Phonetic Alphabet

Many companies and organisations that deal with communications use the phonetic alphabet. For those that are not sure, this is the English alphabet with a standardised corresponding attribute. It’s also known as the Nato alphabet, and it’s full name is “international radiotelephony spelling alphabet“.

It was developed sometime in the 1950’s and used in radio and telephone military communications to prevent errors in the transmitting of information. It is now widely used by business for the same reason.

In alphabetical order the phonetic alphabet is: A=Alfa, B=Bravo, C=Charlie, D=Delta, E=Echo, F=Foxtrot, G=Golf, H=Hotel, I=India, J=Juliett, K=Kilo, L=Lima, M=Mike, N=November, O=Oscar, P=Papa, Q=Quebec, R=Romeo, S=Sierra, T=Tango, U=Uniform, V=Victor, W=Whiskey, X=X-ray, Y=Yankee, Z=Zulu.

Many people use it in their day-to-day business dealings. And even for people who don’t use it, many of them know what it is and what it’s used for. Occasionally you get someone who has never heard of it or, just simply, refuses point blank to acknowledge it. I had dealings with one of the latter people yesterday.

A gentleman called our business with queries about his account. He came through to myself and I duly asked for his address including postcode. Well I couldn’t determine whether the one letter was a ‘T’ or something else – whether it was his accent or the muffled line I don’t know. So I spelt out the postcode he had given me using the phonetic alphabet. He confirmed it was correct. I told him that nothing was coming up with that postcode and I spelt it out again to double check. He again confirmed it was correct. I checked it again and he again confirmed it was right, so then I had to ask for other details to find his account.

When I had eventually found the details it appeared that the postcode on his account was slightly different. I explained this to the customer and said that I needed to check it to make sure we had the correct address otherwise he wouldn’t receive paperwork, and any engineer he called may go to the wrong address. So I phonetically spelt out the postcode he had confirmed as being correct and I did the same with the postcode on his account and asked him which one was correct.

Anyone reading this is probably wondering why there was so much hassle. Well, this is because the customer refused to spell out his postcode so I had to keep guessing what this one particular letter was. He was not being at all helpful. And then he had the cheek to say that he had told me already and to put another person on the phone!

I tried very hard to keep my cool and my patience. I explained again that I had to check. This time I decided to use boys names for the letters. This actually worked. Couldn’t believe it! He was quite happy to accept male denominations for the letters.

This was a man in his 70’s. I would have thought that he would know what the phonetic alphabet was and would know some of the letters. I was clearly wrong. Either that or he was deliberately being awkward. You decide.

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Options and Messages

Many, if not most, people dislike options and automated messages when they phone companies. It’s something that we have to put up with. As companies get bigger departments get bigger, hence a system to put you through to the relevant department. Otherwise you would get through to someone who would have to put you through to someone else, then they would transfer you to yet another person. A large company could end up with 100 switchboard operators and very few people actually helping the customer.

Some companies have very easy options to negotiate when you call them, while others are horrendous.

Without mentioning names, one of our partner companies has to have one of the best option systems I’ve come across. One of my customers told me that he had counted up to 19 options! You get to the third set of options to be greeted with the statement: ‘You will now have 3 final options.’ Note the word final. You press the number you want only to be greeted with the next statement: ‘You now have 6 options.’ Love it!

So the options are there hopefully to help us get through to the correct department. It doesn’t always work. Many people couldn’t be bothered to press the right option. They then begin their transfer journey and end up quite annoyed by the time they get through to the correct person. Solution? Press the right option.

Then there’s the automated messages. I often get a customer saying: ‘Are you a person or a robot?’ I stay silent so they can make up their own minds. We’re not allowed to advise.

Because so many companies are regulated by various organisations, they put the relevant information on a recorded message. It saves the agent having to tell each and every customer the legal bits. The agent can concentrate on the subject you are calling about. Of course it’s annoying to hear all this information. Welcome to regulations in the 21st century.

Customers – that’s all of us – either want to feel safe when making a purchase, or would we prefer to go back to a few decades ago when companies could do and say anything to get money from us? Regulations and growth in business have necessitated the option system and the automated messages. It’s not going to change. They may find ways of making it easier, but it won’t stop. We will all have to put up with it.

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Working With a Charity

As a lot of big companies, the company I work for does charity work. It has a partnership with a very well known charity, and has donated £1,000,000 to them over the last couple of years. The charity that benefits is extremely grateful. The money does a lot of good.

It’s not purely out of goodwill that companies do this kind of thing. They do it because it’s very beneficial to them. This is not only a tax write off, but it’s also good publicity. If a company has a partnership with a well known and highly respected charity the publicity generated can go on for months if not years, generating new custom for the business.

