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Outside of California, how many of us order up something from our baker with an email? How many of us have the local café on MSN? Do we set up an appointment with the barber over Skype or order in office supplies using Facebook? Though these ideas may seem silly at first, the ease of “choose your own communications method” has …

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Believe it or not...

...my bank does the same - online chat/IM/IRC sorta thing - once you're in the online banking system, and the human on the other end has been consistently good. Not that I asked anything really hard, I suspect, but they were waaaay better than a phone call.

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Anonymous Coward

Curiously...

... they feel the need to reinvent all that through some webpopup though. And it's not irc; it's usually one-on-one and often enough someone with an obviously faked western-sounding name. Very reassuring for a bank, no?

Or at least in English. If the local language isn't also spoken in some far-off low-wages country, you stand a better chance of getting someone who can actually spell.

The last time I tried it with my bank's take on things, they managed to simultaneously try and reassure me several times that it was all highly secure while failing to use ssl or even a hostname vaguely resembling the bank's. And of course they require me to pass off lots of personal info to some typing entity with but a first name. Now I just call them again. That at least has *some* legal protection.

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Anonymous Coward

Oh the novelty

Using technology as an enabler instead of a barrier? Say it ain't so!

Still and all, doncha all go rush out and get msn widgets on your sites. I don't "have msn", and probably never will. If that's the only way to contact you, you won't get my business. The price for all this flexibility is that you now have to have multiple of the myriad possible channels. And still support the old ones for the legal requirements.

But 'tis true: Having it work is half the battle. The trouble is that most of these things are solidly consumer-only. There's no enterprise version that you can just drop on your enterprise. Sometimes you don't need to, but sometimes you do.

As a system administrator, you do far more than just "make things work". You have to think about annoying little things nobody else thinks about like, oh, how this will cause everybody else in (all) the office(s) to want it too, and how to make that happen and how to maintain it. For surely, if it proves popular, everyone will use it, and use it for highly confidential stuff too. Then it turns out the central server that your widget relies on is in some unsavoury country well-known for its industrial espionage. Do you want to pay for the external bandwidth to enable people in the same office to talk to each other? Do you want to run the external server risk?

What this story tells me is that this bunch is apparently a small outfit. That's fine. There's a million more of them in China trying to sell you cheap plastic crap for small change each and of course hoping to catch that big customer one day that'll make them max out their production capability. Want a custom thin client? A wrist-watch phone? Something else? All you need is a browser and a fat paypal account, and off you go.

But I do expect experienced system administrators to already know how to make things work, to know about how things should be as simple as possible, but no simpler, and how scaling up to a bigger organisation often as not is the big fat spanner in the works. And not just because of middle management.

Yes, caring about the customer is far more than just saying you do in your fancy powerpoint presentation. The mere fact that we as customers are still putting up with atrocious middle management decisions (and big brass acquiescing of same) instead of voting with our wallets and letting them implode doesn't change that. Neither does the technology.

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Flame

Yes but......

The multiple choice switchboard-scripted reponse-infrequently asked questions approach is there for a good reason.

No modern company executive wants annoying members of the public screwing up his chances of a bonus by expecting issues to be resolved. That would require him to take responsibility and maybe even have to explain to the board members why so many people are complaining about the product breaking down.

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Coat

@ Terry6 ... Right, but for the wrong reason...

Yes you are right.

The scripted switch board is there for a reason.

When you call in to a site and you're placed on hold, how do you feel?

Imagine if the average wait time is 5 minutes.

Now if you were on hold for the entire 5 minutes listening to the same self promoting audio commercial is played over and over and over, you'd probably want to shoot yourself or hang up in frustration.

Now suppose that in that same 5 minute period of time you spend 2 minutes navigating through the phone menu system. Now you're just waiting in the hold queue for 3 minutes doing nothing... Your perception of the wait time had mysteriously been cut in half.

So yes, these menus do serve a purpose. They keep you busy and frustrated long enough so that when you do get to talk to a live human, it doesn't seem like you've been on hold that long.

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I've noticed this a bit lately too.

Soon they'll all be doing it. If someone answers my request within a few seconds then great but otherwise I'll use my free minutes on the phone.

