Monday, 28 February 2011

"Courtesy" (AKA "sales")

The telephone rings. You pick it up and answer

Caller: Hello, can I speak to Mr [insert name of householder from telemarketers' list]?

 Householder (wearily): Yes.

Caller: I'm Gavin from Acompanyyouhaveneverheardof Ltd. This is just a courtesy call....

 'This is just a courtesy call' - six cheery little words that pop up from time to time, like a cold sore. In any reasonable list of phrases that could really spoil your day, 'this is just a courtesy call' will never challenge classics like 'I'm afraid we'll have to amuptate', but it's still a collection of words you'd rather not hear.

There are several options at this point. You can be polite, given that the human being on the other end is stuck a dead-end, high-stress job in a call centre and probably doesn't really want to make the call any more than you want to take it. Sadly, if you're polite and don't terminate the call at the earliest opportunity, the caller will persist (it's survival of the persistent in telesales) and will proceed to waste your time reciting the sales script.

You can be rude or sarcastic, but it's probably not fair on the person calling and it's not very satisfying anyway. Sadly, you're not speaking to the telesales managers and executives who created a business model entirely based on interrupting and annoying you in the middle of minding your own business at home - if you were, I'd recommend rudeness and sarcasm with relish.

You could pretend not to be the householder, or quietly put the handset down and walk away for five minutes until the caller eventually realises that they've been performing their sales script to nobody at all. You could make the caller repeat everything on the pretence that it's a bad line or that you're a bit simple, etc, etc, but these sort of alternatives are just variations on taunting the lowly sales drone who is no doubt already being punished enough by having to work in telesales just to make ends meet.

The best approach is to interrupt politely, but firmly, and let the caller know that you have registered with the Telephone Preference Service (TPS) because you don't want to be cold called. Beware of imitations, by the way. The Telephone Preference Service is free, but if you Google "Telephone Preference Service" at the moment, you may be directed to another service that calls itself the "Call Prevention Registry" (CPR) that claims to provide a better call-blocking service, but charges a fee. Although it doesn't cut out all cold calls, the TPS has reduced mine significantly and I have no reason to recommend the CPR

There's evidence that even the sort of people who advise telesales and call centre employers have realised that nobody believes the 'this is just a courtesy call' line any more. This isn't necessarily a welcome development. Although I'll be glad to see the back of this discredited phrase, it's only a matter of time before the marketers find another infuriating form of weasel words to keep potential suckers on the phone.

That's what I call a Big Society Bank...

Cambridge protesters took over a city bank and turned it into a library.

As part of the nationwide UK Uncut campaign against the Government’s cuts, a group of protesters occupied both the Royal Bank of Scotland and Natwest banks in the city centre on Saturday - turning Natwest into a makeshift library.

University and school students, alongside children and parents, sat on the floor of the bank and read stories to each other.

The read-in was a comment on the threat to the county’s libraries - 13 of which are under review.

From Cambridge First

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Astounding science fiction

A structure and a fallible human purpose start to become evident by the next chapters of 'The Earth' and 'The Suicide of the Astronaut', in which he says, "You can leave everything, except the earth ... Land has been the context of the conflict ... Whither then are you going?" The astronaut, modern technological man, goes out into the solar system looking for meaning, but ... " ... man returned to the earth, dizzy, nauseous, and fearing doom." The astronaut then committed suicide "after he gave up on being able to find work on the ground that could sustain him."

From David Seals' appreciative review of Escacpe to Hell by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

I didn’t previously know that Colonel Gaddafi wrote really bad science fiction. Somehow, this doesn’t surprise me: the personality cult, the secrecy, the incoherent ideology, the constant demands for unquestioning loyalty, the reflexive attacks on outsiders and apostates – basically, he’s L. Ron Hubbard with heavy weapons and a lot more oil. Let’s just hope that, unlike L. Ron, the evil that he does dies with him.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

The great reversal

The State of Working America, an ongoing analysis published since 1988 by the Economic Policy Institute, includes a wide variety of data on family incomes, wages, jobs, unemployment, wealth, and poverty that allow for a clear, unbiased understanding of the economy’s effect on the living standards of working Americans.

On the Economic Policy Institute's web site, The State of Working America

The site has an interactive income graph, which currently goes from 1917 up to 2008. Some of the comparisons are interesting:

In the decade1968-1978, average US incomes went up by $756.* The incomes of the richest 10% declined. All the growth went to the bottom 90% of earners.

