Off Center
Many progressive contact centers are starting to break free from the confines and rigidity of traditional call routing. Rather than blindly sending callers to the next available agent – regardless of who’s calling or why – these centers are exploring routing methods that are so unconventional they have been banned in certain Midwestern U.S. cities.

Here are a few prime examples of customer care organizations doing call routing on the edge.

HMOno Health Insurance
HMOno uses priority queuing like no other contact center on earth or in New Mexico. The center’s New Policy division gives high priority to healthy callers because they cost less to insure and whine less to agents. 

Every call is front-ended by an IVR system designed to determine if new callers have any serious health risks. A voice prompt asks callers a series of risk assessment questions, such as “Do you smoke?” “Do you drink?” and “Do you work at a public high school?” Callers who answer “no” to all risk assessment questions are quickly routed to a live agent anxious to sell them a policy. Callers who answer “yes” to one or two assessment questions are knocked back a few places in the queue. Those who answer “yes” to three or four questions are placed at the end of the queue. And those who answer “yes” to five or more questions are immediately routed to a company competitor or a hospital.

The IVR system also has been programmed to listen for any sneezing, coughing or wheezing sounds to help determine a caller’s health. If any such sounds are detected, a voice prompt says “Gesundheit!” or “Please cover your mouth” before the caller is bumped back in the queue or routed externally.

MegaMerchandise, which sells everything from saucepans to sporting goods, knows customers appreciate the personal touch. That’s why their contact center – staffed with an eclectic group of employees – uses a truly unique routing process that matches each caller with an agent who has similar interests, personality traits, and SAT scores.

All calls are initially answered by an automated “matchmaker” programmed to quickly assess which agent the caller is most likely to bond with. For instance, if a man from Brooklyn calls interested in purchasing a baseball bat or a thick gold chain, the matchmaker will route that call to an agent like Joey “No-Neck” Gambini. Joey can then have a friendly informal chat with the caller about benchpressing and broken kneecaps to help build rapport before closing the near-certain sale.

Big Spur Bank & Mistrust
Handling irate customers is never fun, but routing them to convicted murderers can be. Big Spur Bank & Mistrust – based in Sweetwater, Texas – has been doing it for about a year, with impressive results.

The bank’s contact center uses cutting-edge technology to identify angry callers, who are then seamlessly routed to death row inmates trained to help the callers realize the pettiness of their complaints.

Here’s how it works: The center’s automated attendant is able to measure the heart rate of each caller. Whenever the rate exceeds 200 beats per minute, the attendant knows that the caller is either furious or has just run a 10K race. To determine which is the case, the caller is told to “Press 1 if you are fighting mad” or to “Press 2 if you need some Gatorade.” Callers who press 1 are routed to the first available killer in one of the many fine high-security prisons in Texas. To help callers put things in perspective, Inmate agents use phrases like, “How dare you complain to me about a $3 ATM fee – I sleep on a metal slab and eat gruel every day,” or “You think being rejected for a loan is bad? Try having your stay of execution request denied 10 times.”

In most cases, callers calm down and apologize for their selfishness, at which point the inmate agent can take advantage of the caller’s guilt and begin cross-selling/up-selling premium bank products.

Imagine a world in which customer service agents spoke their mind on every call. What if, instead of always trying to soothe angry and abusive customers with forced empathy, agents voiced how they really felt?

How interesting it would be if such scripted statements as “I understand your frustration” were replaced with such authentic ones as “It’s probably just karma.” How exciting things would get if, in place of “I’m going to do everything I can to rectify this problem,” agents instead said, “I make $7.50/hour, sit in a cubicle the size of a gym locker, and have worked the last 17 weekends in a row – go ahead, Mr. Johnson at 105 Elm St., I dare you to scream at me again.”

True, customer satisfaction and loyalty would likely take a vicious dip, but so would agent turnover. Several studies haves indicated that contact center employees who are encouraged to freely express themselves at work are more productive, more engaged and less likely to burn customers in effigy while chanting passages from the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

Think about it, most of your agents currently do the “right” thing by offering empathy and understanding to irate callers, only to be berated and lambasted by the customer anyway. The end result? High employee burnout/attrition in addition to the already existent low customer satisfaction. By empowering agents to fire back at furious callers, you at least win one of the two battles.   

And just think of the entertainment value for those in your contact center who are tasked with evaluating calls for quality purposes. QA staff would get plenty of healthy, stress-reducing comic relief while listening to customer-agent interactions such as the one featured below:

Agent: Thank you for calling Narcissist Fitness Customer Care. My name doesn’t matter. How can I help you?

Caller: I’ve called you stupid people twice already asking you to cancel my membership. Why are you still charging my credit card!?

Agent: Could you please yell a bit louder, sir? That way the folks in Membership will hear you directly and I won’t have to go through the trouble of processing your request.

Caller: Are you getting smart with me?

Agent: Oh, no sir. I couldn’t even if I wanted to. You were right before  – we’re all quite stupid here.

Caller: I want to speak to your supervisor this instant!

Agent: No you don’t – he’s even dumber than I am.

Caller: Listen, cancel my membership once and for all! And stop sending me your annoying monthly fitness newsletter – it’s paper-wasters like you who are destroying all the forests.

Agent: Oh good, you’re concerned about the environment. In that case, you really shouldn’t cancel your membership. You wouldn’t believe all the paperwork involved.

Caller: I can’t believe this! I’ve never been treated like this in all my life!

Agent: Thanks.We’ve been getting a LOT of attention for our customer service lately.

Caller: If you don’t cancel my membership today, I’ll do everything I can so that you lose your job!

Agent: Good luck, sir. I’ve been doing everything I can to lose my job for months now, to no avail.

Caller: Knock it off! I’m not playing around here. You’d better cancel my…

Agent: Okay, okay. Let me bring up your account. Can I have the last four digits of your Social Security Number please?

Caller: 7322

Agent: Can you please confirm your last name?

Caller: Pierce

Agent: Thank you. Let’s see here – ah, there’s the problem.

Caller: What is it?

Agent: Your cancellation request was denied.

Caller: What are you talking about? How can you deny my cancellation request?

Agent: Well, when you signed up, I see you listed the following as your main goals: “Lose 50 lbs”, “increase muscular strength”, and “improve cardiovascular condition”.

Caller: Yeah, so?

Agent: Have you achieved those goals?

Caller: Um, not exactly.

Agent: Of course you haven’t – you’ve only been a member for two months. That’s why we aren’t letting you cancel your membership yet. We really want to see you succeed!