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Then again......

....., it's amazing how far AI has developed in recent years.

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Exactly ! We ought to be more customer focused, less accountant focused.

We ought to be more customer focused, less accountant focused.

We need to do more thinking and delivering in terms of the customer's interests.

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It's not enough to have modern comms

My [big name Japanese] car dealer wrote in advance of the annual service/MOT and included their e-mail address.

So, I e-mailed, giving the relevant range of dates when an MOT would be appropriate. But they don't actually use e-mail, so they replied by telephone and we arranged an appointment that way, including collecting the car from my house, as I didn't need a courtesy car.

A couple of weeks later, they rang again to arrange the appointment. After listening to the spiel, I pointed out that we already had an appointment and that I was expecting them to collect the car from my house on the agreed date. [Shuffling of paper]. "Right", said the girl, 30th June and we'll provide a courtesy car. "No!", I said. I don't want a courtesy car. "OK", she said. "I'll book it in and we'll provide a courtesy car. "NO!", I said. I don't want a courtesy car. You're going to collect the car from here.

I didn't use them again. I didn't feel confident that they would turn up to collect it or, if I took it there myself, that they would have any idea who I was, despite the appointment.

They continued to write, but without an e-mail address, which sums up their fitness for the 21st century (or maybe even the 20th). However, they did ask for my e-mail address (presumably so they could send me adverts like those they sent to my mobile phone).

That dealer sold out recently (not forgetting to pass on my telephone number, so I still receive pestering texts). Let's hope the recession sees off more of these unfit businesses which survived only because they had an easy market. Let's see more businesses like the one described in the article.

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Alert

tesco direct

we recently called tesco direct to inquire about stock in a local store - to try and save a run to the store.

we called three times - same result

1) its an 0870 number - expensive!

2) the AA forces you to wait before you can "press 1 to..."

3) Three levels down you get to a real person and...

you get a disconnect. Yes, you spend nearly a minute trying to get to speak to someone and the shits HANG UP on you.

In the end, we went to argos and paid 10UKP more but at least I knew they had stock!

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Hmm....

Most out of the box it departments still block msn with group policy, however, I agree that the current call centre model does not work, customer service is far worse because of it.

Be internet reduced my girlfriend to tears of frustration (she was trying to sign up) and three mobile have reduced me to loosing my temper and throwing my mifi router in a draw never to be used again due to the csr's total inability to escalate my problem to somebody who can help.

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Not the conduit, but the person

While I can see you experience, my conclusion would be diffierent:

Most companies need simply more FTEs for customer communication. Not other forms of contact conduits.

Since years, companies have tried to suppress support costs by issueing faqs, refering to "community" forums etc, which all have one thing in common: less people to do the actual communication.

It's that where the problem lies, not technology. The "Sales brings in the cash", "aftersales costs money" mentality.

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Yag

"aftersales costs money"

Perhaps, one day, commercial drones *will* understand that It's more like "aftersales brings in further sales"

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Happy

"How do the owners of the company want their customers to be able to interact with staff?"

I'd suggest a hell of a lot of them don't want *any* interaction beyond you handing them money.

That would be my 2cC on the matter.

I suspect behind this process is a very interesting story of human character, corporate culture and smartly used (as in well integrated) technology.

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Pint

Customer Service

Here in the midwestern United States, most of us fax our lunch order into a local restaurant.

You know, one of these days, I hear the world's going to be in brilliant color instead of the black and white we have now. ;-)

Your tale is something that businesses would do well to heed. I'm of the belief that good customer service "sells" your business like nothing else can. I've been in that situation where I've wanted to pose a question to a giant company (Google was actually a very good example) and couldn't find any way at all to do it...just FAQs and user-to-user forums. Not that there is anything wrong with a user driven forum, only that sometimes all the users have a question and nobody's got an answer--or an official answer.

It makes no sense to me that a company as big as Google or whoever cannot possibly afford to hire on some telephone or e-mail support people. Of course, they're so big that the disgruntled rantings of a few loonies like myself aren't likely to put a dent in their business either.