In the decade 1978-1988, average incomes went up by $4,033. All growth went to the richest 10%. Incomes for the bottom 90% declined

In the 20 years from 1988 to 2008, average incomes went up by $6,853. All growth went to the top 10%. Incomes for the bottom 90% declined.

See for yourself, with many more examples and graphics, here. I wonder how the figures for the UK compare? I don't yet know, but I'd guess that some time around the start of the eighties marked a decisive swing towards increasing income inequality over here, too.

*all figures are in 2008 dollars.


Monday, 21 February 2011

The shooting party

Lord Mandelson attended shoot with Gaddafi's son

Lord Mandelson, the First Secretary, was last night at the centre of fresh controversy after it emerged he had recently socialised at a shoot with the son of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi attended the event at a stately home in Buckinghamshire, along with the financier Nat Rothschild, who is a friend of Lord Mandelson. 

The Telegraph,  November 2009

"Muammar Gaddafi, our leader, is leading the battle in Tripoli, and we are with him," Saif al-Islam said.

"The armed forces are with him. Tens of thousands are heading here to be with him. We will fight until the last man, the last woman, the last bullet."

The Guardian, 21 February 2011

An intensely relaxed shooting party with Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi makes schmoozing on the yachts of billionaire oligarchs look almost respectable by comparison.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

HR departments and bankers: the axis of evil

Workers are meant to be free to reveal criminal offences and failure by their firms to comply with legal obligations. The law sounds impressive, but it insists that an employee must go to his or her employer before they go public.

"It is like telling a mouse to go to the cat," David Buckle, one of London's leading employment lawyers, told me. If the employer thinks the employee may talk to the press or the authorities, he will suspend him or her and deny them access to the computer system. In Britain, the HR department of every major public or private bureaucracy knows what to do next. It tells the lawyers to seek a gagging injunction from the courts, which the judiciary will grant without demur.

Nick Cohen, writing in The Observer, on how the banks gagged any insiders who tried to point out that they were driving the economy off a cliff. If the whistle blowers had been heard and listened to, maybe we wouldn't have sleepwalked, unprepared, into the crash of '08. Lessons should have been learned, but they haven't. Now they've realised that they got away scot free, unapologetic bankers are crawling out of the woodwork, whining about the unfairness of people who dare to criticise or scrutinize them:

Frankly, the biggest issue is how do we put some of the blame game behind us? There was a period of remorse and apology for banks – that period needs to be over. 

Bob Diamond of Barclays trying to put our elected representatives in their place.

I beg to differ. Frankly, the biggest issue is how do we stop them doing it again? Rigorous oversight and protection of whistle blowers would be a good place to start. As Nick Cohen writes:

The banks are as great a threat to our national security as a foreign enemy. We collect intelligence on hostile powers. Why should we not collect it on the hostile City?
 Read the whole thing here - it's worth five minutes of anybody's time.

*Catbert is the evil director of human resources in Scott Adams' Dilbert comic strip.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Definitively inaccurate?

In many of the more relaxed civilizations on the Outer Eastern Rim of the Galaxy, the Hitch-Hiker's Guide has already supplanted the great Encyclopaedia Galactica as the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom ... though it has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate...

(from Douglas Adams' foreword to The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy)

It's not a remotely new or original thought, but  Wikipedia really is the Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy for our age. For some people it has become the standard repository of all knowledge and wisdom and it certainly has many omissions and contains much that is apocryphal, or at least wildly inaccurate. Where accuracy matters you'd best fact-check the Wikipedia entry.

Where the subject matter is controversial or politically contentious, you'd probably best go elsewhere or at least be aware that the page you are looking at is a battleground littered with biased, sometimes malicious edits and counter-edits from obsessive (mostly male) wonks engaged in a partisan point-scoring contest. I'm not sure that the net result of all these competing axes being ground is any worse than the version of reality served up by the mainstream media, with all those recycled press releases, puffing advertorials, propaganda for the political interests of billionaire media oligarchs and ridiculous salaries paid to pompous, puce-faced, unreliable, reality-challenged columnists with a chronic inability to check their facts or acknowledge any errors caused by their sloppy attitude to the truth.

