‘If you’d like excellent customer service, please hold’
Portage County Gazette
By Jim Schuh
Attention: Companies with automated answering equipment that claim, “Your call is important to us…” or “Please continue to hold – your call is important to us.“
My response: “No it isn’t. When you have a non-human answering system, what you’re telling us is, “We don’t care about you – you’re inconsequential to us. We installed the equipment to save us money (by eliminating jobs). We’ve joined the modern age. We’re telling you, ‘Tough – endure it or hang up.’”
The firms with answering devices think that if you really need to reach us, you’ll tolerate the annoying process of listening to a recorded voice running through a list of choices or departments. (The one you want is usually last on the list or not even included, meaning you have to put up with a litany before pressing a number.) Then the automated voice may give you a second list from which to choose. Only when punching another number might you encounter a human being.
Meanwhile, you have to endure awful music that’s distorted.
I was in business for many years and can’t envision a time when an automated answering system might have been good for us. (The only ones benefitting from these evil systems are the manufacturers and sellers/installers. They’re probably nice people, but I think they’re on the wrong side of this issue.)
In my business, we really valued people who phoned us – radio listeners with compliments, complaints and suggestions, and our advertisers and people requesting songs. We tried to be as responsive as possible to the people who listened to our station and to those who bought ads, engaging in personal conversation.
My take is that whatever a caller first encounters when he or she phones in establishes a mindset – and if it’s getting a machine, the result is negative. The way I see it is that there’s still plenty of value in a human voice.
I’ve found the best way to overcome the annoyance of automated answering systems is to punch “0” on the keypad as soon as possible after connecting. More often than not, that will put you in touch with a live person – who can quickly respond to your needs.
Oddly enough, after writing the above, I came across an article entitled, “Is Your Automated Attendant Costing You Business? The author, Eric Nebergall, made many of the same points I did.
He noted cost-cutting and efforts to streamline business have “… noticeably reduced access to salespeople and customer service help.” This, he adds, has adversely affected sales at many firms although that fact has been largely ignored. “At stake is the acquisition of new business, customer retention … and perception of the organization.”
Nebergall cites an American Express study showing 67 percent of callers encountering an automated answering system hang up out of frustration; three-quarters do not leave a message; and one-third never called back. I’m among them.
He says that strangely, while many companies consider customer service a top priority, they make it difficult for buyers/customers to communicate with them. Alienation results.
Bigwigs who bought the automated systems may have been “sold a bill of goods,” he says. They might feel these money-saving systems make customers think their companies are modern and forward-thinking.
But Nebergall adds, “… having (automated systems) serve as the ‘face’ of the company, providing the initial customer experience to those who call, is not a good operating philosophy if the system makes these interactions unpleasant or difficult.”
He concludes that “the key to growing business is not losing business,” and says business people should reconsider how automated systems are “negatively impacting the customer experience.”
Need more evidence of how important telephone contacts are to businesses?
A Forrester Consulting study, looking at people who call companies, found that “the phone customer converts faster, spends more, and churns less.” Forrester adds that “Customers who call directly to a business, are a marketer’s most valuable asset.” Obviously, businesses should do all they can to win customers.
You probably have encountered an automated system if you’ve telephoned a large firm or organization locally. I can’t be sure what the decision makers at these places were thinking when they had them installed, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t customer service.
I know a fellow who installs systems like the ones I’ve cited, and he’s a good guy. I’m just sad to have to attack his bread and butter, but after encountering these systems for so long, I can’t sit by quietly without expressing my (and many others’) opinions.
It’s not easy to fight automated systems. The idea of just hanging up when you reach one works sometimes, but not other times. If you call the hospital or clinic, you get the automated answering machine, but if you’re in need of medical attention, you can’t just hang up because there may be no alternative to address your needs. You just have to grit your teeth and listen to the recorded voice give you options. Once you choose one, you get additional options before a human interacts with you. Its maddening, don’t you agree?
The automated answering systems won’t be going away soon, because the executive who gave the go-ahead to install one isn’t likely to admit a mistake. What manager wants to confess an error in judgment after spending thousands of dollars of his company’s money for a system?
So here we are – somewhat powerless to deal with technology that has robbed us of live interpersonal communication. If you have thoughts other than what I’ve expressed here, I’d surely like to hear them. Meanwhile, remember to punch “0” quickly when you encounter a non-human voice at the other end of your call.