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@The Unexpected Bill

Good customer service indeed sells. I mean, the customer service I got from these guys was so fantastic I felt it was worth an article. The story is even better than the article tells.

You see, when I first called these guys looking for a transmission, they said they had the right one and they put it in the queue to be shipped out. I get a call the next day and they guy says "my boys apparently cut the kickdown cable on this transmission taking it out. What do you want to do?" I didn't know a think about what this meant, so he said he would get details on how this would affect me and call me back. He called his transmission guy, who told me "it would be a $300 job to reattach a new kickdown cable, assuming you can find one." I was heartbroken; the transmission they were selling me was $350 after shipping!

So the guy noodles around for a day and gets back to me. He says “I found a buddy of mine with one of these trannies. I’ll tell you what; we’ll sell it to you at the same price we quoted you on the original.” I was blown away. Gast absolutely flabbered.

Here is some random company on the other side of the continent that not only lets me use the tool I am most comfortable with (instant messenger0 to talk to a live person in real time, but they bent over backwards for me. They didn’t know me from a hole in the ground, had no previous business relationship, no reason to treat me “special” that I can think of. Yet lo and behold: fantastic customer experience.

A couple of days later I was thinking to myself “hey, I should actually get off my duff and crank out an article or two.” I thought back to this company and thought “you know what, screw all the negativity and scandal. I want to talk about someone being awesome.”

So yeah, good customer service on this guy’s part totally got them an article. I logged onto the instant messenger earlier today (after I discovered my editor had published it) and sent him the link. He was quite surprised, apparently it’s been printed and is now on the company bulletin board. ;)

The whole experience contrasts starkly with my day job. At my day job the CTO of the company is banging on one more time that we need to “completely redo the website.” I feel frustrated because I am trying to counter this with “it’s not what the website looks like that matters (it’s perfectly fine, aesthetically speaking,) it’s what is ON the website and what FUNCTIONALITY it provides that matters.” This is countered with “our website is crap, we need to start over.” There is a distinct temptation to cry/scream/howl/sob in frustration.

The reason our customers shop at the store I work at…the reason I like this random car wrecker I found on the internet…it has nothing to do with /presentation/. It’s because when you send an e-mail/text/IM/whatever there is a warm body on the other end that says “hello, how can I help you?” They then proceed to /actually help you/!

As such, I guess the whole article is a bit of cathartic venting. Since my voice is seldom heard around here, I cast my idea into the wild interwibble:

It’s not what your website looks like that matters.

It’s how you use it.

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Just goes to show ..

.. how well live chat can help a business make that sale.

IMsupporting do a brilliant live chat system and many people praise it for helping increase sales.

The simplicity of live chat really can help both the business and the customer.

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Nice one

I have to say, as a Canadian "resident" (an undercover Brit you might say), I hear ya' about ISPs. Shaw and Telus are about the worst possible companies to get to talk to in my experience (get my Internet through cable like many others here of course).

Contrast that, if you will, with the experience I had with the new NetFlix service that they have introduced here. Took me less than a minute to get to talk to a human being about a problem with one of their programs. I have to say I praised the operator that dealt with my call in a friendly and satisfactory way. That's the way you build brand loyalty, by not treating your customers like sh*t.

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This post has been deleted by its author

This post has been deleted by its author

Excellent!

And you're absolutely right that this sort of service should be praised and supported. But that's where I think there's a problem.

The truth is, providing this level of support does cost more. That's not a problem if customers genuinely appreciate and support the company for providing it, but most are driven by the short-sighted desire to find the cheapest option. That's cheapest in terms of the cost of the item, not necessarily cheapest in terms of efficient use of their own time.

Anyone in the business of retailing knows that customers will ruthlessly exploit companies like this one to benefit from their expertise. Then, having been given the information they need, use it to buy from a cheaper supplier. Cheaper, most likely, because they don't pay enough in wages to employ knowledgeable staff or put them enough of them in customer-facing situations. Just read and honestly appraise the comments for the Reg's recent article on UK retail customer service. Sure, those companies which provide poor service will lose many customers, but those customers still won't pay more to go and buy from companies who cost more because they provide better service. You'll see comments from people who will happily do exactly as mentioned above - visit a local business with knowledgeable staff and pick their brains, then go shop on Amazon or similar for a cheaper price. Ina few years time, they'll be complaining that those local businesses no longer exist and - surprise, surprise - no-one offers good service anymore.

