Telephone systems need to be customer friendly (article)

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Derek Stockley comments on recent experiences with company telephone systems and their impact on customer service. Various scenarios are given and the "correct" response is defined.

Organisations still fail to manage their telephone processes and systems

Person to person

Recently, a financial advisor rang and left a message to call him back. He was the person to talk to - only he could handle the call. It was close to the end of the business day, so he stated to ring tomorrow if the call could not be returned in 10 minutes.

One minute after he rang, the call was returned.

"Welcome to XXXX. Your call is important to us. You have been placed ...."

After waiting eight minutes, an operator answered. She followed standard procedure: who, what matter, etc. She tried the line but the financial advisor did not answer. The operator was rather surprised by the tone of the call from that point onwards. It was not pleasant.

Of course, the whole experience was unnecessary. The obvious thing was for the advisor to leave a direct number in the first place. It was a person-to-person transaction. The two parties had to talk to each other.

The situation was made worse by the organisation’s standard procedure. The nature of the advisor’s organisation’s business dictated a thorough screening process. All the more reason to ensure that you only go through it once - not every time you contact the organisation.

A simple change to the process (allowing direct calls) would alleviate the obvious pressure on the main line - eight minutes is far too long to wait.

Call Centres

I had a query on my electricity account recently. Naturally, I called the "Account Enquiries" number on the bill.

This particular utility provides both gas and electricity. They seem to operate as two distinct businesses. Hence my surprise when the phone call was answered:

"Welcome to XXXX. If you have a gas enquiry, press one. If you have an electricity enquiry, press two...."

I pressed two.

"If you wish to connect electricity, press one. If you wish to make an electricity payment, press two. If you have an account enquiry, press three, ...."

I pressed three.

It went on. And on. I probably had to make four "choices" before I reached an operator.

I knew what I wanted. I knew I would have to talk to a real person. After all, I had "an account enquiry". That is why I chose the "account enquiry" number in the first place.

If your customer has reached a particular point (in my case account enquiry) , do not send them back up the decision tree.

This particular case emphasises the common problem. Too often systems send the customer back to the start, rather than progressing from where they are.

The utility case is particularly bad. To have to make a choice between electricity and gas is simply ridiculous. It is an outrageous waste of time.

Not only telephone systems - websites too!

A similar example is website advertisements.

I look at banner ads for human resources/training type conferences which advertise Melbourne dates.

I am often surprised when on clicking through, I arrive at the home page rather than the specific conference detail page.

This requires my skills to find the conference detail. Sometimes this involves two or three "clicks".

This is a waste of time for no reason. It takes exactly the same amount of time to code the right page reference.

More importantly, many Internet users would not have my patience. They would just move on without bothering. It is a crowded marketplace.

The telephone solution

Technology is a wonderful thing, but it can be abused.

Design processes to assist customers, not hinder them.

Simplify, but do it within the right context.

Aim for no more than two "decisions" before the customer is where you want them to be. This avoids "customer aggravation".

Take customers from where they are - do not take them backwards. Give them options, for example, the chance to talk to an operator if they want too.

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