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Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us: Customer Service and What It Reveals About Our World and Our Lives

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Bring up the subject of customer service phone calls and the blood pressure of everyone within earshot rises exponentially. Otherwise calm, rational, and intelligent people go into extended rants about an industry that seems to grow more inhuman and unhelpful with every phone call we make. And Americans make more than 43 billion customer service calls each year. Whether it Bring up the subject of customer service phone calls and the blood pressure of everyone within earshot rises exponentially. Otherwise calm, rational, and intelligent people go into extended rants about an industry that seems to grow more inhuman and unhelpful with every phone call we make. And Americans make more than 43 billion customer service calls each year. Whether it's the interminable hold times, the outsourced agents who can't speak English, or the multitude of buttons to press and automated voices to listen to before reaching someone with a measurable pulse -- who hasn't felt exasperated at the abuse, neglect, and wasted time we experience when all we want is help, and maybe a little human kindness? Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us is journalist Emily Yellin's engaging, funny, and far-reaching exploration of the multibillion-dollar customer service industry and its surprising inner-workings. Yellin reveals the real human beings and often surreal corporate policies lurking behind its aggravating façade. After reading this first-ever investigation of the customer service world, you'll never view your call-center encounters in quite the same way. Since customer service has a role in just about every industry on earth, Yellin travels the country and the world, meeting a wide range of customer service reps, corporate decision makers, industry watchers, and Internet-based consumer activists. She spends time at outsourced call centers for Office Depot in Argentina and Microsoft in Egypt. She gets to know the Mormon wives who answer JetBlue's customer service calls from their homes in Salt Lake City, and listens in on calls from around the globe at a FedEx customer service center in Memphis. She meets with the creators of the yearly Customer Rage Study, customer experience specialists at Credit Suisse in Zurich, the founder and CEO of FedEx, and the CEO of the rising Internet retailer Zappos.com. Yellin finds out which country complains about service the most (Sweden), interviews an actress who provides the voice for automated answering systems at many big corporations, and talks to the people who run a website (GetHuman.com that posts codes for bypassing automated voices and getting to an actual human being at more than five hundred major companies. Yellin weaves her vast reporting into an entertaining narrative that sheds light on the complex forces that create our infuriating experiences. She chronicles how the Internet and global competition are forcing businesses to take their customers' needs more seriously and offers hope from people inside and outside the globalized corporate world fighting to make customer service better for us all. Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us cuts through corporate jargon and consumer distress to provide an eye-opening and animated account of the way companies treat their customers, how customers treat the people who serve them, and how technology, globalization, class, race, gender, and culture influence these interactions. Frustrated customers, smart executives, and dedicated customer service reps alike will find this lively examination of the crossroads of world commerce -- the point where businesses and their customers meet -- illuminating and essential.


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Bring up the subject of customer service phone calls and the blood pressure of everyone within earshot rises exponentially. Otherwise calm, rational, and intelligent people go into extended rants about an industry that seems to grow more inhuman and unhelpful with every phone call we make. And Americans make more than 43 billion customer service calls each year. Whether it Bring up the subject of customer service phone calls and the blood pressure of everyone within earshot rises exponentially. Otherwise calm, rational, and intelligent people go into extended rants about an industry that seems to grow more inhuman and unhelpful with every phone call we make. And Americans make more than 43 billion customer service calls each year. Whether it's the interminable hold times, the outsourced agents who can't speak English, or the multitude of buttons to press and automated voices to listen to before reaching someone with a measurable pulse -- who hasn't felt exasperated at the abuse, neglect, and wasted time we experience when all we want is help, and maybe a little human kindness? Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us is journalist Emily Yellin's engaging, funny, and far-reaching exploration of the multibillion-dollar customer service industry and its surprising inner-workings. Yellin reveals the real human beings and often surreal corporate policies lurking behind its aggravating façade. After reading this first-ever investigation of the customer service world, you'll never view your call-center encounters in quite the same way. Since customer service has a role in just about every industry on earth, Yellin travels the country and the world, meeting a wide range of customer service reps, corporate decision makers, industry watchers, and Internet-based consumer activists. She spends time at outsourced call centers for Office Depot in Argentina and Microsoft in Egypt. She gets to know the Mormon wives who answer JetBlue's customer service calls from their homes in Salt Lake City, and listens in on calls from around the globe at a FedEx customer service center in Memphis. She meets with the creators of the yearly Customer Rage Study, customer experience specialists at Credit Suisse in Zurich, the founder and CEO of FedEx, and the CEO of the rising Internet retailer Zappos.com. Yellin finds out which country complains about service the most (Sweden), interviews an actress who provides the voice for automated answering systems at many big corporations, and talks to the people who run a website (GetHuman.com that posts codes for bypassing automated voices and getting to an actual human being at more than five hundred major companies. Yellin weaves her vast reporting into an entertaining narrative that sheds light on the complex forces that create our infuriating experiences. She chronicles how the Internet and global competition are forcing businesses to take their customers' needs more seriously and offers hope from people inside and outside the globalized corporate world fighting to make customer service better for us all. Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us cuts through corporate jargon and consumer distress to provide an eye-opening and animated account of the way companies treat their customers, how customers treat the people who serve them, and how technology, globalization, class, race, gender, and culture influence these interactions. Frustrated customers, smart executives, and dedicated customer service reps alike will find this lively examination of the crossroads of world commerce -- the point where businesses and their customers meet -- illuminating and essential.