When it comes to uncontroversial general knowledge and entertainment value, though, I'm way more relaxed about Wikipedia. The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy contains the wonderful disclaimer that the Guide 'cannot hope to be useful or informative on all matters' but 'does make the reassuring claim that where it is inaccurate, it is at least definitively inaccurate.' That's how I feel about the following passage from Wikipedia, recently mined by one of the good folk at Boing Boing. It's from an entry about the larger-than life astronomer Tycho Brahe and it's so entertaining that I almost don't care whether it's true or not. As fiction, it would do credit to one of the more eccentric academics in Terry Pratchett's Unseen University. If fact, it's just splendidly, life-affirmingly bonkers:

Tycho was said to own one percent of the entire wealth of Denmark at one point in the 1580s and he often held large social gatherings in his castle. He kept a dwarf named Jepp (whom Tycho believed to be clairvoyant) as a court jester who sat under the table during dinner. Pierre Gassendi wrote that Tycho also had a tame elk (or moose) and that his mentor, Landgrave Wilhelm of Hesse-Kassel, asked whether there was an animal faster than a deer. Tycho replied, writing that there was none, but he could send his tame elk. When Wilhelm replied he would accept one in exchange for a horse, Tycho replied with the sad news that the elk had just died on a visit to entertain a nobleman at Landskrona. Apparently during dinner the elk had drunk a lot of beer, fallen down the stairs, and died.

Link to Boing Boing here and link to Wikipedia article here. True or false? As Douglas Adams wrote of the Hitch-Hiker's Guide, 'though it cannot hope to be useful or informative on all matters, it does make the reassuring claim that where it is inaccurate, it is at least definitively inaccurate. In cases of major discrepancy it was always reality that's got it wrong.'

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Apart from that, how did you enjoy your flight?

Father Mick Murphy looks on the bright side of the recent Cork Airport crash.
And what I was thinking this morning was that it’s an awful day for relatives – we don’t want it to happen, none of us want it to happen – but God willing, for those who are gone, God willing, it is a wonderful day for them.

Here's the best response so far:

I’d suggest just stop interviewing priests. Unless you’re a Garda of course.


Saturday, 12 February 2011


Now people are actually sitting up and looking at the reality behind the slogan, The Big Society looks about as future-proof as Hosni Mubarak.
Me, 3 February 2011

Hosni Mubarak has stepped down as president of Egypt, after weeks of protests by anti-government demonstrators in Cairo and other cities.

BBC, 11 February 2011

The government has put on hold plans to sell off some English forests...

Proposals to offload 258,000 hectares run by the Forestry Commission have attracted cross-party criticism and a public outcry.

BBC, 11 February 2011

On the basis of my proven ability to predict the crashingly obvious, a lucrative career in astrology beckons. Obviously, my predictions won't be quite so specific when it comes to individual horoscopes, but thanks to the Forer Effect, that shouldn't be a problem.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

He made their tiny wings

All Things Bright And Beautiful must be one of the soppiest hymns ever written. The Monty Python team gave it a much-needed makeover years ago, but I think this re-write is even better. Enjoy.


Endangered marsupial of the day

Gilbert's Potoroo is a small marsupial teetering on the brink of extinction. Found only in dense scrub on a rugged, windswept headland thrusting out into the Southern Ocean, its numbers are so low that a chance event like a bushfire or a drought could push the species into extinction.

First discovered in 1840 by naturalist John Gilbert and recorded again only a few times over the next 40 years, this small rat-kangaroo was thought to be extinct since the late 1870s until rediscovered in 1994 at Two Peoples Bay near Albany, on the South Coast of Western Australia.

It is estimated there are only 30 to 40 animals in the only known wild population, with an additional 40 to 50 animals in two translocated conservation colonies.This limited population means that critically endangered Gilbert's Potoroo is Australia's rarest mammal.

From the web site of the Gilbert's Potoroo Action Group. Not only is it rare, but the charmingly-named Gilbert's Potoroo is almost as fussy about its food as that icon of endangered cuteness, the Giant Panda. Almost as fussy, but rather more sophisticated - where the panda munches away on a monotonous diet of endless bamboo, Gilbert's Potoroo dines almost exclusively on truffles. Mind you, this indulgent diet is probably a bit more Heston Blumenthal than Michel Roux Jr. According to Dr Andrew Claridge, Australia has between 500 and 1000 bush truffles, some with fragrant odours like garlic, vanilla or cinnamon. Others exude a pungent whiff of "rotting fish or diesel fumes."