There’s nothing as strong as emotional manipulation. Take the case of GM foods (subject of a future blog). We’ve all seen the ads of the starving children in the third world and heard the rhetoric of feeding the world. This is a load of bullshit clearly geared to get the public on an emotional high. Will these companies be sending food to the third world out of the goodness of their heart? No. Will they be feeding people for free? No. This is more money in their pockets using your emotions against you. Very common, useful, strong manipulation. A lot of people fall for it. If they didn’t they wouldn’t use it.

Many companies use this kind of manipulation. The company name and logo is found along with the charities’ details. Looks very nice and makes people think the company is extremely ethical and cares about the community. We immediately think of the charity named, the work they do, who they help. Our emotions are straight away engaged. Any bad publicity can be offset by the fact that the company works so closely with the charity in question.

So whenever you see a company name next to that of any charity, take a look at what’s behind their motives. Yes the charity benefits, but the company isn’t doing it for that reason. This is in the best interests of the company. Look at the emotional feelings that the ads are generating. Are you going to fall for it?

I’d rather give to the charity directly.

The Customer Is Not Always Right

We’ve recently had a boiler promotion on at work. A promotion that ended at 5pm 02 april. The ending time and date was stated clearly on company website and on any advertisements, but of course we had people trying to take out the promotion today!

They tried almost everything with me. Trying to make me feel guilty, trying for the sympathy vote, feel pity on me routine, faking ignorance. None of it worked. Not even the woman who said she’d phoned yesterday but we had problems with the computer system so she was advised to phone this morning. Really?

Firstly if you wish to phone at 5pm madam you are too late. Offer has finished. Secondly we did not have any problems with the computers yesterday, except that after 5pm this offer would not go through. Because it had ended. Thirdly as all the sales agents knew it was ending at 5pm they would not have advised you to phone back today! We most definitely won’t be setting up the promotion for you. Try somebody else with your bullshit!


It seems that since the Conservatives have been in government, a number of prominent, large companies have gone down. Well our company has not been immune to the economic downturn in this country.

We had many voluntary redundancies last year, and it was announced today that more redundancies are on the way. There will be a 90 day consultation period to work out the terms.

I’m pretty sure that the changes with the FSA regulations have also contributed to this. I’m also sure that other companies doing the same sort of jobs will also be affected.

The sooner the Conservatives are out of government, the better off this country will be. They are slowly and surely crippling the UK.

A Matter of a Simple Yes or No

A customer hung up on me today because I asked him to confirm his boiler details.

He asked me to take his boiler details from an old cancelled policy, in order to raise a new insurance policy.

I read the boiler make and model out to him and asked him to confirm that these details were correct. A simple question requiring a yes or no answer. His reply was ‘take the boiler details off the old policy’. I again asked him to confirm if they were correct. He then hung up.

What is it with people today?

We have to check all the details when we set up a policy. We are regulated by the FSA. Most of the questions we are required to ask, are to verify details, and a simple yes or no answer will suffice in most cases. Surely this can’t be too hard?

Mystery Shoppers

We’ve had a mystery shopper phoning us at work. I’ve spoken to him a few times, and so have some of my colleagues. We know it’s the same person as he always asks us to comment on our main competitor!

Each time he phones he’s asking about a different policy. Usually one that’s on the internet. He always complains about the price. Asks us to match our competitors price, and then asks us to comment on our competitors policies. When I politely explain that I cannot comment on another company’s policy, as I am not trained on them, he gets quite aggressive and insulting.

He thinks I should have all the details of what other companies are offering, and should be comparing the policies immediately. He doesn’t seem to realise that the FSA have put a stop to this ‘slagging off’ other companies, which used to occur so often in the past.

I wonder how many times I shall speak to him this week.

Weekend Off!

Yes! I’ve got the weekend off! This is a rare occurence so far this year. I aim to put my feet up and chill.

One thing I’ve noticed as soon as I got up this morning, is that my throat is not sore. The last two days my throat has felt like it’s been washed by a scouring pad. I think it’s down to the fact that we have been so busy at work.

For anyone who doesn’t know, our call centre, like many others, is authorised by the FSA. They now have more powers than ever for closing companies down. As such my company decided to retrain everyone and then brought out new scripts for us to read when setting up policies.

The new procedures are better. Safer for both us and the customer. However, the scripts are quite long.

The FSA requires companies to advise customers of quite a lot of information when they buy a policy. All of this information is crammed into a 12 page script. A straight forward policy set up can take anything from 10-15 minutes. However, as anyone who sets up policies knows, it’s very rarely straight forward.

Most customers have questions. Especially the ones who can’t be bothered to read. I especially like the customers who say they are looking at the internet and want to know what the price of the policy is and what it entails. I always start with “As it says on the internet…”.

My longest call so far was 2 minutes short of an hour.

The last few weeks have been one call after another, with a lot of sales being set up. If you can imagine reading out a 12 page script several times a day every day, you can imagine how sore my throat has been lately.

I’m soooooo looking forward to my week off at the end of March!

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