'Thanks for nothing': Impoliteness in service calls

Orthaber, Sara and Márquez Reiter, Rosina (2015). 'Thanks for nothing': Impoliteness in service calls. In: Ruhi, Şükriye and Aksan, Yeşim eds. Exploring (Im)politeness in Specialized and General Corpora: Converging Methodologies and Analytic Procedures. Cambridge Scholars Publishing.


Calls for service are typically mundane mediated encounters between a call agent and a customer. They are generally routinized as evidenced by the way in which the participants engage in the same tasks in much the same way. In cases such as these, face does not tend to become interactionally salient. The main assumption in primarily transactional encounters is that participants will co-operate in pursuit of their interactional objective, provided that the participants share the same interactional project (e.g. asking for and receiving information). In this customer-oriented context, the extent of co-operative involvement is typically demonstrated through the mutual coordination of topic direction, frequent positive feedback, e.g. continuers (Schegloff 2007), as well as repair when things go wrong and when absence of intersubjectivity may jeopardise the achievement of the interactional project. In addition, the extent of co-operative involvement also depends on agent’s personal interactional style in handling service calls.
This paper analyses the saliency of face in three instances of interactional trouble drawn from a corpus of over 29 hours of calls to a public utility. Drawing on Goffman (1967) and on some techniques from conversation analysis, it examines different interactional sequences in which a female call agent attempts to get rid of the customers as illustrated by the way in which she withdraws (Duranti, 1992) at interactional junctures when the provision of information is typically offered, how she assigns responsibility to third parties and positions herself as subordinate to the institution, offers unreliable information which is then brought to light in the call. This is further modulated by the agent’s tedious monotone displaying disaffiliation and non-recipiency. The paper argues that these moves help to index impoliteness and this is partly attributed to larger socioeconomic factors relating to the type of company examined and the essential service it offers.

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