Keeping Customers Front and Centre in All You Do
You call your bank, internet service provider, electric company or any number of companies you do business with. You have a simple request, maybe something a bit out of the ordinary but nothing that should require executive level approval. Maybe you have a question about your bill or would like to make a minor change to your account settings.
You are greeted by a pre-recorded message, press one for English, two for French, three of Spanish, four for Pig Latin. Please enter your account number, if you are calling about X,Y or Z press 1,2 or 3, etc. This can go on for several minutes. Eventually you get placed in a queue to speak with a representative.
The Muzak starts.
5-10-15-20 minutes pass. Finally, when you start to think that if you hear one more saxophone rendition of Van Halen’s “Jump” you will literally vomit, someone picks up the phone.
There ensues a game of 20 questions, most of which you have already entered in the automated system; name, address, account number, dog’s name, what you ate for breakfast last Tuesday. Then the operative question; “How can I help you today?”
You make your request. There is a pause. You think you hear some clicking noises as the representative types away and points their mouse at things. Another pause. “I’m sorry Mr. So and So (pronounced wrong, even though you’ve told them your name at least three times) it appears as though I’m not authorized to make that change today.”
Confused you make your request again, “But I just need you to…” “Yes, I understand but for that I need to transfer you to another department, please hold.”
That damn saxophone again! You begin to feel queasy and hang up.
At various points throughout my adult life I have been on both sides of that call. To be fair, call center workers are among the lowest wage, least appreciated and powerless employees at any organization. This is a shame as they tend also to be the only people who interact directly with customers. They are the literal face, or voice, of the company and yet they have no power. If the company could replace all their call center people with automated systems they would, that’s what the “press 1 for X” labyrinth that precedes the call is all about. It’s there to weed out the simplest requests and save their expensive people for the hard stuff, that they usually aren’t authorized to do anyway, so they take notes and kick your request up the chain to a higher paid representative for a decision.
Good customer service costs money. First and foremost, it requires training and a level of trust and empowerment at the call center level that few companies are willing to give. Instead they put in policies and procedures that take decision making power away from people and service the lowest common denominator. Try to go outside the lines and you get shut down.
But when dealing with the public there is no common denominator. Every customer is unique, and every situation requires good judgement and finesse. Training staff for these things isn’t easy but it is worth it.
People are not account numbers. They are a complicated set of needs, emotions, histories, plans and goals. Treat people as such and you engender good vibes, loyalty and respect that will pay dividends for years. Shunt them into endless queues and sort them into ever smaller boxes of set parameters and watch them run for the nearest exit.
Next time you get caught in call center hell remember two things. First, if you get a person at all, they probably can’t help you, just let them take their notes and have them push your request up the chain. Second, remember that as much as you want to be treated like a real person, so do they, don’t be a dick about it.