Last week the WSJ ran an article on about Pet Peeves, one of them being that when you call a customer service number and enter your account number as requested, when the operator comes on you have to enter it again.

The WSJ tried to explain this away but they missed the point.

They offered that this happens for several reason, such as:

  1. You have more than one account with the company
  2. They have identified the phone you are calling from and have an old record or phone number on file
  3. You may have (stupidly) punched in the wrong account number
  4. Plus, many companies now ask for lots of additional information including the account number once you get a person on the phone.

The thing is this completely misses the real issue.  The Customer Call Center processes are designed to hurd people like animals through a funnel, brand and tag you and shuffle you into a que.  They are not designed for feel good customer service.  During the branding and tagging phase if you are shuffled and re-routed and one system doesn’t provide a hand off of information, you may re-enter your account number multiple times, or repeat it to multiple operators, or get stuck in a strange loop of never ending transfers that make no sense.

This is broken technology.

The Customer Service industry coudl focus on the customer’s experience a little bit more and save a great deal of time and money.  Think of all those times when you call in to settle what should be a simple little issue, but after 45 minutes of hold music, needless transfers, and people that aren’t allowed to ‘give you that information’ or ‘help you with this problem’ as it needs to be ‘escalated to a technical representative.’  All you want to do is jump off a high building and hopefully land on a customer call center representative walking on the sidewalk.

More focus on improving the experience could reduce call times, and increase the speed and effectiveness of the call once it actually transpires.  If a call center representative has to calm you down just enough to understand what all the bluster is about and then try and deduce how to fix the problem, they are waiting the companies time and money.

If these services could shuttle us through to the right person faster, and not lose the petty thing like the account number and information provided along the ways, the entire phone transaction could conclude quicker and leave everyone more happy.  Not to mention the company would not have to pay as much in call center fees.

Here’s the dirty little secret.  The call center does typically have to follow metrics and work to improve on those metrics for the company that they are contracted to work for.  They are not out to ‘piss’ you off every time you call.  However, many of them are provided ratable fees.  So if they have a ten minute long dialogue with you instead of 1 minute, they get paid for ten minutes of work instead of 1 minute. 

Sure there are other calls waiting sometimes, but sometimes there is more than ample call center bandwidth (people) to cover it.  Instead of sending workers home and taking a non-productive financial hit, if the phone conversation is longer then the call centers make more money.

I’m not accusing call centers of purposefully stalling on phone call times by upsetting customers.  However, their financial incentives are rarely linked to getting the call over with as much as they are linked in cash to the amount of time spent. 


Technorati tags: call center motivations, broken technology, enter my account number again, stupid operator, hate phone menus