Is my call really important to you?

A consultant for a college where I used to work often stressed that the first voice a customer hears should always be a live one. He argued that automated phone systems repulse many would-be customers.

I thought of him last week when a combination of automated phone systems and foreign call centers sapped my productivity and left me a prisoner chained to my phone.

I’m sure the vicious circle I’m about to describe will resonate with many readers. You call a company via a 1-800 number and are greeted with an automated message that says “your call is important to us” and then explains your options; however, your need doesn’t really align with any of the choices. After cueing the system to repeat the options, you make your best guess on which number to press, and this, after 15 minutes on hold listening to KC and the Sunshine Band, leads you to a heavily accented voice that you suspect is coming from a foreign call center. You struggle to hold a coherent conversation with someone who is obviously reading from a check-sheet to respond to your inquiries. When the two of you finally reach a mutual consensus that this particular call center doesn’t serve your particular need, you are told to call a different department. So you must circle back, call the 1-800 line again and hope you pick a winning number from the automated options. You won’t know if you made a good choice, though, until you listen to 15 more minutes of KC and the Sunshine Band (note to major corporations with automated call centers: I do like the song “I’m Your Boogie Man,” but not “That’s the Way I Like It”)

I got a double dose of this phone center cycle last week because my problem involved two companies: the credit card company whose automated system kept rejecting my attempted online purchase and the software company whose call center operators kept blaming the credit card company for the problem. The software company’s call center employees claimed that their automated online purchasing system was working correctly and that it was the credit company that needed to update its automation process. Ultimately, employees at both call centers said they could not help because the process on both ends was automated. I was glad that I navigated through a maze of automated caller options so I could talk to real people who told me that they could not circumvent the automation.

Although I lost about two hours of my time, I did save some money. I simply gave up on the purchase.

Plenty of computer and social science goes into setting up a company call center, and you may or may not want to know how The Economist describes the technological trickery behind the scenes.

Last year I read a book by Laura Penny that describes the ironic qualities of corporate philosophies and slogans such as your call is important to us. I’m sure my phone frustrations are familiar to many, and I’m not even going to start discussing the increasingly automated online/e-mail support systems that many companies have begun using. I’ll save that topic for another post. This rant has been cathartic enough for today.

Thank you so much for reading to the bottom of this blog post. Your time is important to me.

THE VERDICT: PLUG IN BUT PROTEST – we often have no choice, but some of the offending companies need to hear more of our rants and see less of our pocketbooks.

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~ by bakerumedia on October 17, 2008.

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