Orthaber, S and Marquez Reiter, R (2014). THANKS FOR NOTHING’ – IMPOLITENESS IN SERVICE CALLS. In: ed. Exploring impoliteness in specialized and generalized corpora: converging methodologies and analytic procedures. Cambridge Scholars Publishing..


This chapter examines quotidian mediated service encounters where customers telephone a call centre to receive information on train services. In this context the general expectation is that the interlocutors will pay attention to each other’s face and avoid causing offence. This, in theory, should be one of the telephone agents’ prerogatives in that, as frontline workers, they act as ambassadors. In this chapter we will look at five interactional instances where, contrary to the expectations of good business relations, face becomes salient as a result of the jeopardising of the participants’ goal achievement. In these episodes, a female agent attempts to get rid of the customers by withdrawing (Goodwin, 1981) at interactional junctures when the provision of information is typically offered. She does this displaying of disengagement within the ongoing state of talk through repetition, passivity, delayed responses, increased number of pauses and slowed down speech. The agent’s generally disaffiliative behaviour is also illustrated by assigning responsibility to third parties and, offering unreliable information which is later brought to light by the customer. The agent’s uncooperativeness is further shown by her rather slowed down speech delivered with somewhat flat intonation, displayed non-recipiency and general disaffiliation. We argue that these moves indicate impolite behaviour as evidenced by the caller’s reactions and that this behaviour responds to both internal and external contextual factors such as the type of company examined, the essential service it offers, the way in which its services are operationalized, the job characteristics of telephone agents and the agent’s interactional style. Following a brief discussion of im/politeness and facework in customer service contexts we present the background and methodology of the study. We then focus on how face is manifested in the service calls selected for this study, focusing on the sequences in which impoliteness becomes observable. Finally, we turn our attention to the role that the broader communicative setting has for the interpretation of impoliteness before presenting our conclusions.

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