No, I Don’t Want to Call You

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UC and contact center vendors love to talk about the importance of the customer experience. They claim that providing personalized and high-quality customer interactions is the best way to differentiate in this increasingly competitive environment. Prospects and customers alike value good service, and in this day and age, they simply won’t tolerate ‘talking to the hand.’

It’s a great story, and there are probably even a few organizations that buy into it. However, I don’t seem to do business with any of them. Every contact center I call is a miserable experience from beginning to end.

They all preach, “Your call is very important to us”, but inevitably, they go to a lot of effort to avoid talking to me.

Contact centers are cool. They are the most advanced aspect of enterprise comms, and their potential is astounding. If only their power could be harnessed for good rather than evil.

Here’s the bottom line. I don’t want to call contact centers, and the irony here is that I’m a voice guy. I don’t want to call them, and they don’t want to talk to me. So, what’s the answer? The answer is to provide excellent self-service options — at least regarding routine matters.

The idea of self-service is not new. I was part of the IVR revolution that started in the 80s, and it’s a concept that’s still viable. Imagine allowing a customer to check his/her balance via touch-tone dialing at any time of the day rather than talking to an agent. Revolutionary.

IVRs were a great idea, but companies got too greedy. They made too many trees and menus that didn’t quite offer whatever it was that was most needed. When I told people I worked with IVRs they asked, “What’s that?” I said, “You know, those machines that say press 1 for this and 2 for that.” The contempt in their eyes was visible.

Now we are going through the same thing with conversational bots, but that’s a whole different conversation (and another upcoming post). This post is about call centers. Despite great self-service technology, I keep finding companies that insist I call. I don’t want to call. I feel like there are evil contact center managers developing diabolical plans to make me call.

Here are two examples.

Southwest Airlines

I have ‘elite’ status on Southwest and United. One thing I really like about Southwest is they offer changes without fees. They have developed a good customer portal that enables me to do most everything myself. But not everything.

Southwest gave me a special number in order to expedite the process.  However, even with this privilege, they still don’t answer on the first ring. Why? There’s an old practice of not answering on the first ring to minimize long distance minutes. (I have another post in my head about the ridiculous steps consumers and businesses go through to save a dime.) Anyway, it takes about a minute just to get to an agent which is supposedly better than what commoners experience (‘your call is important’, my ass).

My favorite announcement on the line is, “Lower prices may be available on Southwest.com.” That’s really a ‘go away and don’t call us’ message if I ever heard one. Though, to their credit, they don’t actually say that my call is important. I wonder why not.

They also state that by continuing the call I understand and agree to federal hazardous materials restrictions and penalties. I don’t know the penalties, so I think I’m supposed to hang up and perform some research before proceeding. I stay on hold, and I’m probably now a criminal of some federal crime.

The reason I called in the first place is because I had to make a change to a reservation, a very simple change, I might add.

I can’t do this because I didn’t book the ticket, a travel agent did. It’s in my name, my frequent flyer number, but it’s not really my ticket for some reason. The ticket is not restricted, there is no cost to make the change, and it took the agent seconds to make the change. Evidently, travel agents and consumers have incompatible tickets. It is odd that the portal can’t handle these simple change requests.

There are lots of reasons I have to call. I called last night for something else – after wasting time on the portal. The whole thing drives me crazy because I know I don’t want to talk to them, and I don’t think they want to talk to me. The portal is otherwise quite polished, and it has to be cheaper if the customer makes his/her own changes.

So why do I have to call?

DISH

I have been a customer of DISH for something like 25 years – yes, I was one of their very early customers. I’ve hated calling them  during the entire relationship,.

The good news is they too have developed an excellent customer portal which has reduced my need to call. I can make all kinds of changes online including programming changes and viewing and/or paying the bill. I only call them now to threaten quitting so they cut my monthly bill in half. It’s a temporary discount, so the dance repeats every few years.

They recently sent me a letter saying “You’ve made the cut” and as one of their best customers I can get more than 50% off premium movie channels. All I have to do is “call today.”

I don’t want to call today. There are few things in this world less pleasant than calling DISH.

I logged in to my portal to see if I can get the offer – I can’t. I noticed the offer says it only applies to new channels, so I cancelled my full priced HBO subscription to reset the board.

The offer wasn’t in the portal. There is no special promo code to enter. It just says to call.

That’s odd because they don’t want to talk to me any more than I want to talk to them.

 

If companies really want to improve their customer experience, they need to make it so we don’t need to call.

Contact centers should be for exceptions. Any routine request, like changing a flight or adding a movie channel should be done through a portal. No exceptions.

A business that eliminates the need to call gets my vote. Companies like Amazon, Uber, and even Apple do well in this regard. There should be no need to call for routine matters.

Exceptions are why the contact center will never go away. A good contact center is prepared and ready to handle exceptions. Exceptions are where a company can make its customer experience mark.

Dave Michels

  • Yes, it’s sometimes baffling why a certain interaction didn’t “make the cut” for self serve. For example, with Air Canada, you can’t book online if you’re flying with a child under 2. Why? I called and the process was totally normal and the agent couldn’t tell me why human assistance was required. That doesn’t seem like such a rare edge case. I mean, given how often I encounter babies on flights, there must be billions of them.

    Then there was the time I was just shipping some uranium to Iran and UPS said I’d have to call…

    Seriously though….

    A few theories on why we don’t see perfect coverage with self-serve:
    1) Diminishing returns
    There is some cost to adding and maintaining each option, and when you get to the edge cases, the associated savings via reduced call volume isn’t worth it.

    2) Moving target
    Products, services & policies are always in flux so you end up asymptotically approaching “perfect self-service” nirvana.

    3) Preserving simplicity of the UX
    This is one I can respect. Adding every option to the interface is going to hurt usability at some point. It’s better to do a good job for the 99% of cases. Product managers always talk about how important it is to say “no” to new features. So you could view the mix of self-serve vs, agent-assisted as a balance of those two forces.

    4) Large Org weirdness
    Large orgs just have a way of getting trapped doing things in sub-optimal ways. Maybe they contracted out a certain type of support call to a BPO and it’s a 3 year deal they can’t get out of. Maybe the call center manager doesn’t want a category of calls to be offloaded because then his staff (and budget) will be reduced. This boils down to someone at the top like a Bezos or Hsieh being relentless about customer service.

    BTW, a few months ago you said call centers were boring and now you say they are cool. Which is it? 😉

    • Thanks Shai, that is excellent feedback – esp item 3 which I didn’t consider. There is value in keeping the UI simple. That explains something, but not all.

      As for boring or cool? The tech is very cool – the contact center is the most sophisticated and advanced aspect of contact centers. There appears to be no end to the technology and innovation that is occurring such as AI, bots, virtual hold and much more. However, the application of these technologies is typically very boring and designed to increase short term profits.

      I feel like Mongo, just a pawn in contact center game.