BPA Featured Article

UK Telecom Introduces Paid Priority Answering at Call Centers

By Casey Houser, Contributing Writer
August 22, 2014

Some customers may actually be more equal than others – if they can pony up the dough. For a price, one U.K.-based business is offering the chance for customers to jump to the front of the line to have customer service agents answer their calls more quickly.

It is called the "Priority Answer Service," and telecommunications company EE, a primary brand in the country that owns Orange and T-Mobile (News - Alert), is allowing customers on its monthly mobile and SIM-only plans to get support faster than those customers who choose to use only standard service. The company website describes it as follows:

"Our priority answer service gives you the choice to get support even faster for just 50p per call when you call 150 and want to speak to customer services. It's always available so if there's a queue, you can be moved towards the front - ideal if you're in a hurry.

The charge for this is 50p. If you're on a plan that includes standard charging for customer services at 25p, you'll only be charged an extra 25p for priority answer – so the total for the call with priority is 50p."

According to The Operations Room, which offers an in-depth analysis of the issue, 50p comes out to roughly 84 cents. So, if customers have less than a dollar to spend on a customer service call, they can jump into a separate tier of callers to hopefully speed up their wait times.

The priority calling will not break the bank for most callers, and it remains unseen how many people will take a theoretically longer wait time just to save a few cents. Callers could just look at the charge like a rate increase for making a premium support call. Since they were not free in the first place -- most standard customer service calls cost 25p -- the rate for supposedly better service is simply double that of the standard service. In addition, it is worthwhile to note that calls outside peak hours, such as calls made in the middle of the night, will cost callers 50p anyway.

The underlying issue, though, is not about costs or wait times. Although The Operations Room insists that average wait times will not increase, the system here still creates two classes of people. There are people that can or will pay the increased fee for faster service, and there are those who cannot or will not. Setting aside the people who choose not to participate -- those who set themselves in one queue or other on purpose -- the rest of the population as treated as somewhat lesser or undeserving of potentially better service overall.

In a world where customers are supposed to come first and customer satisfaction is supposed to take priority, why would it be wise to separate out people by the amount of money they are willing to pay for their support? Again, most people will be able to afford the service, and this may attract a number of people by providing them with improved service for less than the cost of a cup of coffee, but it also places some people into slow lanes that they may not be able to avoid.

Some of the population will be treated, if even in the smallest part, as second class. And it is hard to think that anyone would want to be treated that way from a company in which they place their business. Regardless of how fast or slow the service is, people want to be treated equally and know they are valued by their brands. Does this pay-for-a-premium service send the wrong message?

Edited by Alisen Downey