Here’s some unsolicited advice for companies that want to make the most of the economic recovery, dramatically improve customer service and satisfaction, and create jobs.
What I’m going to suggest will cost, but it will boost revenues and, perhaps most important in the long run, improve customer loyalty. The idea is simple: Get rid of automated telephone systems and bring back the switchboard. Then, invest in customer service by hiring and developing skilled people who are not only articulate and educated, but also possess the common sense to treat each customer call as unique rather than reverting to programmed responses.
Lest you think this is the raving of a hopeless Luddite, consider the corrosive effect of the phone systems and customer service regimes we have now. Automated phone systems are supposed to speed customers to the right destinations in a company by providing menu choices, very often using computerized voices that sound eerily like your least favourite elementary school teacher.
But in this case, technology actually retards progress. It is one thing to punch in your language of choice, but it’s instantaneously frustrating to navigate a series of choices, none of which may apply to your problem. And being told that your call will be recorded “for quality control” puts you on notice that, no matter how irritated you become, you’d better not start cursing.
By the time you actually reach a human being, usually by stabbing the “0” button until your finger bleeds, your patience is frayed, only to be left in tatters when the person you’re talking to — who only ever has a first name — gets you to repeat information you’ve already given and then proceeds to be thoroughly unhelpful.
One-Name then tries to upsell you to a product or service that’s more expensive than the one you have that isn’t working now. If that fails, you’re told to “have a nice day.”
Just imagine, however, if your call was immediately picked up by a real, live, courteous and smart person. Using extensive knowledge of a company’s workings, the operator could quickly plug you in to someone who not only speaks your language intelligibly, but actually has the knowledge and communication skills to solve your problem.
The reality for businesses, although they often don’t seem to realize it, is that customer service is the vital front line. And sometimes, technology isn’t the solution, but part of the problem. Going retro just might be the answer.