30 review for Your Call Is (Not That) Important to Us: Customer Service and What It Reveals About Our World and Our Lives

  1. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas Ferrante

    Much like most business books, this could've easily been a feature story in a magazine. I was hoping this book would dig into the alienating aspects of big business and how it drives both people on the end of the customer service transaction towards incivility (the end consumer calling in with a problem, and the over-worked, under-paid, complete lack of autonomy customer service rep cog at the other end of the phone). This was only briefly touched upon in reference to a handful of physiological Much like most business books, this could've easily been a feature story in a magazine. I was hoping this book would dig into the alienating aspects of big business and how it drives both people on the end of the customer service transaction towards incivility (the end consumer calling in with a problem, and the over-worked, under-paid, complete lack of autonomy customer service rep cog at the other end of the phone). This was only briefly touched upon in reference to a handful of physiological studies displaying the mental health issues derived from constant fake happiness on the phone and being berated on a daily basis by a distant voice. The book mostly focuses on 'best practice' call centers like Amazon and Zappos and their empowerment of their employees. If you've worked in a call center before or are some sort of dinosaur manager that needs to realize that customer service is not a cost-center but rather a really important part of the marketing mix, this book may be for you.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Linda

    To read a good review, press one. To read a bad review, press two. To accidentally disconnect this call, so that it takes you another twenty minutes to get back to this point in the menu, press three. To launch a small nuclear device at our corporate headquarters, press four. I was hoping for more personal customer service horror stories from this book. It was still interesting and informative, though limited strictly to information about customer service by phone. (Perhaps the author is saving poor To read a good review, press one. To read a bad review, press two. To accidentally disconnect this call, so that it takes you another twenty minutes to get back to this point in the menu, press three. To launch a small nuclear device at our corporate headquarters, press four. I was hoping for more personal customer service horror stories from this book. It was still interesting and informative, though limited strictly to information about customer service by phone. (Perhaps the author is saving poor in-person customer service for another volume.) Having sat on both sides of the customer service fence, I know how tough it is to merely please some of the people some of the time. That knowledge doesn't make me any happier when I get trapped inside endlessly looping phone menus, however.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Skip

    Emily Yellin has written a very easy-to-understand overview (from a layman's standpoint) of telephone customer service (the best and worst practitioners). Meticulously researched, on several continents, from FedEx call centers in the United States to outbound call centers in Argentina and Egypt, she digs deep into the whole process and development of this customer call service industry. She finds the answers to questions about why when we call a number in our own city we might find ourselves bei Emily Yellin has written a very easy-to-understand overview (from a layman's standpoint) of telephone customer service (the best and worst practitioners). Meticulously researched, on several continents, from FedEx call centers in the United States to outbound call centers in Argentina and Egypt, she digs deep into the whole process and development of this customer call service industry. She finds the answers to questions about why when we call a number in our own city we might find ourselves being transferred to an outbound call center in another country. She also looks at best practices among companies as diverse as zappos.com and Fedex to pinpoint why these companies do it right.

