If I were to take a survey of any random group of customers, there is no doubt that #1 on the list of major frustrations and aggravation is when a customer must call customer service to fix a problem or resolve an issue. Blood pressure rises to the point of boiling too many times and this stumbling block has been an impediment forever. I wrote a blog last year about Angela Hawkins, the Virginia grandmother, who sued Verizon for negligence and the intentional infliction of emotional distress causing her to suffer cardiac arrest. Not quite to that extent, but I have experienced similar frustrations to that of Ms. Hawkins. I now have a “stupid fund” for those situations because it’s simply not worth damaging my health because a company tells me no.
Let’s dial back to 2006. The New York Times published an article about Paul English and his website, GetHuman. Many of us will remember the fanfare that followed. Mr. English created a “cheat sheet” that took the mystery out of getting through to the call center at many companies. He listed a set of numbers, including the # sign, to follow, in a certain order, and voila, a human being magically answers the phone. It still exists today. A quote from Paul, “I am anti-arrogance. Why do executives who run call centers think they can decide when I deserve to speak to a human being and when I don’t?” Execs make a pledge to listen to their customers and how can they do that if no one answers the phone? I was contacted for input into that article as well. My quote: “You create more value through a dialogue with a live agent. The call is an opportunity to build a relationship and encourage customers to stay with the brand. There can be a real return on the call center investment.” Bottom line is, then and now, to keep loyalty high and be more engaging in order to create happy and satisfied customers. How to accomplish this? One way is to answer the phone.
Fast forward to 2016. An article highlighted in the CNET Insider newsletter, reported that GetHuman now has a new service. Providing phone codes to get through to a company is not enough anymore. GetHuman has a program providing “problem solvers,” who call a company for a customer to resolve their customer service issue. The new service is taking off with already 10,000 customers buying in. There is a fee of $5 to $25 for a problem solver to call the airline, phone company, or kitchen appliance warranty center. For many customers it’s worth the fee to avoid long hold times and the added frustration when they finally get through that nothing is resolved because many company policies are so inflexible.
How can companies solve this long-term and seemingly complex problem? It’s really very simple. In the 2006 New York Times article above the author wrote, “The trouble is, companies tend to be better at cutting costs than at identifying missed opportunities.” Competition has never been fiercer than today and customers have more choice than ever before. There must be a realignment of not only where dollars are spent but what is imperative in creating a positive customer experience in place of frustration and annoyance. Technology has advanced to the point where it should be easy to pick up the phone, dial one number, and get through to the call center. If there is a wait time, then the system should provide an option for an agent to return the call at the customer’s convenience. At the very least, the customer should know at the onset how long the hold time will be. When a conversation ensues, agents should listen and respond with choices. Company policies must have enough flexibility with enough wiggle room to solve problems. Fundamentally, an agent should tell a customer what can be done instead of what can’t. Obviously every customer service issue is individual but the overall premise should be “yes,” not “no.”
Companies have a golden opportunity to reduce frustrations. I once wrote a story about our favorite contractor Michael, who always told us when there was a problem that we shouldn’t worry, because he had two solutions. Companies need to brainstorm about how to present several solutions. It might take effort to think outside the box, but it is essential to implement policies to create customer goodwill. Don’t make the mistake of being penny wise and pound foolish. While saying “no” is an easy rule to implement for the short term, it’s the worst strategy over time.
If your customers need to outsource calling your company to a “problem solver,” you are already in deep trouble.
What do you think?