someone who can actually help is a good idea. Part of me thinks I shouldn't have to get angry in order to have problems resolved. What do you think?


    There was a time when I was with Telstra BigPond and was having some major issues with my internet connection.

    My brother and I were calling them multiple times a day to try and get a resolution. After hearing that damned machine go through the same lines for the fiftieth time, I unleashed a hearty volley of profanity.

    The response: "Putting you through to an operator."

    That operator then had to put me through to a supervisor (again), so it would be nice to skip all that. Then again, the idea that you have to make a fuss to get attention still annoys me. There really is no way to win with these things.

    All of me thinks we should be able to call customer service and get through to a person straight away - no menus!

    All companies should follow the example of wine selectors - calls straight through to a person (sometimes requires holding, never for more than 5 mins) and best of all - the call centre is based in Newcastle, not New Delhi!

    "...Part of me thinks that anything which ensures I get to talk to someone who can actually help is a good idea. Part of me thinks I shouldn’t have to get angry in order to have problems resolved..."

    I spent 9 months doing inbound technical support, and repair/service centre enquiries, for a leading multinational PC brand (I'm not going to name names, but I've mentioned them a few times here before, for those playing along at home).

    We had various protocols on escalations to supervisors/managers during my time in the call centre, but in almost all cases we were instructed to hang up on abusive customers, and any escalation to a supervisor or manager was done at his or her own discretion, and usually as a call back.

    Honestly, I'm not sure if I like the idea of this software as I think it's likely to encourage the mentality of "getting agro gets action". Unfortunately many of the call centre operators have their hands tied to operate within protocol - even if some (and sometimes many) are inept at their jobs.

    I’ve seen posts floating around LifeHacker/Giz before on the topic – but I really can’t iterate enough your best bet is to befriend the person you’re talking to, and use phrases like “how can we both come out positively out of this”. Finding some empathy with them will often lead to them being as helpful as they can, and sometimes even bending rules to help you out.

    This is pretty old news, technology-wise. The technology has been around, and in use, for years.

      Interactive claims that real-time is a new development. But regardless, it's still an interesting point of discussion.

        Fair enough, if that's what they said :) The software I have seen in use is called QFiniti and it is in use:

    Companies could just save some greif by empowering operators to actually solve problems. Every time something gets escalated to a supervisor level the result will be satisfactory dealt with. So empower the operators to give better outcomes rather than training them to say no all the time.

    I always try and remain calm while talking to someone on the phone. Even if I've been redirected a million times, I'm still calm. I know that they're just doing their job and it's a shittier job than mine (even though I'm helpdesk too).

    But with that said:

    * Menus are a necessity. If you can spend one minute dialing through menus to save five minutes of having someone guess your issue, I'm all for it

    * People need to be told that if they can't solve the issue, to admit it. I spent 20 minutes on the phone with a (very helpful but clueless) Dell representative. I had a Q regarding a light on my laptop, and the guy refused to admit that 1) He didn't know what light I was referring to and 2) He had the manual for the wrong model of laptop open to start with. If you don't know the answer, tell me and hand me off to someone who does. Saves me time and money

    * Tell people with a thick accent to slow down after the first time. If I don't understand and say "Pardon?", don't repeat it at the same speed. Slow down a touch so I can comprehend each word.

    Knowing what drives most people mad are what solves issues. I may be on the phone for an hour, but if I can get my issue solved in two minutes, I'll be happy.

    One way to reduce the aggro of the voices on inbound calls..... actually provide service, listen to what the inbound caller is actually saying and respond with humanity not repetitive and useless scripts that often don't represent the type of problem the customer actually hs, actually empower the call centre operators with authority to FIX a problem... then you wouldn't need software to gauge how cranky your CUSTOMER (you know the ones that keep you in existenc?) is having to call in and waste their time navigating the system that is supposed to SERVE them.

    If swearing gets me though to someone from my own country, I'm all for it.

    Why do I get the feeling that if they can detect that you are agro, they can and no doubt will, just ignore you?

    I don't mind how they deal with it, as long as I don't have to speak to a computer. Lara (Vodafone) kills me.

    I work at an inbound call centre and I reckon it would be good to be able to put frustrated customers directly to a supervisor (people seem to be confusing frustrated and angry with shouty and abusive).
    If those customers can be dealt with without having to discribe their issue to me first, I can be free to talk to customers with normal enquiries.

    Can it detect whether someone is pretending to be angry (acting) or not? I'd be very impressed if it can tell the difference. I once pretended to be angry for a joke and only stopped the joke when I couldn't tell the difference between pretending and the real deal. It was a bit of a shock to realise that pretending can induce investment.

    Because if the software cannot differentiate, that would just drive up the phone rage.

    Although I find it funny to imagine that call center agents have a little angrometer next to their screen with a red light flashing when the customer is about to explode, I do not think that this whole approach is going into the right direction. Instead of anger management, the agents must have proper schooling to recognise such a situation themselves, and more importantly, not let the situatio escalate in the first place. This can be achieved by making them have a good basic knowledge of what they are talking about and have a good software system that lets them easily acess all necessary data about the customer, thereby getting a good and structured overview of the general situation and even previous interaction with that specific person. Thus they will be able to react quickly to customer's requests and maybe even soothe upset callers.

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