Good customer service starts with the incoming call

How many times have you called a business and encountered the “voice mail tree”? Remember how many layers you had to go through to finally reach a live person? I’ll bet more than once you hung up in frustration. You know that good customer service starts with having a person answer the call.

Now consider this: If your company employs that system, known as an Automatic Call Distributor, your customers and prospects are probably encountering the same situation and acting the same way, by hanging up.

I faced that one day, and it was not fun. Needing some information about my cell phone account, I called my provider. (I should note that I have switched carriers for an unrelated reason, but this incident still offers a lesson.)

“Thank you for calling the new AT&T about your wireless service,” the automated voice says. I’m not sure how the new AT&T compares to the old version, but I’m already unhappy that I didn’t get a person right away.

After typing in my cell number, the options begin:

“For information on wireless products and services, or for help with a recent order, press 1 for Sales.”

I press 1, then hear this:

“To pay your bill or to get other bill-related options, press 1”.

“To check your minutes, press 2.”

“To get help with voice mail, press 3.”

“To report a lost or stolen phone, press 4. For Sales, press 5.”

For help with other issues, including the option to speak to a customer service professional, press zero.”

Of course I wanted to speak with a customer service person. I wish I had been provided that option right from the start.

Needless to say, I endured the trip through AT&T’s automated system. Only that firm could answer my questions; I couldn’t turn to a competitor for help.

What about your firm? Do callers get a live person right away, or do you force them to endure a long litany of choices before they get to the proper department or person?

Businesses turned to ACD years ago to save money and, they hoped, more efficiently handle the large and diverse number of calls they receive each day. In theory the process makes sense. In practice, though, it can have a damaging effect on relationships with callers.

Customers today yearn for the personalized service of old. Something as simple as a human being answering the phone can mean so much. What about your business? Have you sacrificed customers to save some money on labor costs?

You will never know how many customers or prospects hung up after encountering your phone system prompts. But you know some did. After all, you’ve done the same over the years.

For related reading, see Don’t let a communications breakdown cost you customers and Customer problems often solved with the smallest gestures.

If you enjoyed this column, I’d appreciate it if you passed it along. Feel free to leave a comment below. I’m sure you have a horror story or two to tell. To contact me, send an email.

Tom Fuszard, content writer, blog writing, pr writing, web copy



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