Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Keeping Pesky Customers Happy

Many customer service call centers seem to encounter a large number of pesky customers. Unfortunately with many traditional IVR systems, perfectly reasonable callers can become pesky. Such callers often prefer to speak to human beings and have a low tolerance for anything that appears mechanical.

It appears that these pesky customers are often taking things into their own hands. As TechCrunch tells us, there is a new service, which they believe to be genuinely useful. It’s Bringo, the Phone Tree Killer. You’ll find it at the domain. It’s only available in the US at the moment but it helps users skip phone trees and connect with a real human on the customer support phone lines at many companies. That seems a little extreme but perhaps it reflects the standards of customer service that callers are encountering.

Bringo is not the only such service. There is also gethuman™. This movement has been created from the voices of millions of consumers who want to be treated with dignity when they contact a company for customer support. They’ve even published the gethuman standard v1.0 that suggests what standards customer service call centers should have in place.

The start of the standards will give you an idea of what is being suggested:

The gethuman standards have been designed with simplicity and directness as to eliminate ambiguity and enable testing and certification. There may be more than one way to accomplish each, but the result must be as follows:
  1. The caller must always be able to dial 0 or to say “operator” to queue for a human.
  2. An accurate estimated wait-time, based on call traffic statistics at the time of the call, should always be given when the caller arrives in the queue. A revised update should be provided periodically during hold time.
  3. Callers should never be asked to repeat any information (name, full account number, description of issue, etc.) provided to a human or an automated system during a call.

There are 10 in all and overall they seem most reasonable.

Owners of call centers are probably looking at Bringo and the gethuman™ set of standards with dismay. How can callers be so unreasonable? Don’t they realize the cost of hiring human agents and training them? Surely they accept the compromise we have to make to balance service and cost. Well the answer seems to be that they don’t. Perhaps they’re clinging to that old-fashioned notion that “The customer is always right”.

Thankfully that isn’t the end of the story. If you plan the whole call center functioning around an IVR system, then the gethuman™ standards can be accepted as the basis of operations. With an IVR system, both the system and the caller have a shared goal. That is to achieve a solution to whatever the caller was calling about as quickly as possible. If that involves a human agent, then this should happen as quickly and as efficiently as possible. However with a good IVR system, this will probably be in only a minority of cases. The other good news is that this better system may well cost no more than installing inferior systems that callers try to get round.