by Jeff Kirchick (@JeffreyKirchick)
There is a negative stigma associated with calling customer service, but is it deserved? Personally, I have friends who have driven to a company’s physical location out of fear that said company might mishandle the situation over the phone. If you go on twitter and just follow the #CustomerService hashtag, chances are you see the words “sucks” or “horrible” quite frequently. Let’s face it: though customers are more likely to talk about negative experiences, such negative experiences are occurring still too often today. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the telecommunications industry, everyone seems to be moving forward. You can do just about anything on your smartphone today, but what you can’t do is make all of your customer service needs frictionless.
So, why are customers so afraid of calling customer service?
1. Waiting on hold
We live in an on-demand world. We’re spoiled. Everything is at our fingertips: TV shows on Hulu, games on your cell phone – you can even see a doctor immediately through a site called DoctorsOnDemand.com. Waiting in line is a thing of the past. And now that people are so used to getting immediate results, waiting on hold when they truly need your help seems all the more irritable. It doesn’t help that hold music eerily resembles elevator music, and what happens when the customer suddenly gets disconnected after a long hold? If the customer is already angry about something, making them wait minutes at a time adds up to hours and days wasted on hold at the end of the year (by our calculation, the average person wastes more than a day per year on hold!).
2. Your IVR is all messed up
I recently called one of my credit card providers to notify them that I would be traveling abroad. But first, I had to wait about a minute for the company CEO to apologize to me about the recent hacking at Target of sensitive credit card information, something that was irrelevant to me specifically. There was no way to dial out of this lecture, so I had to sit patiently before dialing “0” over and over again so that I could talk to a human. And that is precisely the issue – you invest in setting up an IVR that customers are ready to bypass before even listening. Websites like gethuman.com are designed to teach consumers the easiest and fastest way to reach a human for your company. That means the customer calls you with a predetermined plan for what to do once they get through – regardless of the protocol you have set up on the other end of the line to help streamline the process.
3. Spelling information over the phone
I have wondered why when I call airlines with questions, why I must have my confirmation code handy in order to be helped. Can’t they look me up by name? The same goes for hotels and a host of other brands. There is nothing more infantilizing than spelling your name over the phone. With the last name “Kirchick,” I have had to do this hundreds of times. And what happens when you get to a letter in the alphabet that is hard to come up with a generic word for? “C” as in “cat”…but what bout “I”? At Next Caller, we say “P” as in “pterodactyl” to poke fun at this archaic method of relaying information. The telephone was meant for conversation, not relaying bits of data. And your customers are calling you to ask questions, not answer them. I literally just got off a customer service call with Microsoft in which I spent thirty minutes spelling letters of product keys, email addresses, and physical addresses to a representative in India who repeatedly confused the letter “C” with the letter “T.” All of this for nothing, too. Which leads to the next problem…
4. An unhelpful agent
Part of the negative stigma associated with call centers is the reality that many of them are outsourced to other countries. This oftentimes leads to the feeling that the employee is not truly a part of the company, more of a mercenary working on behalf of whomever the customer is calling. What it also means is that the agent might not speak perfect English. Not only does this lead us back to problem 3 above, but it also leads to common misunderstandings over the phone. This certainly is just as likely to happen with any agent, not just those for whom English is a second language. Customers call customer service for resolution, and if their inquiry is unresolved after speaking with the first agent, this just adds to the frustration of the entire experience.
5. Being transferred to another agent
So what happens when the first agent can’t help you? You get transferred to a second agent. Many things can happen from here, but the most frustrating is that you suddenly get disconnected. Or, potentially even worse, the next agent knows nothing about why you are calling, and so now you are starting from scratch. I vividly remember last year trying to claim frequent flier miles through my preferred airline for a flight I had with one of their partners. Both companies insisted I needed to call the other airline in order to be serviced, and maintained that they would stay on the line when transferring me to resolve the issue together over the phone. And yet, every time these alleged “three-party” encounters were set to occur, the airline I had initially called would always hang up when transferring my call…leaving me right back where I started. Statistically speaking, first-call resolution is important to the consumer. So, it is important to make sure you are working to get it right the first time.