Saunders: Durham One Call aces customer service

bsaunders@newsobserver.comOctober 28, 2013 

Who killed “You’re welcome”?


The next time you thank the cashier when she hands over your change at the Stop ’n’ Shop or at the dry cleaners or at the fast food drive-through, see if she says, “You’re welcome.”

I’m betting no. Most likely, you’ll get a perfunctory “No problem.”

I was already aware of the problem with “No problem” – and thinking I was the only one who noticed it – when a reader named Murray Merner wrote to me recently griping about it.

“‘No problem’ implies,” Merner wrote, “that the one who is being thanked thought what he or she did was not special ... (When I hear it), I feel that the doer of the deed did not consider me important enough to go out of their way to do what they did.”

To Murray, me and anyone else who pays attention to this sort of thing, it’s almost as if a secret law had passed to outlaw “You’re welcome,” so infrequently is it heard.

I always want y’all to let me know when some municipality or business isn’t responsive to its residents or customers, but now I want to let you know about one that is.

A welcome difference

October is Customer Service Appreciation Month, and I thought it would be cool to acknowledge a place where customers are shown appreciation and where you’ll never hear “No problem” in response to “Thank you”: The Contact Center for the city of Durham, better known to Durham residents as Durham One Call.

As a Durham resident who is often clueless and has had to avail himself of One Call’s services scores of times over the past nine years, I have never, ever had an unpleasant experience with a representative or hung up wishing I hadn’t called – not even that time I called to ask if the garbage collectors would pick up my broken down eight-track tape player if I left it outside. (The representative assured me they would – after I explained to her what an eight-track tape player was.)

Yes, it’s a shame to extol people for doing what they should be doing anyway – treating consumers with respect – but we all know that good customer service is not something we can afford to take for granted. It sometimes deserves a spotlight.

Marcelle Brawner, manager of the Durham Contact Center, said there’s a reason callers besides me report positive experiences with the center. “Our team prides itself on providing outstanding customer service. ‘Good’ just isn’t enough. They’re extremely passionate about what they do. Our longest-serving contact representative has been with the city for 20 years. Most of them have been here 10-plus years.

“If someone calls 919-560-1200 with a question about the city, my contact center rep will answer them,” Brawner said. “If they have a need for a specific service – i.e., ‘My trash was missed’ – then we would put in a service request and send it electronically to the appropriate department for the service to be fulfilled within a specified time frame.”

Mona Moore, supervisor of the contact center, said people calling because their trash wasn’t picked up is the most common call the center receives.

Role model for feds

The Contact Center was started in June 2004, and receives between 17,000 and 24,000 calls per month, Brawner said. It will celebrate both its 10 anniversary and its 2.5 millionth caller around that same time next year, she said.

The center grew out of conversations between county and city leaders who were seeking ways to be more responsive to city residents, Brawner said.

So efficient and courteous are the people at Durham One Call that one can’t help but think the federal government should’ve enlisted its help with the whole health care rollout.

It couldn’t have gone any worse than it has, and at least we know the person on the other end wouldn’t have said “No problem.”

Of course, from the sound of things, few of us would’ve had reason to say “Thank you.” or 919-836-2811

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