Today’s English listening practice is a conversation that you get to decide if the content is a rant or an opinion piece. We explain what the difference between these two different ways of communicating a point of view are. Along the way, we also talk about a recent phenomenon brought about by businesses and government services moving to online and telephone because of the pandemic.
A phenomenon is something that can be seen or experienced that is unusual or interesting. So today we talk about one of the side effects that has happened as many of the UK’s businesses have adapted to online life and the necessity to use phones to get things done where we used to talk to people face to face.
Most things in the UK are returning to normal following some pretty strict lock-down rules. You would imagine that shops and places of business would be re-opening their physical offices and shops. But many businesses who were forced to move online or move much of their customer interaction to telephone and online are not re-opening their physical shops or places of business.
They have actually saved a lot of money. The move online means they don’t have to pay as much rent or business rates and they need less staff. As a result, some businesses, like household goods, are experiencing a big increase online sales and store sales are decreasing. I think we can all expect to have to deal with the issues raised in today’s English listening podcast more often.
Genuine Frustration Crisis Disrupted Rant Opinion Phenomena Ubiquitous
|High Call Volumes||5|
|Message You Hear||2|
|Agree With Me||2|
|I’m Going To||2|
|An Opinion Piece||2|
|A Telephone Call||2|
Hi and welcome to this podcast from Adept English. Today I’m going to air my opinion about something. You may agree with me or you may not agree with me – but either way, this will give you practice with understanding English conversation.
Although you’re listening, you can’t reply, I’m going to give you an opinion as though you and I were having a conversation. And this in fact, is a conversation that I’ve had with a number of people recently. So try this out. See how much of what I’m saying you can understand – and see whether you’ve had a similar experience or similar feelings about the situation I describe. In conversation, this is what we might call in English ‘a bit of a rant’.
A ‘rant’, RANT means when someone is frustrated and they talk about their frustration! If I was writing a column in a newspaper, we’d refer to this type of subject as ‘an opinion piece’. Here goes.
Here’s a message you hear a lot these days. ‘We are experiencing high call volumes due to the coronavirus pandemic. Our customer service agents will answer your call as soon as possible’. ‘High call volumes’ just means that, you’re making a telephone call and the message you hear ‘high call volumes’ means that they’re receiving a lot of calls at the moment. And a ‘customer service agent’? That means a person working in a call centre, the type of person who will, eventually answer your telephone call.
Whenever you phone up a business, or a government organisation, you’re certain not to be answered by an actual person. You’re likely instead to be met with a recorded voice and a series of options, ‘to enable us to handle your call more effectively’. That’s fine, I’m used to that. That’s the modern world and I understand why there are call centres and why telephone call systems work in this way. It’s more efficient. ‘Efficient’ EFFICIENT means that they do their work more quickly, more effectively. That’s if you’re ‘efficient’. But I wonder if you share my frustration about how difficult it can be to get to speak to an actual human being when you deal with organisations over the phone, especially government organisations or businesses?
If something has gone wrong – and your query, your question does not fit with the ‘frequently asked questions’, the FAQs on their website, then there may be no other way to make progress than to make a telephone call to explain your situation. But that message ‘We are experiencing high call volumes due to the coronavirus pandemic’ – that message seems to have become routine, standard. It’s everywhere. And that message is starting to frustrate me.
For one thing – if that message were true, then presumably if you chose to make your phone call at a different time of day – say first thing in the morning, or at another time of the week, when you might reasonably expect fewer people would be calling, then perhaps you wouldn’t hear that message. But my experience is it doesn’t matter what time of day you are calling, they’re still ‘experiencing high call volumes’, that’s the message you hear. And I find myself not believing that statement.
This could be purely a UK phenomenon - but I wonder whether you share some of my frustration and whether this is happening in your country too? It feels as though in some instances the coronavirus pandemic is being used as a reason not to provide good customer service.
Now I do know we’re still in a pandemic – I know therefore that we have to be understanding – and not everything is going to run as it normally does. When we look at what’s happening in India at the moment, where it is really an extreme and difficult situation, then of course, things there are going to be working and running as normal.
You couldn’t expect that. But in the UK, our rates of infection and deaths from the virus really are quite low at the moment, very low in fact. There are still restrictions in place, yes. But actually, the types of business and organisations that you may need to phone up – well, they’re doing their business or their administration online largely anyway.