Declaration of interest: My line of business is not retail, but professional services. I've seen the high street representation of my type of business decimated by distinctly unprofessional, barely competent individuals who undercut more proficient companies offering vastly superior services and soon put them out of business. Customers are more interested in cheap than good. I've seen cheap companies offer the basic, bread and butter stuff, so that those capable of more sophisticated services lose that part of their business. But those better companies still have to pay their bills. Customers then wonder why the more specialist things they can't get from the cheaper people suddenly cost much, much more from the specialist.

I have no idea what the answer is. In an ideal world, those businesses offering the best service would prosper. Reality is not like that. Of course we all begrudge paying a premium for service, but we all expect to be paid realistically for our own time and it's just not reasonable to behave as though good service costs nothing.

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Headmaster

Customer Service Counts

I think the "hit" you're talking about depends on who the customers are and what the product is.

As a project manager, I'm going to go with the company that gets me the answers and products I need, when and where I need them.

I don't "want to buy some routers".

I "want my infrastructure upgrade project completed seamlessly and on-time."

For time-constrained or potential-high-impact projects, I don't care much about the price, unless we're talking an order of magnitude difference between suppliers; and even then, if the lower prices are all from Billy's Back-of-the-van Wholesalers-type places, depending on the project, I might go with the higher-priced vendor if I know they are knowlegeable, reliable, and will actively work to solve/work around out-of-their-control problems (trucking strike, etc.) which affect delivery of equipment I've ordered.

(People working for short-sighted bean-counter types don't have this luxury. Bean-counters are evaluated on how many beans they saved, and are not penalized if the financial constraints they handed down caused the project to fail.)

Happy customer service story:

In the late 1990s/early 1990s, I was working as a tech with an IT consulting company. PC networks were new, and a company with 30-40 IBM PCs wanted a network.

I had various questions for IBM, and the local office was GREAT! Even though I was not the customer, whenever I called, a secretary answered the phone BEFORE the third ring. EVERY time.

If the person I wished to speak with was unavailable, the (live, human) secretary gave me the option of leaving a voicemail, or leaving a message with her.

If the person I wished to speak with was in, I STILL got the 'leave a message' options -- sometimes, you don't want to interact, you just want to give information or status.

Whomever I called always called me back within four hours, even if it was just to say, "I need to check with person X in the Y office, and will call you back by Z." (Z was usually some time the next day.)

And they did.

Good customer experience with a company means you'll use, and recommend that company. IBM's management understood the value of this.

Current corporate management doesn't seem to look past the next fiscal quarter.

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Stop

@ Customer Service Counts

Too, too long, man.

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K
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Time and a place..

I'll agree that such features are nice to have for a website.

But when you run a large sales team or have a high volume website, you'll find the staff reluctant to use it as it detracts from their own earning potential.. why deal with 1 "pesky" customer, when you use the time elsewhere and potentially draw in 20 customers.

Essentially, the long term benefit is not considered by the sales staff who have short term goals.

Sad, but true.

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It's all about keeping the customer informed

I've just switched broadband providers and was expecting days of disruption and set-up problems. But, no, they gave me a full rundown of what to expect from (from a UK callcentre), an email with a URL to a page detailing the progress of the move, and even a link to the Royal Mail tracker to see when the router would arrive.

The router arrived when they said it would and, 40 minutes afterwards, I had confirmation that my service was live. The kit needed no config - not even needing to login to the thing, yet alone setting usernames/passwords/modes etc - so to say I was gobsmacked would be an understatement. Quite simply it's been the most impressive bit of customer service I've had in a long time, and it's from bloody BT of all companies!

If my old friendly, local, ISP-run-by-techies-for-techies hadn't sold down the river and been swallowed up by TalkTalk I'd never have switched. I have always felt like broadband is a bit like banking: you never dare switch until the dire service crosses that threshold from annoying into truly appalling.

