Books written by Ray Sullivan

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

For Customer Service, Scream For Help

Automated phone systems must have seemed a real good idea when they were first created.  In fact, judging by the number of companies that put automated systems in-between you and a person they all seem to think they're a good thing.  Consumers seem to be of a different opinion, though.

Of course, compared to paying a salary, they're very cheap and in principle provide a good way for people to get to the right service when they need them.  Back in the good old days you would call the company you wanted to talk to and would be greeted by an employee who would try to put you through to the correct department.  Then a couple of things happened.  First, companies got a whole lot more complicated and second, we all got access to more phone time than anyone had ever had before.

Now, when you want to speak to someone you often have to run a gauntlet of menus - some punish you for not listening to all the options - and often we are expected to pay for the privilege of calling to complain.  Miss an instruction, misunderstand what the recording is saying, lose your concentration for two, maybe three seconds, and you could be on a trail that leads you nowhere.  Sometimes the options just don't reflect anything you'd like to do.

For example, options to spend more money with the company are often the first layer of choices, even when you've explicitly phoned a help line or a complaints line. Once you've battled through them you can find yourself choosing between one inane selection over another, in the hope that one of them will lead to a selection that reflects what you really want.

I'm still waiting for 'to throttle a member of staff, push option 1, otherwise for any other form of staff mutilation press any other key' option.  It gets a little worrying when you phone up and are given the choices 'press 1 for sales, 2 to buy anything from us, 3 to self destruct your handset.'  of course, that's a standard phone message from B L O'Feld Industries.

A retired British IT manager, Nigel Clark, decided that he'd found the perfect way to while away his retirement and, armed only with Skype to keep costs down he's produced a website designed to provide the correct and shortest menu choices for thousands of British services.  He hopes to not have to keep the site updated through his own meticulous research - so many trains to spot, retirement so short - but has a hope that the companies involved will take the moral high ground and sort out their phone menu choices.  Some have agreed to, mainly the ones contacted by the BBC and told their company was going to feature in an article.  I suspect that if I tried the same approach I'd get a virtual cuff across the ear for my efforts.

I think that while Nigel has done a fantastic job of building the website (link here) the point is that companies really should be using the technology to help us better.  I realise that people are the most expensive part of the systems, but by the time most of us reach them we are so wound up with being sent around in circles that we waste a large amount of the opportunity to whinge and complain about being sent around the houses.  This takes up valuable call centre agent time and pushes the queue further back.  And why don't they invest a bit more on the clarity of their systems?  Perhaps the tape is worn, but I find the sound quality is often just a mumble.

The options should be short, realistic and maybe the unpopular/complaint type options should be first and go straight through to a trained advisor, because I think if the person calling can be calmed down by a real person quickly then many complaint issues will go away.  If they don't, then perhaps the complaint is truly justified and when you think about it, that call is actually doing the company a favour.

In the meantime, if you're in the UK and you want to phone an organisation to complain then you can do worse than checking out Nigel's website.  You may want to leave a message on his voicemail f you think his website is good.  That's option 6 on level 5, just to save you struggling.


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