Many firms, have free customer care lines. These were set up to respond to pressing issues from their clients but firms never envisaged a situation where cheeky clients would use the free service for other reasons.
Many will call a firm’s customer care line for reasons other than the company’s business.
Even the emergency number 911, is not spared by a bunch of idlers who sometimes just call to greet the cops and ask them how they are faring.
With the betting craze, betting company customer care officials have also not been spared by Kenyans who want to know how a hard earned ‘stake’ disappears with a bet.
It is even worse when the customer care agent on the other end is a lady and the caller is a man who has nothing but time on his hands.
“It is normal to receive calls from fellows who do not have any clear agenda they want to express,” says Laura, a customer care assistant in a sports betting company in Nairobi.
Lonely or simply looking for excitement wherever they can find it, and armed with cheap credit- often borrowed- some will call anyone, even strangers.
Take Aggrey for instance. He has SIM cards for all the different telecom companies in the country.
He says calling customer care lines at night is just thrilling.
“What do you do when you are lying on the bed idle and no sleep is coming, yet have no one to talk to?” he asks. “The customer care attendants are the only option to call and disturb for as long as one wishes.”
From the respondents, many calls received by call centres of various companies are not related to core business but just arouse the feel-good effect in callers.
The result is that many customer care staff dread the night shift as it tests their patience.
A few friends who work in call centres have told me about calls that either test one’s patience or leave one disgusted, and few genuine calls where they give expert advice.
Laurah, for instance, says that while still newly employed at a call centre, she answered every caller respectfully, until one night when one man just popped out of nowhere and asked: “Unaweza kunitumia nudes zako?” (Can you send me your nude pictures?)
He went on to ask about her underwear and whether she had any on.
At such a point it is easy to lose one’s temper, but then the company’s code of conduct wants you to control yourself and answer the caller respectfully, what do you do?
“I did not know what to answer the caller,” Laurah recalls. “I listened to his foul language all through while figuring out what to answer back.”
After the man stopped talking, as procedure demanded, she thanked him for calling and asked him to call again next time, but with relevant issues.
The irritating man would call the same night several times with the same topic and even had the audacity to ask; “what other relevant topic do you want us to discuss at night,” when she pressed him to be mature.
“I cursed the day I opted for a communications course in campus,” says Laurah.
But it is not all gloom. Like in the 2008 movie The Other End of the Line, some customer care calls end up in romantic relationships.
In the movie, Shriya Saran while working at an Indian call-centre travels to San Francisco to be with a guy she falls for over the phone, and consequently breaks off with her culture, leaving her betrothed husband.
Happily ever after
Laurah says she has seen some of her friends end up with the clients who call them.
“A friend, whom I will call Joseph, once received a call from a woman who seemed to have a genuine problem. Her conversation with him was quite classy, and had a problem with her iPhone,” she says.
She says the caller was so happy having been helped, and even requested him to take down her number so that in case he found some time, he would meet up with her in town for a cup of coffee.
Joseph called back a day later due to the curiosity of wanting to meet her, and they met up in a restaurant at Westlands. The rest is a long story leading to their now five-year-old marriage.
Hungry for love
Susan, another customer care employee at a leading firm, says many men have asked her for her personal number, and whether they can meet somewhere for a chat.
“Many always persist in calling just to get the number. I always give them back the customer care numbers because it would be unethical to meet up with all these strangers,” she says.
But it is not only men who make such calls. Sammy says many women who make these calls at night are lonely and want to see if they can match up with some of the customer care agents, some whom are presumed to be wealthy because they working for reputable firms.
John, a sports betting customer care agent, however, says that while there are callers who do not know emergency call lines and would call customer care centres at night to report crime or seek help for their sick patients, the usual ‘Kamiti’ cheats have not spared them.
“One day I was at the desk, and a man called telling that he had sent me Sh43,000 by mistake, he wanted me to send it back to him on another number that he had send on text. I told him our line does not accept money,” he says. “The brother clicked and hang up.”
I bet my school fees
He says some callers, especially those who have lost lots of cash in betting, often call to persuade them to reverse the amount or at least some of it.
He received one call that went like this: “I mistakenly placed my Sh20,000 on a bet, money which I was supposed to pay for my school fees, and now my father has threatened to kill me if I do not pay it at the end of the week. What should I do? Can the bet be reversed?”
He says he took his number and linked him to a counselling psychologist who later reported positive progress, having been able to talk to the caller and his parents.
There are some people who call customer care lines when they are in urgent need of help, for example money to go to hospital.
Annette, who also works at a call centre in a leading firm, says listening to callers and from the subject matter, it is easy to tell one’s level of education and social class.
She says there are idle callers who will call simply because the line is toll-free and the ever-busy kind who will only call if they need urgent and genuine assistance.
She gives the example of an idle caller she responded to a few weeks ago at 2 am.
The call went something like: “Yesterday, when I went to sleep, my bundle balance was 58.90mbs only to wake up when I had 56.30mbs. Who could have used my phone while I was asleep?” Before she could respond, the caller threatened to sue the company for ‘stealing’ his bundles.
She says she explained to the caller that he might have left his data on, and since there are applications in the phone that run continually, they may have used the data.
Kelly Inyani, a criminologist, says it is against the law to use foul language on the phone and one can easily land in trouble if the aggrieved party decides to take up the matter.
But firms, out of fear to lose clients or drag their name through the mud rarely, if ever, file suits against these callers.
In fact, some firms learning from these types of callers employ people at the customer care desk who respond to such cheeky questions in an equally cheeky manner, and everyone has a good laugh.