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Live chat widget

I've used the live chat widget on a few sites and generally get good results. Recently used the live chat on hostgator to resolve a technical issue and it was really good.

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Amazon

Their 'call me back' facility on the customer service pages is quite simply brilliant. I've never waited more than 30 seconds for the call back and then no more than a few more moments until I'm speaking to someone who can fix the problem.

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The message, not the medium

I suspect that what really sold you was the access to a knowledgeable person - not the fact that they communicated with you through instant chat. You would have been just as happy, maybe even more so, if you had spoken to them on the phone, or via a video conferencing system.

Likewise, if the IRC fairy had said "please enter your 128 character customer ID." ... "now enter the answer to your security question *what are the names of the pets of everyone in your street" "Now please enter your date and time of birth, to the nearest second - using the Julian calendar" you might have been less happy, even if the communications medium was trendy "chat".

Chat does not magically transform an obtuse call agent into your new best friend. It does not raise their IQ by 120 points (so that it becomes at least a positive number), nor does it necessarily circumvent a poorly designed customer interface. The only reason it appears more helpful is that it is small-scale: not yet mainstream. Just as soon as the world's major call centres realise that by using chat instead of voice, each agent will be able to hold 3 clients on the "line" simultaneously it will become just as slow, annoying and obstructive as every other "lowest cost wins" form of customer interaction.

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Microsoft

Hello, oh OK so your WGA failed authentication?

Oh dear, you need to buy another license

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Stop

Cost pure and simple.

People bitch and moan about about 0870 numbers, but then turn out to be to thick to read a manual.

They moan if they have to pay £x for better support.

Yet they want the goods as cheap as possible.

Well it doesn't work two ways.

A SMALL call centre will cost hundreds of thousands a year to run (let alone setup), larger ones for big companies cost MILLIONS.

Well that has to come from somewhere. More expensive goods, less channels to contact, less hours, cheaper labour or premium call pricing. It's a simple case of economics.

I use 5quid host who have very cheap pricing, excellent service, but only through email. That way they don't have to pay a dozen people to sit and answer phones. Sure not as quick (in theory), but still works.

As a b2b we provide 20 second ASA to our customers, some has 10 seconds, but they pay for it big style.

So take your choice, pay more or receive less.

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Skip

I ordered a skip (thats a huge bin the size of a whale that ex gir....er old rubbish goes in). I wasn't quite sure what size to get - wanted to save money but also not have something jovian land on the lawn. Thanks to a chat client built into the skip company's site - and it worked!! - I was able to ask a nice girl on the other end exactly what I needed given the amount of junk I had to throw.

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Anonymous Coward

What's that skip?

She's fallen in a huge bin?

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We just started using a livechat at work

(Bold LiveChat) We sell non-geo phone numbers (shameless plug 08direct.co.uk), and it works both ways.

From customer point of view they get a live body who knows the product, and can answer the questions, and from our point of view it helps conversions - a customer who might dither then abandon the idea, could well end up placing an order.

Win win, I say.

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Re "we need to “completely redo the website.” "

Suggest you refer him to http://www.theregister.co.uk/2011/01/27/website_content_is_most_important_detail/

And also remind him that the one thing supermarket customers really hate is to arrive ready to do their shopping and find that some twit in senior management has decided, with no reason whatsoever, to arbitrararily move all the stuff about. The new layout is no better than the old, just different. And, therefore, harder to use.

Both in web sites and supermarkets, some changes may be needed -- to cope with new products and seasonal demand. But for the most part you're best off leaving things the way they were unless you're completely sure that what you're changing to is a definite, functional not cosmetic, improvement on what you had before.

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Welcome

Depends on who you get

Checkpoint Software have been using live chat for years. And as my company resells them, I have to talk to them. Live chat is my preferred method, but sometimes you get a jobs worth, and sometimes you get absolute brilliant customer service.

Luckily after most chats they offer you a chance to rate the service, and I am always honest. Don't know what notice they take of the feedback, but it does help to praise the good, and vent about the bad.

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Unhappy

I no longer fear Hell...

...for I have dealt with HTC's 'customer service'.

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