They use the right language, especially on their voicemail and “hold” menus. “Your call is very important to us! And we appreciate your patience. A representative will be with you shortly. Please continue to hold.”
But it’s a mixed message. The irony is that, too many times, the customer experience is exactly opposite to that. You must stay on hold, listening to repetitive marketing messages from the offending “customer service” line, which annoy and distract, in addition to wasting time while waiting to speak to an actual human being. It’s insulting, minimizing and instead of making the customer feel warm and fuzzy about the supplier, it inspires ire with the heat of a thousand white hot burning suns.
At last, a human voice greets you and offers to help! It’s not that person’s fault that you’ve been on hold for 17 minutes, but sadly these folks often bear the brunt of the customer’s rightful frustration. I find they are generally well-trained, offering an apology and being quite courteous. Alas, if you are calling to terminate service, their mission to try and turn you around was already doomed at Minute Five of Being On Hold. I can’t imagine how difficult that job must be.
I was able to compose the majority of this blog post in my 17 minutes on hold with CenturyLink, for the purpose of terminating their service. They are dismayed to be losing me as a customer, but my response to their plea of “why, WHY?” leaves them at a loss – I am leaving because my new provider is cutting my bill by more than half, while providing approximately 20 times faster internet speed. And the consistently poor customer service experience hasn’t helped, either. “Gosh, we’re so sorry about the hold…..”
How can companies do better?
- Automation isn’t so objectionable if it’s efficient. Don’t make customers listen to options and messages that aren’t relevant to them. If you must play marketing messages while your customers are on hold (and silence or soft music would be preferable), the hold time had better be pretty darn short – 4 minutes or less. Your customer’s opinion of your company goes down with each additional minute on hold, and goes down even more each time they hear the same self-congratulatory and promoting marketing message.
- Don’t give mixed messages. If my call is really important to your company, treat it that way and ANSWER THE CALL, promptly. Otherwise I don’t believe you. And might even use the time to write blog posts about it.
- Only try to sell something if the customer has had a really good experience. It’s just embarrassing for the poor sap on the other end of the line to try and sell or upsell when the customer is already unhappy.
- Please don’t have your employees answer the phone, “Customer Service”. That just makes it feel like you’re still listening to a machine, and that you’re still just a number. The big companies actually do a very good job at this; some small companies are bafflingly impersonal, which should be where they have an edge. And how much skin in the game does the employee have when they don’t even have to provide their name and connect with the customer?
Do any companies do a good job at this?
Yes, and the good news is, there is plenty of room for more companies to positively differentiate themselves! La Quinta, a mid-line hotel chain actually has outstanding customer service. Low hold times, representatives who go out of their way to be helpful and solve the problem, and the option of speaking to someone locally or nationally. So it can be done, and it can be done on a large scale. In the sea of poor customer service experiences prevailing out there, this is an easy way for your company to build customer affinity and loyalty. If you say your customers are extremely important, it’s your job to prove it – day in and day out.
Want to improve your performance? Listen to those “this call may be recorded” audio clips. Get the best training you can find. Get coaching on that training. Then check at least quarterly to see if your performance is matching your messaging.
JenningsWire.com is created by National Publicist, Annie Jennings of the NYC based PR Firm, Annie Jennings PR. Annie Jennings PR specializes in marketing books for getting authors booked on radio talk show interviews, TV shows in major online and in high circulation magazines and newspapers. Annie also works with speaker and experts to build up powerful platforms of credibility and influence.