  4. 4 out of 5

    ST

    A must read for anyone who has ever wasted more than an hour holding on an 800 customer "service" number. This book is as important and revealing as The Hidden Persuaders. A must read for anyone who has ever wasted more than an hour holding on an 800 customer "service" number. This book is as important and revealing as The Hidden Persuaders.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Fred

    This is an interesting read that gives a history of customer service and the technologies surrounding it. There are many case studies of companies that have succeeded by making it a focus and others that have faced public relations disasters due to their mishandling of customer support. The book also examines how social media continues to change the way that customer service is managed.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    The title of this book made me giggle out loud when I saw it - who hasn't felt that this is secretly what the recorded voice means when you're on hold? Emily Yellin has done a great job of finding out why companies have lost touch with how to interact with customers and what effects that has on their bottom line. She has also learned a lot about what makes normal people turn into screaming banshees when they have to call customer service. Both approaches are interesting, but what I liked best ab The title of this book made me giggle out loud when I saw it - who hasn't felt that this is secretly what the recorded voice means when you're on hold? Emily Yellin has done a great job of finding out why companies have lost touch with how to interact with customers and what effects that has on their bottom line. She has also learned a lot about what makes normal people turn into screaming banshees when they have to call customer service. Both approaches are interesting, but what I liked best about this book were the anecdotes - both good and bad - of actual customer service experiences. The bad include Vincent Ferrari trying to cancel AOL (which was covered by The Today Show) and the good includes escalation reps at FedEx going above and beyond their duties to make good on things that went wrong. I discovered an entire obsolete profession - the "hello girl" -- that I'm now fascinated by/obsessed with. (The first telephone operators were teenage boys, transferred over from the telegraph lines. But they were rude and boisterous, so young women were hired to take their places answering all the new-fangled telephone calls.) I also learned (I don't know why I didn't realize this before) that the automated phone systems everywhere aren't computer-generated - they are done by real voice actors, who record each number three times, as the beginning, middle, and end of a sequence. Who knew? Overall, what this book drove home was how complicated life has become. The very fact that we have so many problems with companies that we have to outsource the people who deal with our questions and complaints just boggles the mind, if you think about it. When I think back on my worst customer service moments, I would wish that every executive director of customer service would read this book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Betty

    This book is very interesting. It sheds light on a topic that I have been thinking about for a long time. Obviously I'm not the only person. It was really lovely to read about the history of call centers, and the progression of history that has led us to how we think about and interact with customer service representatives. What I enjoyed was that it really is impartial. The author actually just reported the facts of what people are saying about this subject without waxing poetical about how gre This book is very interesting. It sheds light on a topic that I have been thinking about for a long time. Obviously I'm not the only person. It was really lovely to read about the history of call centers, and the progression of history that has led us to how we think about and interact with customer service representatives. What I enjoyed was that it really is impartial. The author actually just reported the facts of what people are saying about this subject without waxing poetical about how great this is or how evil that is. It was very refreshing. Also there is major information, and citation which I found very cool. I'm surprised by how few authors actually do that anymore. Sometimes she repeats herself but that's not too surprising considering that a lot of the book is quotations about how other people feel about this subject. The thing that bugged me reading it was the realization that Americans, have all been relegated to customers rather than people. This is never actually stated during the book but when company reps talk about being kind and doing right, they only do so in relation to the power that a person has as a customer to hurt their companies bottom line. There is no discussion about doing right or ethics by companies only a focus on how to get what the company wants out of the customer while still making the customer happy. Even as they move towards doing right they do so while still thinking in the the very patterns that make customers feel angry and alienated in the first place. A good book if you are interested in knowing whats going on behind company doors.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    This book is just dull. While there are some entertaining discussions about companies who clearly are terrible at customer service, the author spends most of her time visiting several companies to see how each addresses its customer service needs. The problem with this, of course, is that only companies that are known for having good customer service are willing to allow a writer in to observe their operations. This is what makes the book so dull. There is very little insight to be gained from This book is just dull. While there are some entertaining discussions about companies who clearly are terrible at customer service, the author spends most of her time visiting several companies to see how each addresses its customer service needs. The problem with this, of course, is that only companies that are known for having good customer service are willing to allow a writer in to observe their operations. This is what makes the book so dull. There is very little insight to be gained from interviewing people who like their jobs and who work for companies who take customer service seriously, because those companies are in the minority. I think a topic like this would have benefited greatly from an undercover Barbara Ehrenreich approach. Another drawback of the book is that the author discusses customer service at call centers while barely touching upon person to person customer service, which is still a big part of everyone's life.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kater Cheek

