December 12, 2008 / 6:18 PM / 10 years ago

Brazil battles call center "on hold" misery

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Frayed nerves and sore necks could soon be history for Brazilians accustomed to painfully long waiting times on the phone to reach call center staff after battling through torturous automated menus.

The Latin American country, loved for soothing bossa nova, exotic wildlife and a week of partying a year during carnival, also makes consumers furious with its dismally inefficient telephone customer service.

But many firms are now pulling up their socks in response to a presidential decree that took effect this month imposing stringent demands to answer calls within one minute and to transfer customers no more than once to resolve queries.

“We needed something like this so you don’t spend the whole time keying in numbers. It makes you mad waiting to get through to someone. I usually try to put off calling them,” said shopkeeper Ivan da Silva, speaking of his cell phone operator.

Calls must now be free of charge and voice menus must give callers an option to be transferred straight through to attendants who must man the lines 24 hours a day.

“Press one, press two ... music,” says a distressed office worker in a new TV ad, caressing the telephone receiver and appearing to cry. The advertiser, fixed-line telephone provider Embratel, calls on “masochistic entrepreneurs” to switch to the superior service it promises.

Companies who may have doubted the government’s willingness to enforce the new standards are already being summoned by the justice ministry to explain why they have fallen short of the rules during test calls, local press reported this week.

Threatened penalties range from a paltry 201 reais ($85) to 3 million reais ($1.3 million).

But Sergio Assenco, director of phone and Internet company Vivo, says the cost of the extra staff required would inevitably be passed on to the consumer as there was no way to offer “Swedish quality at Indian prices.”

Another, Spain’s Telefonica, said it has invested 50 million reais ($21 million) in recruitment and training on new systems and was adding 2,000 more staff to its Brazilian customer service center whose team will now total 22,000.

($1=2.38 reais)

Editing by Eric Beech

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