Although it's monumentally unlucky to be almost extinct, Gilbert's Potoroo at least has the good fortune to be cute enough to warrant its own action group. Many aesthetically challenged endangered species don't even get that, although, I was cheered to discover that somebody out there cared enough to write a blog about Endangered Ugly Things. Still, Gilbert's Potoroo may be a lot more than just a pretty face. Dr Claridge, talking to The Canberra Times, had this to say about potoroos and their relatives, the bandicoots:

They're the engineers, architects and hydrologists of the bush. They turn over the top soil and improve its ability to hold water. That's no small contribution we've estimated they turn over an incredible volume of soil, probably around six tonnes in a year. They're also carbon recyclers, turning over organic matter to be incorporated into the soil.

The root systems of some eucalypts depend on the presence of truffles, and the potoroos spread the spores of these underground fruiting fungi in their droppings. "The trees won't grow without these fungi so you can add the role of natural resource managers as well. The fungi transfer water and nutrients to the host trees, which basically acts to drought-proof them. The fungi enable the trees to retain precious water from the soil by ensheathing the roots and forming a protective barrier to prevent desiccation.

Potoroos and bandicoots have an ecological and economic role to play in preserving Australia's forests. Lose these animals, and you lose the prosperity and health of our forest ecosystems.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Robbing the poor box

In the name of Holy Mary, mother of God, what the feck's going on here?

 MPs have asked ministers to explain why £1.85m ($3m) from the international development budget was spent on the Pope's UK visit in September.

So what exactly did the Papal visit contribute to overseas development? Some gobshite in the Department for International Development came up with this:

Our contribution recognised the Catholic Church's role as a major provider of health and education services in developing countries,

So they used taxpayers money that was meant to relieve poverty to subsidise  the Pope's visit to the UK. All to say thanks to the Vatican for the work of Catholic charities? By that logic, Dfid should stop giving aid to the world's least developed countries and give the USA a bloody great blank cheque instead, on account of how much development aid the Yanks fork up and them having the Gates Foundation and everything.

Surely to God, if they were that bloody impressed with Catholic charities, they could have just given the feckin' money straight to CATHOD, rather than spending the thick end of two million quid on riot police and red carpets?

That Jesus fella is supposed to have said 'ye have the poor always with you.' With those eejits at  Dfid pissing away the tax money that's supposed to help lift the poor of the earth out of poverty, it sounds like he was bloody well right.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Ill-considered cavalry charge of the week

Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Some one had blunder'd.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why

That was Alfred Lord Tennyson on that famously unsuccessful 1854 cavalry charge. Here's Gary Brecher on a similarly misconceived cavalry charge, 2011 style:

Instead, the best Mubarak’s remaining goons can do is organize a cavalry charge. I kid you not. About ten seconds into the video you’ll see a real live cavalry charge by a dozen riders, some on horses, some on camels. This is Mubarak’s response: amateurs on livestock. Sad...

But even camels and horses are intimidating at first, if you’re on foot at street level.  So when the Mubarak Loyalist Petting-Zoo Squadron comes clopping down the cobblestones, the mob/infantry falls back and this tiny cavalry force charges down the pavement. But these guys are untrained in cavalry charges. They do what every incompetent cavalry force in history does: they lose cohesion and get overwhelmed by infantry. The camels and horses charge at different speeds, so they get separated. And they have no commander, no clear objective. They’re armed only with whips, a very short-range non-lethal weapon. And these horses are not battle-conditioned, so when they see a wall of humans ahead of them, screaming and throwing shit at them, they stop. That’s what happens when you use a nag that’s been dragging tourists to the smoggy sights of Cairo for years gets call on to do a charger’s job.

With the horses stopped dead, the cavalry is doomed. And what happens next is beautiful to watch. It restored my faith in humanity: even after centuries, these brave Cairo guys know exactly what to do against cavalry. We still got it! They let the riders pass through, then, when one of the horses rears and pivots around, disorienting his rider, the rioters converge on the horse from behind, from the sides. They pull the rider down and start kicking him to death. Play this video a few times and you’ll see that one man in the crowd, a big guy it looks like, is a natural warrior. He just seems to know instinctively how to deal with a mounted enemy: he bounces like a guard on defense, waiting for the horse to make its move, then grabs for the bridle from the side. That kills all movement and gives his friends the guts to attack, pulling the rider down to the pavement. That’s a great, also kind of a horrible moment, when the rider gets pulled down. Reminded me of that great scene in Dawn of the Dead when those arrogant bikers try to ride through the mob of zombies and get their intestines eaten tartare style. You can’t overestimate the power of cavalry, especially if it’s not ruthless enough to ride through, not at, not towards, the crowd.  It’s a scene that’s happened so many times over the centuries: the peasants take their revenge on the cavaliers, the horse riders. Cavalry that’s stopped is dead cavalry. That’s what happened to the Bradleys in the slums of Baghdad, and it happens much, much faster when all you’re riding is a little horse. (Notice, by the way, how the camel, much higher and harder to reach, survives much better than these little cart horses.)
Ce n'est pas la guerre, et ce n'est pas magnifique.