    Let's be honest: customer service is not an intrinsically interesting subject for most people. So the fact that I liked this book and enjoyed reading it to the end is a testament to Emily Yellin's skill as a writer. Look for her. The book talks about the customer service industry, mostly about call centers. It talks about it from the customer service rep's point of view, and sometimes from the customer's point of view, but always with an eye towards how to improve business. One of the companies sh Let's be honest: customer service is not an intrinsically interesting subject for most people. So the fact that I liked this book and enjoyed reading it to the end is a testament to Emily Yellin's skill as a writer. Look for her. The book talks about the customer service industry, mostly about call centers. It talks about it from the customer service rep's point of view, and sometimes from the customer's point of view, but always with an eye towards how to improve business. One of the companies she interviewed was FedEx. The employee talked about their high commitment to customer service, and about how they based their company around it. I found this very ironic, because FedEx is one of the few companies I will absolutely refuse to patronize on account of several negative experiences with them. I hate them. Having her cast FedEx in a positive light colored my faith in the rest of the book but not too much to dislike reading it.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Oscar Romero

    Thank you Emily....you sure did an amazing job not only gathering this quite interesting data--but the way you write it, it is phenomenal and so engaging...I love it! Customer service, even though it has been around since forever, seems to be the most misunderstood topic nowadays--and the proof is in the fact that we still get horrible customer service still. The biggest problem I see, is that whomever is giving it--doesn't even realize it is their fault! Thank you for writing this amazing book- Thank you Emily....you sure did an amazing job not only gathering this quite interesting data--but the way you write it, it is phenomenal and so engaging...I love it! Customer service, even though it has been around since forever, seems to be the most misunderstood topic nowadays--and the proof is in the fact that we still get horrible customer service still. The biggest problem I see, is that whomever is giving it--doesn't even realize it is their fault! Thank you for writing this amazing book--I am certain it will help many of us trying to improve customer service in our business. Strongly recommend this book for anyone trying to learn about how to better ourselves, as a person, as a team, as a company, as a community, a city, a country... and improve our customer service habits.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Charli

    This is a subject I'm quite interested in, both personally and professionally. Outsourcing customer service is a major concern in America. It was intriguing to find out that there are a number of people doing customer service from their homes, as opposed to cubicle farms. There are some good customer service practices to follow and a real human element to the call center employees, but you have to wade through an awful lot to get there. I found myself skimming most of the background information This is a subject I'm quite interested in, both personally and professionally. Outsourcing customer service is a major concern in America. It was intriguing to find out that there are a number of people doing customer service from their homes, as opposed to cubicle farms. There are some good customer service practices to follow and a real human element to the call center employees, but you have to wade through an awful lot to get there. I found myself skimming most of the background information on companies to get to the personal stories of customers and their reps. Although this is a noble effort, unfortunately, reading it was much like reading my history textbook in school; it took a subject that has a ton of juicy possibility into dry as dust territory. Color me disappointed.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. It started off being exactly what I realized (as I was reading)that I wanted it to be--personal stories of things that happen in customer service and why they happen the way they do. It just really slow in the middle, and I had to force myself to finish it. I watched Outsourced, a comedy about a guy who has to help set up a call center in India, in the middle of reading this book, so maybe that's why it got more interesting for me at the end--I h I wanted to like this book a lot more than I did. It started off being exactly what I realized (as I was reading)that I wanted it to be--personal stories of things that happen in customer service and why they happen the way they do. It just really slow in the middle, and I had to force myself to finish it. I watched Outsourced, a comedy about a guy who has to help set up a call center in India, in the middle of reading this book, so maybe that's why it got more interesting for me at the end--I had that humorous experience to compare it to. Now I'm on the lookout for a book with personal stories about customer service...

  13. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    Read this if you're in the mood for hearing some amusing rants about customer service via call centre and internet, from both outside and inside the industry. Much of the research and anecdotes in the book lead to common sense conclusions you'd already expect, but it's comforting to have them articulated and confirmed. Yes, there really are people out there who do believe in better service! I think my favourite chapter was the exploration of Interactive Voice Response systems. I loved reading som Read this if you're in the mood for hearing some amusing rants about customer service via call centre and internet, from both outside and inside the industry. Much of the research and anecdotes in the book lead to common sense conclusions you'd already expect, but it's comforting to have them articulated and confirmed. Yes, there really are people out there who do believe in better service! I think my favourite chapter was the exploration of Interactive Voice Response systems. I loved reading some of the quotes aloud, trying to mimic the tone of an unflappable IVR system which constantly apologizes for not hearing you right!

