Remember when a person would answer a company phone? I found myself shocked recently when a live human answered. “Um, Hello?? Are you a real person?”
When we call a company these days we often get caught in one of those automated loops that lead us from one wrong person to another, from one long hold to another, ultimately landing us where we started, with no resolution, lots of frustration, and rage toward the company. Company websites aren’t any better: no way to connect except via links that either lead nowhere or never get responded to; chat bots that have no idea what you’re talking about and keep repeating perky phrases.
As a paying support customer, I once waited 13 hours for a promised ‘one-hour’ call-back from Best Buy to resolve an urgent technical problem. I went to sleep with the phone in my hand, waiting. When the call came at 3:00 A.M. (!) the tech started by asking me how I was. “I’m sleeping! It’s 3:00 in the morning and I’ve been waiting since 2:00 in the afternoon! And I still have my technical problem!” And he hung up on me. This was particularly egregious given I’d been forced to listen (for hours!) to Best Buy’s ‘hold’ jingle promoting fabulous customer service.
We’ve all learned to accept these indignities, to be ignored if we have a problem, to spend hours attempting to resolve a crisis caused by our purchase. And it’s getting worse.
CUSTOMERS DON’T SEEM TO MATTER
We’ve grown to hate our providers, and they don’t seem to care. But they should. We provide the income for their profit and salaries, certainly enough to hire employees to answer phones or help solve problems. In so many ways, hiring a human would be cheaper than the cost of the automation.
Gone are the days when customer service mattered, when three rings was the maximum number before phones had to be answered to keep customers from being frustrated. That doesn’t seem to matter anymore.
Companies now use only two criteria to interact with customers: Time and Cost. And because these companies may be sole providers in regional sectors or global behemoths, users have no choice but to remain customers.
Sadly, there’s no regulation on this, no way to reduce our monthly payment by the number of hours we spend on hold, or the number of problems we can’t get resolved. Until we form a Citizen’s Council, or there’s some sort of regulation – neither of which are likely – we’ll just have to suck it up. Nobody cares, no one is responsible, and no one pays for the problem except us.
What happened? How did our companies go from touting stellar customer service as a competitive advantage to computerizing all human interactions? How did companies decide to stop respecting the very people who keep them successful? Why have they been so willing to cause their customers to distrust them?
We know what companies pay their ‘C’ level people, their profit margins and how much they pay (or not) in taxes. We know they can afford to hire customer support folks. But somewhere along the way customers became secondary. What’s going on? Is greed the only motivation these days? How did it become a ‘thing’ that customers don’t matter – except for their purchases?
Frankly, I have no way to think about this in an unbiased way. I’ve spent my life developing facilitation models that enable win/win and servant leadership, to respect each individual and engender trust. Making it difficult for the very folks you depend on to get the service they require goes against all my beliefs.
It might come from the momentum of ‘cheap’. Everything seems to require a low price tag, and money becomes the main criteria for choice. We don’t consider what happens when goods are reduced to a price tag, for doing ‘whatever it takes’ for price to be the sole choice criteria. We avert our eyes when we learn that companies use children as cheap labor or when they strip the environment to create cheap products.
We seem to want cheap even when price differentials convey value differentials. Someone once asked the price of my Buying Facilitation® training, a unique model I invented that uses mindbrain connections to help buyers generate their buying decisions. When I told him the price (thousands) he told me he could get ‘almost the same’ course at ATT for $49. I told him to take it 😊
Are we all implicated here? Is automated customer service the fallout from the search for cheap? How did we move away from scrupulous business practices, or good customer care as a competitive advantage? Why isn’t it a simple calculation that happy customers provide more revenue?
Somewhere in the past few years automation became the accepted corporate interface regardless of the toll on customers. And I can’t imagine that focus groups would chose automation and no-human-contact as a preference over being cared for by a human.
I have some ideas that might stop this nonsense. My favorite is that each call is answered by a representative who owns the problem to its conclusion. I suspect that when companies pay their own folks to sit on hold for hours only to get connected to the wrong department, they just might fix the problems. They don’t seem to respect a customer’s wasted time; maybe they might care when it’s their own time.
Here are my ideas:
- Human beings will pick up customer service lines; site links will go to real support people who will respond within 12 hours.
- The person who picks up the phone will own the problem.
- Customer Care will be seen as a competitive advantage.
- Companies will pay bonuses to reps who keep customers happy.
- A vehicle – a YouTube Channel, for example – specifically for customers’ complaints. Their grievance gets calculated as a cost to the company, with a running tally of how much money the company owes its customers. At the end of a month the company gets sent a Grievance Bill with the proceeds going to charity.
- An advertised day a month of “no shopping” in the companies who don’t serve customers adequately.
Sadly, the very people who sell us services have become adversaries. What do we need to do or say to have our needs met, our voices heard, our time respected? What do companies need to know, believe, or do differently to be willing to provide resources to handle incoming calls, or provide websites that offer support? What can any of us do to knock some sense into their heads?
Does anyone have better ideas that might help? God knows, I don’t.
Sharon-Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon-Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharon-drew.com She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.