The big society in the spotlight

When Tony Blair came to power in 1997 he also had a big idea that many struggled to understand - The Third Way. But it slowly died a death because nobody but Mr Blair had any real interest in it.
Could the "big society" suffer a similar fate?

Asks the BBC's Brian Wheeler. I don't think indifference will kill The Big Society. Quite the opposite. It's only thanks to general indifference and the resulting lack of scrutiny that this witless libertarian fantasy masquerading as a coherent strategy has survived for this long. Now people are actually sitting up and looking at the reality behind the slogan, The Big Society looks about as future-proof as Hosni Mubarak.

Even the Telegraph's Geoffrey Lean is sceptical about plans to liberate 258,000 hectares of forest from Forestry Commission control. Transferring all those trees into the tender care of private landowners and charities may well end up costing the taxpayer more than leaving them where they are.

For charities that are losing funding, The Big Society is just a fancy name for cuts.

The big boys don't want to play ball, either. Media and advertising groups have decided to reject the government's suggestion that it would be jolly nice if they could spare a few million pounds worth of adverts and advertising space as their contribution to societal embiggenment.

Plans for councils to dispose of Libraries and allow grateful citizen volunteers to run them in their own free time are also being exposed to Philip Pullman's much-quoted dissection , now there's a danger of somebody actually trying it for real:

Nor do I think we should respond to the fatuous idea that libraries can stay open if they’re staffed by volunteers. What patronising nonsense. Does he think the job of a librarian is so simple, so empty of content, that anyone can step up and do it for a thank-you and a cup of tea? Does he think that all a librarian does is to tidy the shelves? And who are these volunteers? Who are these people whose lives are so empty, whose time spreads out in front of them like the limitless steppes of central Asia, who have no families to look after, no jobs to do, no responsibilities of any sort, and yet are so wealthy that they can commit hours of their time every week to working for nothing? Who are these volunteers? Do you know anyone who could volunteer their time in this way?

Maybe Big Society Czar, Lord Wei of Shoreditch could lead a hand? But what's this? A volunteer czar who doesn’t have the time to volunteer?

The man appointed by the prime minister to kickstart a revolution in citizen activism is to scale back his hours after discovering that working for free three days a week is incompatible with “having a life”.
There's nothing like leading from the front for keeping the troops' morale up, is there?

As donpaskini noted in his handy round-up of Big Society news:

Its critics mock it, volunteers and charity workers despise it, its creators are briefing against each other, and its core supporters in the Tory Party and the think tanks are turning against it. The only remaining question about the Big Society is not whether or not it will succeed, but how long it will be before the government quietly drops the term. John Major’s Traffic Cones Hotline lasted three years and three months, and it would be a surprise if the Big Society staggered on much longer than that.

In breaking news, one of the Big Society's flagships has just executed a 180 degree turn and broken away from the rest of the fleet, to head off in the opposite direction:

The leader of Liverpool City Council has written to the Prime Minister informing him that the authority is pulling out of the Government's Big Society plans.

The city was one of four pilot areas for the scheme, aimed at giving community groups and volunteers more control over their local services.
As reported in The Independent.

Apparently a lot of da yoof still haven't heard of The Big Society, which may buy it a short reprieve, but if young people ever get off Facebook for long enough to notice it, there will be nobody left in society unaware of exactly how stupid and badly executed this initiative is. In the light of day, Dave's Big Idea is crumbling faster than a vampire surprised by the rising sun.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

People like you

I don’t belong to a gym. Being paid to spend time stuck indoors running on a treadmill, getting nowhere sounds pretty grim. Paying for the privilege would be somewhere beyond my personal definition of a joke.

