“Your call is important to us …”

Call me old fashioned. I hate answering machines.

I miss the busy tone I used to hear that told me two things; that you were there at the other end AND you were busy speaking to somebody. Auto ‘Redial’ came in as a great feature because my phone could keep checking with your phone and would call us both right back when they became free. I could do something else meantime, instead of sitting by the phone fidgeting impatiently. But I won’t say that the IVR (Interactive Voice Response) feature was a logical step in the right direction. Firstly the ‘voice’ became impersonal. Second, I could go on and on pressing buttons and finally wait on end — I have waited as long as a half hour before I hung up in sheer frustration on an airline’s ‘customer care’ line at LAX — I could hear spurts of lo-fidelity digital music randomly interspersed with,

Your call is important to us … All our agents are busy at the moment … [silence] … Somebody will be with you shortly … [music] [silence] ” looped a gazillion times.

You ask me why I stood by the booth with the handset to my ear for a full 25-odd minutes.

Well, tell me, what were my choices?

My only fault was that I apparently believed their claim that my call was important to them. No doubt there’s great merit in technological progress, but the way it is applied today leaves me wondering if technology has overtaken our lives.

Customer Service.

Two words.

Customer: That’s a human being.

Service: That’s a way of predicting and understanding the ‘situation’ that human being might be in after s\he bought our goods/services. S\he does not want to go through our IVR to get to a human operator. S\he does not want me to read off a screen and ‘fit’ an answer to her question. S\he does not want a ticket number. S\he does not know why I cannot even listen to the issue s\he wants to explain. S\he wants me to listen carefully, understand exactly what s\he’s going through at the moment and either resolve the issue or tell her when and how I propose to do so. Is it that difficult? Perhaps it is. But I am willing to wager that it isn’t impossible. All the answers for providing a great service experience lie in the expectations of the customer.

Frank Eliason, author of “@ Your Service” is certainly bullish on where service needs to be as a function and a philosophy versus where it is today. In fact, he’s gone so far as to call out social media customer service as being a “failure” in its current state.

“… negative sentiments of dissatisfied customers will not cower into the digital corners of the social web simply because you plug your ears, close your eyes, and shut your doors to engagement simply because it doesn’t align with your current service directive. When you do engage, however, well the world of experiences is yours to define. And thus, the future of business is not created, with customers, it is co-created.”

Delivering exceptional customer service is the new way businesses will grow. But that means more than asking, “Would you refer us to someone else?” It means asking or observing whether not customers actually did refer your business to someone else. More important, that they did so across their social networks.

This is why, as Frank Eliason so eloquently explains, businesses and organizations everywhere, must be @YourServiceif they are to continue to earn the business, support, and influence of their customers.

—Brian Solis, Author of The End of Business as Usual and Principal Analyst, The Altimeter Group

wrote this brilliant foreword.

So, what should companies do that want to keep customers happy?

First, they must realize that the perception is the reality. That the only reality to reckon with is the perception of the customer. Did you hear me say psychology somewhere? Well, nobody ever claimed that understanding the psychology of the customer is easy. But it isn’t that hard either. You only have to turn to look in their direction.

Not for a moment do I believe that customers are angels. They can be very demanding and even insulting. My point is that they have more of a right to be demanding than we have a right to be impersonal. After all, word of mouth can do much more harm than good and don’t we all know it. Therefore, besides the attitude of service that our training must account for, we need clever ways of using technology, even if only to give the impression that the issue is being dealt with in an individualized manner.

– Can I prescribe a way to ‘solve’ our current contact center predicament? Unlikely.

– Do I have ideas about how this might be done better? No.

– What then, gives me the right to point out that we have a problem here, especially since I’m not offering a quickfix? None whatsoever!

That’s just the point I’m making here. Why do we expect that someone else will solve the problems we are responsible (or irresponsible) for creating? So all I’m saying is that it might not be the best course to try to ‘fix’ anything like we have been fixing things in the past – as they kept cropping up. As Edward De Bono, the father of lateral thinking, puts it, “you simply can’t dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper.”

Second, companies must understand that social media is no more a fad. It is the customers’ reality. And social media is vastly different from the way information was pushed by traditional ad folks.

You have probably guessed that the way to permanently get out of the holes we’ve dug for ourselves is to go back a few steps – perhaps all the way back. That’s the only way for us to ‘see’ where we took the wrong fork.

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2 thoughts on ““Your call is important to us …”

  1. Sunil, i still have a land line which has no automatic talking machine, so those who call me will have the warmth of my voice, and can even hear my heart beat.

    i do feel stoned when i hear the automatic voice recorded , speak to a human me.

    venkhat

  2. We’ve all had such experiences with call centers. The first thing they need to do is give the managers number if they are not able to resolve an issue even if it is to a over-demanding customer. All junior executives behave as though they know everything and the buck stops at them.

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