OPINION: Because of a phone call I made this week I can only presume that the following or similar events took place in a corporate board room somewhere in Auckland, writes Joe Bennett.
Enter a secretary carrying a large silver salver.
"Ah Miss Mouse," said the Chairman of the Board. "Please put those profits to one side for the moment. We'll roll in them later. First we directors have to do our monthly hour of work to justify our six-figure fee. Now, let's see if we are quorate. Wastrel great grandson of company founder?"
"Knight of the realm because it looks good on the notepaper?"
"Former cabinet minister? . . . would someone lift his snout from the gravy train so he can hear me? Former cabinet minister?"
"Shrivelled accountancy type who alone can read a balance sheet?"
"Splendid, we can proceed. Now I am aware that several of you have commitments at the golf club, so there is only the one item on the agenda: Customers, contempt for."
"Customers?" said the former cabinet minister. "Remind me what they are."
"The people whose money you spend."
"Oh, you mean taxpayers," said the former cabinet minister, "No need to worry about them. Feed them a flattering lie every three years and after that they can do what they're told."
"That's exactly the sort of contempt I hope to apply to our current problem," said the Chairman. "Certain customers insist on telephoning us when things go wrong with our service. It's as if they consider us responsible. Now, in a footnote on the agenda you will see the extortionate cost of employing just one person to answer these annoying calls."
"Looks a generous weekly whack to me," said the wastrel grandson.
"Actually, it's an annual whack, but that's not the point. It's a business expense that eats into the bottom line. It nibbles at our fees. It gnaws at our privileges. For this reason we've been urging customers not to phone but to use our website which costs us almost nothing to maintain and on which we've put a list of useful FAQs."
"Frequently Asked Questions, Sir Basil, though as it happens they're not frequently asked. In fact they're never asked. They're just the questions we'd like customers to ask because they're the ones we can answer. But no, they insist on ringing us up and wanting to speak to, as they put it, a real person. It's infuriating. We need some way of putting them off."
"Why don't we make them wait by sacking half the operators?"
"Done that. And we've made a point of replacing the few competent ones with others who barely speak the language. We've even christened them 'customer service representatives', but it seems that the great unwashed just don't understand irony. Still the calls keep coming. It's inexplicable."
"Perhaps," suggested the token female with joyous venom, "if we played them truly repellent music while they wait, you know, Simon and Garfunkel's greatest hits on panpipes, that sort of thing."
"Old hat," said the chairman. "I tell you these buggers are hardened callers. We've played them music so dire it's been banned by the UN; we've given them automated answering systems that lead nowhere; we've pomposified things in the best corporate tradition and announced we're 'experiencing high call volumes at the present moment in time' and advised people to ring back later to hear the message again, but nothing has worked. They just keep coming.
"So what we seek here today, at board level, is a single killer phrase or sentence that can be recorded and played to these pests, ideally after they have been waiting on hold for a few minutes. It must lie, it must drip with the most transparent irony, it must convey our absolute contempt for them as customers, and it must imply that we believe them to be so terminally stupid that we doubt they could tie a shoelace. It's a tall order, I know, but that's what boards of directors are for. Yes, former cabinet minister?"
"How about," said the former cabinet minister, with the infantile grin that he could never suppress when addressed by his title, "how about: 'Because your call is important to us we have increased your priority in the queue'?"
Silence. The board looked at each other in turn and then simultaneously erupted into applause. "Perfect," said the Chairman. "It ticks every box. Token lady and gentlemen, we've cracked it. The meeting is concluded, and now the moment we all look forward to. The profits, Miss Mouse, if you would be so kind."
And at the sight of the silver salver the entire board of directors, with many a little yelp of excitement, started to take off their clothes.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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