Still, that’s just how I feel. If it works for you, live and let live, different strokes for different folks, de gustibus non disputandum est, whatever. Somebody I know well belonged to a gym and tried to cancel her membership recently. Being busy, and having a lot of other things on her mind, she left it until the last possible day to cancel but, nevertheless, informed the gym that she wanted to leave within the notice period they required. The process went something like this:

  1. Write letter to gym.
  2. Go to gym on last day of notice period and hand letter to staff on way out.
  3. Person at the desk tells you that he can’t accept membership cancellations at branch (or rather he can, but the process involves sending a fax to Head Office which can’t be actioned for three days, by which time it will be too late to process your cancellation). You are given a telephone number for the correct department at Head Office and told to ring them yourself.
  4. Get home, ring number. Hear a recorded message saying the number is temporarily unavailable.
  5. Ring your branch of the gym back to explain that you can’t the contact the Head Office department you supposedly need to contact to cancel your membership and ask for help. Person at branch promises to look into it and ring you back.
  6. Person at branch calls back a couple of hours later and starts by reiterating the importance of contacting Head Office to obtain a cancellation number. You point out that you’ve been trying, but the number has been unavailable. He suggests you try again. You ask what time the telephone lines - when available - close. He checks this and tells you that the lines closed an hour ago. He suggests you ring them first thing in the morning.
  7. You call Head Office first thing in the morning. Cancellation person says that you should have rung yesterday. You point out that you couldn’t get through. He tells you that it’s your own fault for having left it so late to try to cancel and confides that he gets ‘people like you’ on the line every month, complaining that they can’t cancel at the last minute. No, he can’t possibly give you a cancellation number. It’s not his fault that you weren’t able to contact him the day before, or that you chose to leave it until that day to try to cancel your membership.
  8. Make another trip to your gym branch and demand to see the branch manager. Repeat whole story to manager, who concedes that he is authorised to contact Head Office and ask them to process your membership cancellation. He subsequently does this and calls you back to confirm that your membership will be cancelled, from the date you’d originally asked it to be.

There are not two, but at least three, elements here - the customer, the staff and the organisation itself. When you come across a jobsworth employee like Mr 'I get people like you every month' it's easy to conclude that all the fault lies with the training or attitude of employees. Easy, but wrong.

More blame lies with the nameless (but probably better-paid) individual who knowingly made the process for cancelling membership as difficult and clunky as possible. Branch staff need to send a fax to Head Office, who can only process faxed requests in three days, even though they can allegedly process telephoned requests from customers on the same day (assuming that the number is available)? Branch staff aren't allowed to take instructions from a customer and telephone or e-mail these through to the correct department to process? I think somebody could have come up with a smarter system - if they'd really wanted to:
The call centre I worked in handled contracts for a various range of businesses that sold everything from car insurance to broadband packages yet rather than placing an emphasis on teaching us how to provide excellent service to the customers we were instead given a short crash course in what it was we were going to be selling, thrown onto the callfloor with a fairly poor understanding of the product concerned and then encouraged by management to get rid of the caller in as short a time as possible (usually somewhere around the three or four minute mark). 
Your friend in the north, there, giving the lie to all that marketing speak about organisations being "customer focused". Yes, organisations will provide some sort of service for the people they deal with, in an attempt to keep their custom, meet targets or even because those in charge genuinely care, but the customer or caller never has been king.

I've been there myself, having worked for a large insurance company. Callers might bounce around from department to department, coming on to my phone in a state of apoplexy because nobody could deal with their problem. As a conscientious employee, I'd try to fully answer queries that should have come my way or redirect people I couldn't help to the right place. But there were plenty of disincentives to discourage staff from doing the right thing. Actually helping people, as opposed to just getting them off the phone, takes time and we had other things to get on with. An unsympathetic manager might not support an employee who spent "too much" time helping or re-routing callers, rather then efficiently terminating their calls. We were on "performance related" pay, so it was hard to ignore such considerations.

There's an old Dilbert cartoon that sums up the reality. The corporation that Dilbert works for does a survey to find out what customers want. The response is 'better products for free', so the corporation decides to carry on doing what it was doing already and call it a strategy. Somewhere in between what the customer wants and what an organisation is able or prepared to do for them, lies the more-or-less satisfactory reality. The customer isn't, to use the feudal analogy, king - on a bad day, the customer is serf, down there with the customer service operatives struggling to provide a service despite being given a rigid script, no autonomy and having to work through - sometimes deliberately - inefficient processes over which they have no control, designed by people who don't have to face the resulting rage day in and day out.