  14. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    this is an invaluable book and tool for anyone who works in the customer service industry, including me! this not only articulates what i experience at work but it also expresses what i experience as a customer when i call into a company, helpless and looking for some answers regarding a recent purchase. This book covers the origin of customer service all the way up till today's concept of it-both the good and bad. i also found the international customer service rep vignettes featured in chapter this is an invaluable book and tool for anyone who works in the customer service industry, including me! this not only articulates what i experience at work but it also expresses what i experience as a customer when i call into a company, helpless and looking for some answers regarding a recent purchase. This book covers the origin of customer service all the way up till today's concept of it-both the good and bad. i also found the international customer service rep vignettes featured in chapter 6 really eye opening.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Interesting look at customer service, with a look at some of the problems and questions involved. The book's fascinating becuase it gives you a look at the issue from both the customer's and the business' perpective, and it deals with "hot button" issues like outsourcing and automated answering systems without being too baised toward either side of the debate. The book's short on solutions to the problems that it brings up, but it's a good introduction to a part of big business that we're often Interesting look at customer service, with a look at some of the problems and questions involved. The book's fascinating becuase it gives you a look at the issue from both the customer's and the business' perpective, and it deals with "hot button" issues like outsourcing and automated answering systems without being too baised toward either side of the debate. The book's short on solutions to the problems that it brings up, but it's a good introduction to a part of big business that we're often too upset about to really consider.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mike Ehlers

    I used to work on the phones in customer service. Naturally, I had to pick this up when I saw it on the library shelf. I was expecting more of a focus on the customer service rep experience, but it turned out to be more of an overview on the current state of the industry. May not be of interest to someone who hasn't worked in the field. At times reads like an extended news feature. And it ended rather abruptly. An ok read, but I probably wouldn't recommend it. I used to work on the phones in customer service. Naturally, I had to pick this up when I saw it on the library shelf. I was expecting more of a focus on the customer service rep experience, but it turned out to be more of an overview on the current state of the industry. May not be of interest to someone who hasn't worked in the field. At times reads like an extended news feature. And it ended rather abruptly. An ok read, but I probably wouldn't recommend it.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    I've always been intrigued by how things work, and this book opened the door to today's customer service...and lack thereof. Today there are lots more overseas call centers than just India, and the author covers that change in detail. She also does a nice focus on how a couple customer service icons (Fed Ex and Zappos) put outstanding service in the forefront. Downside: too long and too much detail on the overseas centers. I've always been intrigued by how things work, and this book opened the door to today's customer service...and lack thereof. Today there are lots more overseas call centers than just India, and the author covers that change in detail. She also does a nice focus on how a couple customer service icons (Fed Ex and Zappos) put outstanding service in the forefront. Downside: too long and too much detail on the overseas centers.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mia

    A decent enough history and overview of telephone andonline customer service, though the book was a bit too hand-wavy and lightweight around some of the deeper questions around the topic's more controversial issues: ethical questions about hiring prison workers to achieve "offshore" pay rates, for instance. I did learn a few things though. A decent enough history and overview of telephone andonline customer service, though the book was a bit too hand-wavy and lightweight around some of the deeper questions around the topic's more controversial issues: ethical questions about hiring prison workers to achieve "offshore" pay rates, for instance. I did learn a few things though.

  19. 5 out of 5

    KandiH

    I don't think I got any insight about "our world and our lives" but there were some interesting interviews with overseas call center employees. As a former call center employee, I can say that no new ground was really covered. I would recommend to those who have not worked that sort of job and are interested in the mechanics and background of outsourcing. I don't think I got any insight about "our world and our lives" but there were some interesting interviews with overseas call center employees. As a former call center employee, I can say that no new ground was really covered. I would recommend to those who have not worked that sort of job and are interested in the mechanics and background of outsourcing.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Foe6

    Emily wanted me to make sure to note to anyone checking the list that the paperback version is more up to date and her recommendation is to read this vs. the hard cover as it is more timely.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Heather the Hillbilly Banjo Queen

    I really liked the first half of this book and then I had to give it back.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    Book starts out good, but after the third chapter it falls off and is not worth finishing.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Julian

    This is about an entirely different type of customer service than the kind I do at work. I'm so glad my job isn't like that. This is about an entirely different type of customer service than the kind I do at work. I'm so glad my job isn't like that.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Indlibrarystaff

    Everything you ever wanted to know about phone trees, but were afraid to ask. A great read on a common experience that makes and breaks us all: customer service.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Gina Herald

    Enjoyed the depth Emily Yellin went to in the story. As a customer service trainer and supporter I found it very interesting. Insightful too as far as call centers and all that goes.

  26. 5 out of 5

    John

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kate

  28. 5 out of 5

    Daisy

  29. 5 out of 5

    Stacey

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ren Fuller-Wasserman

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