If you’re a pub or a restaurant, or a small bakery, then of course, your business is still severely disrupted and affected and my sympathy goes out to you. But these type of organisations are not the ones that you will need to make a telephone call to. Generally, the organisations that you need to call are places like your bank, organisations that are selling items online, government organisations who do admin – like the passport office, your local government council, the tax office.
As far as I can see, these organisations have no reason to be unable to answer telephone calls from their customers in a reasonable time frame. I don’t see why that is still an issue. This pandemic has been going on for over a year, so even if there was an increase in call volumes, organisations and businesses have had over a year to adjust, to adapt. But in many cases, it’s hard to see a reason why call volumes would increase because of the pandemic!
But that reason – ‘We are experiencing high call volumes due to the coronavirus pandemic’ – that reason is given on telephone lines where it’s difficult to imagine why the pandemic is now making any difference at all. A friend of ours needed to get his name changed on a government system, because the spelling of his name was incorrect.
Trying to phone this government organisation was hopeless – you just hear a message giving the pandemic as a reason why the phone cannot be answered. In this case, I cannot see why ‘call volumes’ would have increased ‘because of the pandemic’. The organisation is in Swansea in South Wales – they do the admin for driving licences and vehicle tax. It’s not as though normally, if there wasn’t a pandemic, our friend would have driven up to Swansea and popped in to see them in person to sort out the problem.
A photograph of a team of helpline operators with headsets consulting clients at call center. A rant or an opinion in today's English listening practice.
No. It would always have been a telephone call. So why would the pandemic mean they were receiving ‘higher than average call volumes’? And even if that were true, they’ve had a year to put in place more call centre workers? If your business can continue online or over the phone (unlike the pubs, restaurants and bakeries), then you carry on as normal – you’re not that much affected by the pandemic.
You may have staff working at home, but there’s been plenty of time to sort out your telephone systems in that regard. Aside from the NHS, health services and phoning your doctor for an appointment, where I can see reasons why they may not be able to supply one quickly - aside from these types of organisations, it feels as though the pandemic is being used as an excuse for poor service. And this makes me frustrated, especially if whenever I have to make a telephone call, I’ve got to allow up to an hour for my call to be answered. And then it’s – uh, a two minute conversation!
You phone up because there’s a fault with your fridge – ‘We are experience high call volumes due to the coronavirus pandemic’. I phone up because a company I bought from online sent me the wrong item and I need to return it. ‘We are experience high call volumes due to the coronavirus pandemic’. I need to phone up my bank - you get the picture? Same message.
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Last week, I had a query for the government organisation which is in charge of student loans – loans so that students can go to university – the same thing. ‘We are experiencing high call volumes because of the coronavirus pandemic’. I then waited 45 minutes for my call to be answered. Are they trying to tell me that there are more students than usual taking out students loans, because there’s a pandemic?
I don’t think so. It’s starting to sound like an excuse. An excuse maybe to cut costs. It makes me mad. And if the situation is as I suspect – that there are in fact fewer people to answer the calls in the call centres – well, that’s not fair on the call centre workers either.
If you’re a telephone helpline for people with mental health problems, then I’m sure that you genuinely are receiving more calls. Like I said, if you’re a doctor’s surgery in the UK or one of the health advice telephone lines, I’m sure you also are receiving more telephone calls than usual.
Maybe also if you’re in the travel industry or a government agency concerned with travel or immigration - more call volumes seems reasonable. That’s all genuine, that makes sense. But please can other organisations stop giving this as an excuse? It’s obstructive, I suspect it isn’t true. It’s frustrating and it wastes everybody’s time.
In the UK, just like all around the world, once the pandemic is over, we’re going to be facing an economic crisis. We need to function effectively, efficiently. We need to try and ‘get back on our feet’. We don’t need all that frustration and lost productivity, because people are routinely having to spend an hour waiting for their telephone call to be answered, whenever they’ve got a simple query.
Whew! Thankyou for listening! I feel better now that I’ve said all of that. I’ve ‘got that off my chest’ to use an English idiom. I’m interested to know whether this is a worldwide phenomenon.
Does this happen in your country or it’s just something that seems to be happening in the UK – and the US? Let us know whether your experience is different or the same. And if you would like further practice at English conversation – go to our website at adeptenglish.com and check out our courses page, in particular our Course One, Activate Your Listening.
This course helps you work on your understanding of authentic English conversation – which is a great thing to be good at!
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.