Good for your Customers doesn’t have to be bad for you

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I’ve mentioned before that those of us in the CX profession are both the best and the worst Customers:  the best because we are sympathetic to those in the Customer-facing trades, but also the worst because we expect so much and are always on the lookout for improvement opportunities—even if they’re opportunities for others to improve.  Hey, we’re just here to help, and all that.

This observation will probably fall into the latter category, although it may likewise be seen as ‘First World Problems.’  What follows is in no way a gripe or complaint…just an observation.

One of the best revolutions in contact centers these past few years is without a doubt the call-back.  The premise is that, rather than sitting on hold and listening to that awful music repeat over and over, the Customer is given the option to save his or her space in line, but instead receive a call back from the support line when it’s time.  It’s a huge convenience and helps save battery life for your phone as well as aggravation, feeling tethered on the line and kept from getting other things done.  Bravo, contact center folks; this is a huge leap forward.  (Next, let’s get rid of the voice-recognition phone tree.  Yes, yes… I know it’s a clever idea, but while the technology is clearly not yet there, it’s much more of a nuisance than anything else.)

That said, while it’s definitely nice as a Customer to not have to sit on hold waiting for an agent to pick up, watch what happens when you get the call-back:

Usually, when you pick up, it’s a robot asking you if you’re ready for the call.  Sometimes you’d recorded your own name while opting for the call-back, and you hear yourself say your own name.  But of course, I’m ready…I was ready when I called the first time.  Are you ready, service desk?  Actually, it turns out, not exactly.

Recently I received a call-back and was given three options:  1) Yes, I’m ready now; 2) No, I need more time; 3) Actually I don’t need help anymore, thanks anyway.

I don’t know what “No, I need more time” might mean to the computer, so I’m not going to try that…would they put me back at the end of the queue, starting my wait all over again?  Would I just be put back into the regular queue sitting on hold?  I didn’t want to find out…believe me, if I’m not ready, I’ll get ready in a hurry.  Naturally, if you choose option #3 (if you even picked up the call, which, if you’ve solved your reason for calling in the first place, you may not bother doing), I suppose the robot just says thanks and hangs up, never bothering an actual agent with your call at all.

But when you choose option #1 and take the call…You’re not immediately put on the line with someone.

Now, it’s not a long wait…surely not nearly as long as it otherwise would have been if you hadn’t opted for the call-back.  But here’s what’s happening on the back end:  The contact center’s computer brain estimates when an agent will be ready for you, based on your spot in the queue (which, remember, you don’t lose when you choose to be called back).  If you’ve ever been on hold and had a voice periodically alert you to your spot in line (“There are currently two callers ahead of you.”  “You’re next in line.” Etc.), the technology is the same, only instead of alerting you as you’re on hold, it auto-dials your number, probably when you’re “next,” which is to say, there’s one person ahead of you in line.  The calculation is that, by the time the computer calls you, you pick up, and choose that, yes, you’re ready, the next agent will be done with the most previous call and be ready to take yours.  But that doesn’t usually happen that way, which is why you often find yourself waiting for a little while for the agent to pick up.  I’ll emphasize a third time here that, it’s not the end of the world by any means, and that wait is usually quite short indeed.

But what the company here is doing is also minimizing their inconvenience and expense.  Obviously, it’d be preposterous for, say, the agent to literally dial your number when it’s your turn in line.  Surely, it’s automated.  But also, consider the situation of the multiple-choice options above:  If the system didn’t dial you until there was an agent actually waiting for the next call, that agent would continue to sit idle while the system called you, you answered, and chose option #1.  That may not be a long wait for the agent, but it’d likely add up over the course of a shift (and comes with an actual cost).  Not to mention that, if that agent were sitting idly specifically for you because it was your turn in the queue, and you chose option #2 or #3, it would have been wasted time for the agent waiting and then the whole process (who’s next in line to call back, when will that Customer pick up, will that Customer even still need help) would have to start again for the next Customer.  This feature of contact centers definitely makes Customers’ lives easier, but operating it in this fashion saves the company money and hassle too.  Always keep in mind, this is a business we’re talking about and they need to watch their bottom line as well.

There’s nothing wrong with that, and (again) it’s better than the OG alternative of sitting on hold.  But there are a lot of ways to make a Customer’s life easier.  Don’t always feel sure that two things can’t be true at the same time.  This is a great example of how you can make things easier and better for your Customer and it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s harder or worse for you.

Smart brands are always coming up with new ways to make their Customers’ lives easier and make it less stressful to deal with them when they have to call.  Smarter brands do it in such a way that also saves their corporate resources.  But the smartest brands still maintain the messaging that it’s all for your benefit as a Customer.  There’s no reason it needs to be a zero-sum game, but keep in mind:  Nobody’s giving away anything for free or knowingly wasting their agents’ time.

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