Today was the day I had dreaded for some time.  I had to clear up a bunch of issues with several big companies—Lowes, Comcast, Verizon, and KitchenAid.  And now with phone calls completed, I’m looking back on a day of exhausting, frustrating, and dehumanizing experiences–long hold times and interactions with nice but powerless people who couldn’t do much more than transfer me to someone else who eventually might make a decision. It took hours that weren’t devoted to my own work. And of course there was the oft repeated reminder that my call was being recorded for customer service and training purposes.  (Why is anyone worried about the NSA when corporate America is recording all of our interactions?!)

Customer Service?

What this really boils down to is a devaluing of the customer experience that ultimately undermines loyalty. In a drive for efficiency and performance, corporate behemoths have created systems that work for them and their convenience but not for the customer.  The companies like to talk about how they want to serve their customers and promote good will and good works in the community. But most of these claims are insincere. And the public knows it.  .  Unfortunately, we often don’t have a whole lot of choice.  Even when there are competitors available, they are serving up the same experience: artificial voices, press 1 for another menu so you can press 2 or 3 or 4 for more options (often with choices that have no relation to your question); and websites with no phone number.  You can talk to an avatar and email or tweet your question and hope for an answer some day, some time. In an age of instant access, there is seldom an instant response.

Human Nature

I love technology and appreciate its power.  But a human touch still matters.  Companies don’t seem to get that.  They seem to see humans only as expensive commodities that have to take breaks, get sick, and need health benefits.  Automated attendants don’t need that.  They also can’t smile, tell a joke, or make a connection.

Companies that want to improve service and their relationships with customers should consider the following:

  • Make sure that the information that the customer punches in puts them on the path to the correct place, and then is visible to the live person who finally shows up.  It’s ridiculous to have to provide the same information multiple times, only to have the human who responds ask for it all over again.
  • Stop the commercials and bad music while putting someone on hold.
  • Give the customer some power—tell them their place in queue, give them the option to get a call back (and really call the customer back).  Some companies do this, but not consistently and assuredly.
  • If a customer leaves a message, tell them when they might expect a callback, i.e. within 24 hours.  Then, really call back.
  • If a customer is dealing with an individual, let the agent give the customer a number to call back and get the same person.
  • If the company gives a customer a quote over the phone, email the quote so that the customer has something in writing, with the name of the agent who offered that quote and a way for the customer to contact the company again without waiting on hold.
  • Don’t try to upsell when the customer is calling to solve a problem.  It’s insulting.  Why would I want to give you more money when you have made my life miserable?

Whether you work in a large company or a small one, paying attention to the humanity of our corporate interactions—a friendly greeting, careful listening, thoughtful decision-making—can build customer loyalty and create efficiencies that both make and save money.  It costs a great deal to acquire a customer.  Spending a little more on good, well-trained people will help you keep that customer.  It’s wise and essential investment.